Australia’s universities: quasi-commercial, run for the benefit of select interests, and failing.

Australia’s universities: quasi-commercial, run for the benefit of select interests, and failing. By Ryan Anderson.

How it started (with a quote from he who this blog was named after):

The establishment of an Australian academy was, as Governor-General Sir Charles Fitzroy remarked upon the founding of The University of Sydney in 1850, a development undertaken for the ‘advancement of…morality, and the promotion of useful knowledge’; an institute erected ‘for the promotion of literature and science’, with entrance not contingent on religion nor social-status, but on ‘the basis of academic merit’, as MP William Wentworth would confirm. …

Now? There are many more buildings, but the people ‘s behavior…

As a recent article in The Australian starkly observed, the Australian ‘education experience is just a sham’ with plagiarism and cheating rife. Alongside sector-wide contract cheating, there are now common examples of students who’ve faked their way through their entire degree.

There is a favoured method involving students bypassing university plagiarism software by employing ghostwriters in poor yet English-proficient places like East Africa. As one ghostwriter remarked: ‘I have some students who I have worked for since their first year and I’ve done all the assignments until they graduate.’ Adding that what really worried him was the ‘the medical students who have never done even one assignment since their first day’. …

Selling entry to foreign students:

Our top ten source countries are dominated by nations from what was once known as ‘third-world’ with the top three — China, India, and Nepal — comprising well over 50 per cent of our overall annual intake. It is a fact made more acute by the rapid increase in total numbers, with the amount of international students in Australia almost doubling between 2010-20.

Australia has by far the largest per capita presence of foreign students of any place in the world, at over a quarter of our tertiary cohort.

Our universities have come to function not as a place of education, but as a means to a first-world wage and living conditions, and an indirect route to permanent residency: with a sizeable minority of ‘students’ (around 16 per cent) obtaining residency after their studies.

This trend is further reinforced by the vast numbers who don’t obtain residency, but who nevertheless stay on in one form or another: with ‘more international students than ever…remaining in Australia for up to four years on graduate work visas following their studies’. The figure is made worse by the non-negligible number who – both here and in the UK – simply overstay their visas and remain here illegally. …

Universities are now engaged in a sleight-of-hand in which the content remains the same, yet the onus is taken off the individual. For as commentator — and ex-student — Meshel Laurie noted of her university experience: ‘It’s a neat trick: group assessment (with groups allocated by instructors) in courses overloaded with full-fee-paying, non-English speaking students means the English speakers bear the burden of catching the others up, translating the course content for them, and helping them pass.’ …

English language requirements are often forged and pre-university preparatory courses are little substitute for years of immersion in the ideas and idiom of instruction. Some students even regress in their English the longer they are here, rarely leaving their first language enclaves of their home and place of work. …

Where does the money go?

As in our post-industrial fantasy-lands, the universities are essential economically: generating around $37 billion annually and ranking as our third largest export. It is a trend that’s particularly pronounced in ex-manufacturing hubs like Victoria, where car factories are long shuttered and international education is the state’s biggest earner generating ‘$6.9 billion in revenue last year’ as per government figures.

Given such vast sums of money, cui bono? Well, high on the list are the university administrators, particularly the vice-chancellors. To say that the commercialisation of education has been lucrative is a rank understatement. … As one paper noted: our ‘Vice-Chancellors (VC) are among the highest paid in the world, with an individual average yearly income in excess of $1 million, or about twice the annual income of the Prime Minister.’

Alongside the administrators, the property and construction sectors have been major beneficiaries — with the symbiosis between government, the universities, and the building sector exceedingly evident. …

Fashion politics to cater for the international students and their money:

Yet with such a high proportion of our economy dependent on foreign students, there’s little wonder that left-liberalism is so all-pervasive and that any countervailing conservative notions are excluded from the discourse.

Put simply, cosmopolitanism is lucrative, and conscious policy, so it will continue – no matter the failings and fraudulence that flourish under its auspices. …

Drugs and crime:

It appears we’re stuck with a tertiary sector that will prioritise cosmopolitanism and its associated economic interests to the detriment of any actual education. Fine. Let’s not kid ourselves about the short-sightedness of this decision and the deleterious effects that will result.

Chief among these is the facilitation of certain types of crime. As a recent Nine article notes, our student-visa network is an easy form of access for (largely Latin American) drug cartels to import their product and enhance their presence. The article explains: ‘A series of migration agents targeting Colombian students is being used to filter money and imported cocaine to motorcycle gangs.’

Adding that ‘the cartel uses people on student visas, who receive the air cargo consignments from FedEx Colombia and then send money to Colombia’. An occurrence that is not coincidental with our newfound fame as the world’s greatest cocaine consumers and the number of Colombians applying for student visas. A figure that has increased from 1859 in 2005–06 to 17,250 in 2019–20.

This is also without explicitly mentioning the minor yet not imaginary problem of espionage, IP theft, and all the other associated behaviours that are engaged in by our largest cohort — Chinese students — and that were well documented by Canberra academic Clive Hamilton in his 2018 book Silent Invasion.

Inevitability, Australian university degrees became worth less than they used to. The graduates are not as well taught now, and there is a huge inflation of credentials. But they are politically correct.