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Australian universities are accused of trading free speech for cash (economist.com)
183 points by baylearn 27 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 65 comments

They didn't just trade free speech for cash. They traded their academic integrity.

Talk to anyone who teaches at ANU/Monash/Melbourne and they'll tell you the same thing: most international Chinese students should fail by every metric there is, but there is tremendous pressure from the faculty to 'find marks' to get those students to scrape through and look the other way at their plagiarism and cheating.

It's like there are two sets of standards now. One for Chinese students, and one for everyone else.

I TAed a compulsory "Introduction to Engineering" class at USyd. The class itself was dead easy, the equivalent of the fizzbuzz interview question.

The single assessment was "review an engineering article" where I caught 7 students (all international) plagiarizing. Not just borrowing a sentence or two, but lifting entire paragraphs and gluing them together with broken English. In one case a student had gone as far as submitting Stephen Hawking's "Space and Time Warps", verbatim.

I raised all of these to the professor. Despite all students signing the "I know what plagiarism is, I won't do it and understand there I will be kicked out if I do" - the professor knocked back all of my claims and all students passed.

It was a huge disappointment to realize that this is how the "education system" works.

Yes! My partner eventually quit her job university lecturing because she was explicitly told time and time again she was never allowed to fail any of the international "full fee paying" students. If she lodged a fail mark she was raked over the coals and forced to change it as a passing mark.

She was only allowed to give failing marks to Australians who pay approximately half the university fees compared to international students.

International students actually pay about 4x what a domestic student pay [1].

[1] https://www.adelaide.edu.au/degree-finder/2020/bengh_behe&es...

Not if you consider the contribution of the taxpayer on behalf of domestic students (and their tax contributions over their future careers).

This should be a crime.

There is too much white collar crime and it seems like it is just becoming ordinary business. People responsible for things like the insulin racket are profiting off of death. But we focus orders of magnitude more resources on jailing people for smoking a harmless plant and minding their own business. Who will take responsibility?

I dont think plagiarism is just a Internaional Student thing, but they do take it to a whole different level.

I am sure as a Student, we have all see or even been part of plagiarism. The difference is that while others may look at your work, question why this is done this way, think for it ( hopefully ) yourself , and try to rewrite it in likely much worst adaptation of it. ( Since the level of understand is usually quite different ) With Copying in few places.

These International Students's plagiarism is basically simple copy and paste editing. It is so bad that even spelling mistakes are the same.

And when you question why these spelling mistake and grammatical mistakes are the same, you will likely get an answer that is because it is how we use the English languages, any further discussion on the subject will likely be countered as oppression, or racism.

The worst thing about it isn't actually the plagiarism itself. It is like Software pirating, a lot of people used to do it. ( BitTorrent, FTP, or if you are even older passing Disc with Code around ) But at least those who committed those wrong doing knew they were wrong. ( Or at least I hope ) These international student often does plagiarism with no sense of guilt or wrong doing, as it is the norm back in their home country. And if they get caught surely some donation would smooth things out. They will think why everyone does that same thing and how unlucky he or she was to get caught.

Now if you think back about all the issues, and instead of happening in a small place called University but in a much bigger world of business and Cooperate, you may see what the world right now are having lots of disagreement.

there's a hyper level of pragmatism. The ends always justifies the means. there is no ethics or morals in these circles, none whatsoever.

It’s very depressing, I also TA’d in college and ended up grading one of the mid terms for a programming class I had the previous semester. I found a group of students who clearly shared some code over gchat or something... weird variable names and unique code structure that was clearly copied among 5 or so students.

I was told by the professor to not fail them, just give them 0 for the question. Cheating was rampant in my program and the institution’s response to push them through was disheartening. We also had a “code of conduct”. These were all US students, I think cheating is just a huge problem in Universities all over the world.

On my university, copying eachother's assignment was so common a student/teaching assistent was talking about how he had 'reprimanded' one of his students for plagiarism while he was copying my solution to our own homework problem. It's corruption all the way down.

Anecdotally from the kids and their friends, it's pretty similar in UK universities with the overseas higher paying students. Now there's £9k UK tuition fees universities are far more focused on the money than the education.

Oh well, it's a step on their journey to old and cynical adult.

I had an international student as a teammate for an engineering class. We had to write a couple papers and we alternated being leads on the paper. The first paper he wrote was quite well written. He didn't have any references so I googled a few line and found the entire first two pages were directly plagiarized. I pushed him to fix it up and somehow he managed.

> It was a huge disappointment to realize that this is how the "education system" works.

Is there any man made system that isn't eventually run or at least strongly by financial interest? Genuine question.

It's not clear that low standards actually are in the long term interest of the universities because it devalues the degree.

Thus it is important to expose this corruption far and wide so that people, e.g. employers, can be aware.

I totally agree. The cynic in me was just surprised at the disappointment, not the reaction of outing them for what they do.

And to your first point, fewer and fewer people think for the long term. Perhaps because in an age where you want results now they will be judged by short term performance.

Also I noticed I'm missing an "influenced" in the comment above. Strongly influenced.

I’d actually rephrase the question as, “is there any system that can’t be gamed?” i.e. a system immune to corruption? Impervious to bad faith intentions? I suspect the answer is no.

EDITED to fix a spelling mistake.

"is there any system that can’t be gamed?”

Well, I think that's a different thing. Gaming something is AIUI an exploitation of the rules.

What's happening here is plain breaking of rules, which I'd call something like corruption.

There are the rules as written, and the "rules" as enforced. Can one build a system where the inevitable "rules" that arise are fully aligned with the intent of the system?

strongly __________ by ?

Can confirm. I used to teach Computer Science at Adelaide University. One of the factors in my decision to leave academia was the appalling extent to which academic standards were being lowered to cater for international students (mostly from China) who should not have even been accepted but brought in lots of cash.

I taught a Masters level Enterprise Architecture unit at Swinburne University for a single semester and concluded that the system is designed to pass students. Specifically, my advice to employers and recruiters is to discount science and technology degrees by at least a single grade i.e. high distinction is really a distinction, distinction is really a credit, credit is really just a pass, and a pass is actually a fail.

A decade earlier I had graduated from a Masters and had such a great experience as a mature age student that I vowed I’d try my hand at teaching if the opportunity arose. When the opportunity came, I was excited, thinking I’d experience the same kind of mature, engaged and discursive sessions that I had as a student. Far from it. A handful of my students turned up consistently and at least made an effort. The rubric for the assessments were designed to make it almost impossible to fail. Out of my cohort (27 students), I would be comfortable hiring 2. There was one kid (that passed, barely) who I wouldn’t hire as a cleaner because he wouldn’t know which end of the broom to point at the ground unless someone told him.

It was incredibly disheartening and I can’t see myself ever doing that again.

This isn’t a new problem, people were saying the same thing 20 years ago. And it isn’t accurate or fair to say it is a problem only with students of one single nationality, it’s not. It’s really the conflict of interest inherent in fee-paying international students - if you fail too many of them, they will leave and not come back and you lose out on future revenue from them - worsened by the fact that lowering English language entry requirements improves enrolment and revenue but then the students struggle academically because they can’t understand the course and struggle with writing essays/assignments/exams in English.

While some milder pressures might exist for full fee paying students, they are not remotely comparable to the political and academic pressure exerted by the CCP through the export of international students. The faculty is explicitly protective of the interests of China[1]

You will not find headlines like [2] about any other full fee paying demographic. As much as I hate to say it, Australia more or less belongs to China [3]

[1] https://www.theaustralian.com.au/nation/politics/university-...

[2] https://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2015/05/29/u-s-schools-e...

[3] https://www.reddit.com/r/worldnews/comments/d4slfj/australia...

We need to say it loud and clear and reduce our dependency on Chinese money.


> Besides which, that sounds like a One-nation policy. That sort of sounds-sorta-racist/nationalist ideology won't fly in modern Australia.

Your first paragraph was fine. This is over the line. Bullshit like this is why people of opposing viewpoints can't discuss things - because assholes label them like this. "Oh, but i didn't call them racist!" Stop playing games. We aren't idiots.

If you can't keep discourse harming comments like this to yourself, you shouldn't bother at all, because you make it impossible for actually reasonable people to discuss different viewpoints.

Or you can just continue then wonder why politics are "so bad". Look in the mirror.

Hang on are you accusing the OPs of racism because they are opposed to corruption?


This isn't Facebook. HackerNews isn't about to go around accusing people of being OneNation sympathises though I do understand the position you're taking here.

Being critical of the influence of fee-paying students in University can quickly become hyperbolic.

The original comment was talking about blocking Chinese money from coming into Australia on the basis that it was associated with mainland Chinese ideology. That is unadulturated nationalism and it will almost certainly be interpreted as racist by the worlds up-and-coming superpower and probably in Australia as well. It clearly aligns with the goals of the mid-far right.

I'm not accusing anyone of anything, I'm just pointing out we have a political ideology that wants this and it is a long way out of the mainstream. "We want to isolate ourselves from China" is a radically fringe position in Australia. We are not a nationalist nation, we are a nation of immigrants with a very fluid identity. It would also be strategic suicide to antagonise the regional superpower.

We are not going to exclude China. If China wants to send students to Australia we are going to take them in and accept whatever money they have. That isn't an accusation, that is a frank assessment of what has been obvious in Australian politics for the last decade.

I feel for Hong Kong, I truly do, but China has a long reach now; much like America. You can't run from American influence anywhere in the world [0]. There is no hope of escaping China while still basically being in Asia.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extraordinary_rendition#Invest...

We are happy to take any students’ university fees and provide them with a market competitive educational curriculum.

The reality of China’s population being 56,3 times that of Australia coupled with a non-democratic, expansionist government is great cause for concern.

The amount of influence China already exerts in Australia is alarming, as is evidenced by the property bubble they helped fuel by laundering money outside of the eyes of the communist party. Or the propaganda machine that prints free English language newspapers for distribution in major Australian capitals.

Business and government and intrinsically linked in China and Australia is well advised not to become China’s subservient lap dog.

I don't agree, I'm far left leaning and consider Chinese money or rather, seeing a greater scrutiny of it's use in Australia to see partisan support.

Similar to how Sam Dastyari [1] was forced out after he'd been shown to receive significant donations. I'm not across this piece as much as I would like so I may be missing some nuance there.

I imagine China's influence in Australian State and Federal government to be a lot more pervasive than this. But it's more of a dirty secret than we're led to believe.

[1] - https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/dec/12/sam-d...

> That sort of sounds-sorta-racist/nationalist ideology won't fly in modern Australia.

just grab another VB sit back and watch then?

Not convinced money has a large enough impact to own a country. There was an old fear of Japan buying everything up.

This concern about cyber is a problem, but if China needs to influence Aus it just needs to pick up the phone line to our PM. It doesn't need to make big moves via covert action, as much as it may try.

In my experience, among international students the Chinese students were actually not the worst cheaters. But in China there does seem to be a cultural tolerance for what we would consider cheating, from scientific misconduct to IP theft. The education system is usually what's blamed.

> It's like there are two sets of standards now. One for Chinese students, and one for everyone else.

At least in the UK, University of St Andrews, which has the highest percentage of international students in the country, offers a Foundation Year[1] to the applicants from the third-world countries, which must be taken before the 4-year undergraduate degree.

It reduces the knowledge gap, improves the language skills, and brings additional income to the university without affecting the quality and experience of the degree programs.

[1] https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/subjects/study-options/foundati...

The cynic in me would think this is nothing more than an opportunity to make more money while guaranteeing that after the foundation year anyone can get into university.

The alternative would be to admit underprepared students without offering any kind of support and take their tuition money until they fail out. That's no better.

Or, and you may be shocked by this, another alternative would be to make them take an IELTS exam, set the minimum score high and deny them entry if they don’t pass.

There are no such guarantees – as far as I am aware – and as a former student I remember having a single Chinese classmate in my 4-year Computer Science degree program. After the Foundation Year, students of all nationalities were treated equally, and there were much more 1st year students from the US and the EU than from China.

Also had colleagues from Vietnam and China who attended the foundation year. It was clear to me they couldn’t read/write English to a high school level. They still got in

It might depend on how competitive the general admission process in a particular university is. I wouldn't be surprised, if 70% of the Britain's 100+ universities accepted all Chinese applicants. In the case of University St Andrews, it has plenty of more qualified applicants from North America who pay the same as Chinese and, therefore, can afford not to accept them.

That is rather cynical.

Yeah, and Australian Universities require international students to have an IELTS[1] score of at least 6.5, and yet most can barely speak English. Its all bullshit to extract money from China at the expense of watering down the value of the education for everyone.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_English_Language...

Universities in Australia have someone similar too. My wife went through a similar program nearly 20 years ago, and was from a country which speaks English.

The problem with some international students is the degree is a means to an end. It's a thing to have for what it allows (work, immigration, prestige). They have no qualms cheating if they know there is no repercussion, English literacy is irrelevant.

Same issue in New Zealand. There's even a cottage industry of corrupt TEFL schools so you can meet the language requirements.

In a way I hope it gets worse, to damage beyond repair the integrity of a university education. I think it's a tragedy we extend everyones childhood by 3 years, and at the end of it half of all graduates can't even earn themselves an upper working class lifestyle.

What is the motivation behind the cheating and plagiarism? This would seem to imply that students do not care about learning the underlying skill. Why would a country encourage this?

I don't know if it's universal, but Australian culture (and maybe Chinese for all i know) has gone fully down the route that the purpose of universities and education is purely for certificates to present to employers.

Indeed, the notion that you would go to university to "learn", or god forbid, continue learning irrespective of employment and wage opportunities, or pay money for learning that didn't have an employment or wage outcome, would be seen as some kind of mixture of stupid/bad decision/literally non sensical.

University, and academic publications and structure, makes a lot more sense once you accept almost no one there is interested in knowledge.

University education in Australia is a major migration pathway. By studying at a University there, you are basically guaranteed permanent residency at the end.

That's why the USA and UK should oppose efforts to allow students to stay in the country after they graduate. International student graduates should have to go through the same migration process as anyone else.

Additionally, Governments should place a cap on the number of student visas they issue each year, require universities charge a minimum amount, and require the full three years be paid upfront. Universities will be more willing to fail poor students under these conditions; it will also prevent/reverse a race to the bottom.


> Cheating and plagiarism are perfectly a-ok in China[1].

[1] doesn't show this and it's not actually true. Cheating is common, but Chinese students know that it's forbidden and they'll be punished if they get caught, so they spend at least some effort changing what they copy before passing it off as their own work. Of course that stops working as soon as they leave the country and their language skills are suddenly not good enough to rewrite everything.

Ironically, when I was an exchange student in China, the non-Chinese students formed a tight-knit group sharing their work and getting passing grades for weak essays in bad Chinese copied from someone else.

Some things are more culturally universal than they appear at first glance.

> doesn't show this and it's not actually true.

Please. Some action is being taken against it in recent years, but in tertiary education it's considered socially acceptable to cheat and plagiarise.




How do you reconcile your viewpoint with all the evidence even in the comments here of Chinese students blatantly copying entire published works, after they sign disclaimers saying they understand the penalties for doing that?

I have signed dozens of those same disclaimers in China. During exams, everything but pencil and paper needs to be left in your bag in a corner of the examination room. I hear security during Gaokao is even stricter. If you do something stupid like submitting your program's benchmark results with nanosecond precision and they're identical to another student's, you're going to get caught and punished. I had to take a mandatory course in academic writing despite having already taken a similar one in Germany, allowing me to compare the two. There was all the same content about quotations without proper attribution of the source being plagiarism and how to correctly format references and so on. (Quotations are why the threshold for duplicated content in your first link can't be 0, by the way.)

Do you think they'd do all that if it were considered socially acceptable to cheat? Teachers don't want their students to pass a course by cheating and they try to find and punish those who do. Students are obviously aware of that; they simply cheat anyway if they think they can get away with it.

Not getting away with it is what I think causes the perception that Chinese students cheat more than others. Writing assignments in their native language would allow them to discuss with their friends, take a look at their answers, then write it up in their own words. Not having the language skills to do that makes evading detection a lot harder. As I said, I have observed essentially the same dynamic with international students in China.

So based on my personal experience, I don't think Chinese students cheat more than those of other countries. Of course the only other education system I know from the inside is that of Germany, where several ministers (including the minister of education [1]) had to resign after plagiarism was found in their dissertations. Maybe in other countries students who are faced with the choice of probably failing a course because they can't do an assignment or possibly failing after getting caught cheating will take the honorable option. I doubt it, though.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annette_Schavan

FWICT, at the University of Queensland Engineering faculty this looking the other way for international students doesn't appear to happen. I can't speak for other faculties.

I was stunned by the shear audacity of one recent attempt to cheat. It was a group project involving designing and building a hardware / software thingy. The idea was to pull in students from multiple Engineering disciplines I think. This particular group had both Australian students and overseas.

Like all such groups some did some work, others didn't and in this particular case there wasn't enough of the former so things weren't going well. On the due date they had to drop off the the project at a project room, which was locked up until evaluation day. One of the international students decided to break in and continue work. This involved breaking glass windows, jimmying doors, and turning the lights on. Naturally enough security noticed and put a quick end to it - but not before the submitted project was in pieces.

That made evaluating the project in the normal manner near impossible, so they put together a panel designed to feel like the Spanish inquisition and quizzed each student on their contribution for a hour or two. They passed one and failed the others - including the international students.

I went to UQ myself many years ago, back when it was only Australians who attended, and we also got up to some shenanigans. No country breeds only angels. My student cohort did things that were equally bad. The major one was discovering a security flaw in the PDP 10's operating system (TOPS-10), and using it to crash the system repeatedly so we could get the a little more time on the assignments. It didn't go down so well as that same PDP 10 was used to run the Uni's administration, and so it took out things like payroll. They had no idea who did it and no way of finding out, but needed to put an end to it very quickly. I thought they handled it very well. They put the usual suspects in a room, said no one would be punished, but they really needed to know how it was being done. They didn't have much choice I guess, as everyone in the room knew how it was done but no one was going to admit to doing it.

I can't really say which of these two crimes caused the most damage - the one by the Australians or the international student. But I suspect in the eyes of the Uni the international one suffered from a far bigger flaw than damage or inconvenience - it was just plain stupid in a way I had never seen in my day.

Are the Chinese sending their less astute students there? Most Indian and Chinese students I worked with in engineering college were studious and sharp, which I couldn't say so much for a lot of my American compatriots until the first couple of years of weed out classes made sure only dedicated students made it through.

Similar stuff is going on in NZ. A university in Auckland recently halted a pro-Democracy protest organised by HK students after a university official was summoned to the Chinese embassy. There were of course no issues when mainland students organised a pro-Beijing rally.

Pretty sad state of affairs when students will halt a protest on the orders of the university administration.

Clearly they weren't Maori. They could learn a lot from them.

Any sources on this?

Did the University offer any explanation for why the event needed to be cancelled as opposed to just rescheduled or held in a different room/building?

Throwaway account.

Local. TAed (USA nomenclature) 6 instances of 4 courses at top 5 AU Comp. Sci. university. Can confirm professorss of 3 courses wanted to fail at leats 1 student (one wanted to fail half a summer school class: approximately 75 students) and not a single student was ever failed because politics. Very few if any candidates for failure were local students.

Have many contacts, some with Ph.Ds, some who are lecturers in charge of courses now who at least reluctantly admit to this pattern.

Universities have indirect policies that penalise LiCs for failing students. Classic example: every failing students requires a report to management. Why did they fail? What is your proposal to prevent this type of failure from happening in the future?

When the reason is: how the hell did they get through the prerequisite course (presumably because of the same political pressure) you are met with: they met the prerequsites; you are applying unreasonable expetations on your students.

The entire reputation of the univiersity is for sale. How long can it last? If recent history is any guide, a long time. Let's find out.

LiC ?-

While at university here in Australia I was given the opportunity to spend a few weeks in China sponsored by Huawei.

I was naive back then. It was just one massive brain washing exercise where we were taken on a propaganda tour and taught how stupid the Australian government was to not contract Huawei to build the NBN.

I’m a uni student in aus right now and I’m not a fan of Chinese propaganda but I wouldn’t mind a free trip to China. Do you have any links/tips on how I could get myself on one of these trips? I’m at UNSW btw.

Google Huawei seeds of the future and apply.

When I went back to school I found out about a thing called CourseHero. How? A classmate lab partner submitted the report we submitted for our work. He submitted it verbatim with his name, my name, a third person in our group and even the instructor's name.

The only reason I knew of it was a fellow classmate got a new phone and for kicks looked up his name and found the report at CourseHero.

By the looks of that website I'd say cheating is rampant. Being drawn into something you're not aware of then nearly expelled is maddening.

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