It is no surprise that foreign students lack English language skills (The Age, 23/1). Australia’s minimum visa standards are lower than those in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom – not as Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson asserts, “comparable to other world-leading education sectors”.
The recent report by Bob Birrell and Katherine Letts at The Australian Population Research Institute – “Australia’s higher education overseas student industry: in a precarious state” – shows clearly how the Group of Eight universities lower their entry standards because they cannot afford to forgo the huge fees paid by overseas students, who now make up close to 40per cent of all new entrants. That changes the whole nature of university culture and the experience offered.
The Age’s report highlights the problems for foreign students struggling to cope, but ignores the impact on quality and fairness for those with an adequate grasp of English. Ask local university students about it and they will tell you how badly it affects the quality of their courses: lower expectations in class, lower standards in assessing grades, group assignments where the same grade is given to every student despite lack of participation or understanding, and limited student interaction and discussion. The solution is not just bridging courses; it is to raise the standards and insist on higher standards for all.
Taking students’ money under false pretences
I am a nurse working in aged care. I graduated from RMIT University in 2004 and worked for it for a year or so, assisting on a casual basis in laboratories with students in the city and at the Bundoora campus. The international students were enrolled at Bundoora and the classes were chaotic.
The students who could not understand English were frustrated, bored and disruptive. I became very disillusioned and felt the universities were just eager to take the money.
I have also witnessed the lot of people on student visas in the workplace. Many carers in the residential aged care sector are studying. Most study nursing but all face the same problem on graduation. Their English does not meet industry standards and they will not get a job here. As far as I can see, the tertiary institutions are taking money under false pretences.
Roger Hyland, Richmond
Pressure on students with grade 4-standard English
I am an EAL (English as an additional language) teacher who prepares some students for the International English Language Testing System. I totally agree that the current visa system of allowing overseas students to come to Australia to study at tertiary level with an IELTS score of 4.5 is wrong. This is perhaps about the equivalent of grade 4 English. We then allow these students to do a 20-week course and expect them to be able to study at tertiary level. It is ridiculous.
David Everard, Nunawading
Struggling to meet families’ ‘crippling expectations’
So international students are “failing to make the grade on language skills”. I have little sympathy for their plight. Proposed changes to assist them are based almost exclusively on an economic argument – they make a significant contribution to the Australian economy and we are willing to erode our standards to accommodate them. Coaching Chinese students taught me what an incredible and, at times, unrealistic work ethic they brought to their studies. Too often they struggled to meet the crippling expectations of their families.
Still, our students get it tough too. Many of them, having just completed a gruelling year of VCE, have to immediately front up to eight weeks of “summer school” in order to secure the score required for entrance into their tertiary course of choice. Instead of watering down our university standards, why don’t we make it mandatory for our overseas students to do a similar “summer school” before they commence their tertiary
Noel Butterfield, Montmorency