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International admissions process in Australia raises concerns over English standards

International students in Australia are struggling academically due to low levels of English. Source: Shutterstock

A recent exposé by ABC’s Four Corners has revealed that some Australian universities are scrapping English requirements for international students and enrolling even those unable to meet general standards.

According to ABC, universities Down Under typically set and maintain their English entry standards, and are allowed to waive them for students as they see fit.

“Four Corners has found some universities have been admitting international students who are below the university’s own published English standards, or who are granted entry through other means without taking an independent English test.”

Accused of using international students as ‘cash cows’, these universities now face backlash for allegedly choosing money over merit.

International students contribute significantly to Australia’s economy, and their numbers are growing steadily. In 2017, 350,472 international students were enrolled in the higher education sector, according to Studies in Australia.

There are myriad reasons why it’s troubling that higher education providers are providing entry to students with substandard English language skills.

For one, it puts these international students at a serious disadvantage to their peers. Naturally, these students would fall behind academically because the main language of instruction is in English. Secondly, simply adjusting to university life would be a serious struggle. This, in turn, could lead to other psychological problems.

Dr Yvonne Haigh from the School of Public Policy at Murdoch raised her concerns in two emails written to colleagues last November when she realised how some students were struggling.

She wrote, “I certainly raised my concerns … regarding new students and the high levels of anxiety, depression and challenges students raised to me in terms of their expectations of studying at Murdoch.”

“Now that semester has come to an end, further concerns have been raised with me by other students in my course: High levels of international students using phone apps to translate the lecture content and in-class activities; students commented this was very disruptive.”

The easy student visa application process where students can get approved in minutes could also be a factor.

President of the Association of Australian Education Representatives in India, Ravi Lochan Singh, said, “They have come into Australia using a university which had lower checks — lower GTE (Genuine Temporary Entrant) check, I’m talking about — which did not require an English test, and have managed to come here on a visa.”

“In recent years, we’ve had students with very poor English landing up in Australia, which wouldn’t have happened earlier had there been a human element in the visa process.”

It appears this exposé is a wake-up call to some universities who have been heavily relying on high-paying international students, and it is hoped they will take this matter more seriously.

The University of Tasmania (UTAS) has recently announced that they will be conducting an external review of their international admissions processes following the allegations.

University of Tasmania was one of the universities highlighted in the expose. Source: Shutterstock

Refuting the claims that they treat international students as mere cash cows, UTAS vice-chancellor Professor Rufus Black said in a statement, “We care intrinsically about our international students. They are not cash cows as they have been described by the program; they are people who come to our university to learn.”

“We want to be a university that is focused on high-quality education for qualified international students. We also have made it very clear within our new institutional strategy that we are taking a right-sized approach and that the march for constant growth is not part of our future.

“I am concerned, having seen the claims from Four Corners, that the changes we have been introducing to align to those two things have not had enough impact soon enough.”

International students are able to pay more but that doesn’t mean they should be given special treatment, especially when they’re the ones who end up at a disadvantage when they struggle with academics.

In the US, many universities have English Language Institutes (commonly known as ELIs) where students who meet the academic requirements but are not proficient enough in English can be provisionally accepted to the school.

Upon completing and passing an intensive English course, they are able to join their peers in the undergraduate or graduate programme they have applied for.

Often, these English institutes also provide a welcoming community to new international students and help them adjust to life in a new country.

This seems like a better and fairer way to allow international students who struggle in English to enjoy an overseas education.

Hopefully, Australian universities will now re-think their admissions process for international students and avoid letting them in even though they don’t meet the proper English standards.

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