Some of Australia’s most prestigious universities are starting to make sensible changes when it comes to international student recruitment. In recent weeks, the University of Melbourne has eliminated language on its website that seemed to encourage international students to take a casual approach to English language standards. This positive development comes in the wake of CIS research that highlighted potential problems with the recruitment practices of Australian universities’ English-language ‘foundation programs’.
The China Student Boom and the Risks It Poses to Australian Universities pulled together data from universities, state and federal agencies, foreign governments, international organisations, and press reports to present a full picture of the risks being taken by Australian universities in enrolling unprecedented numbers of Chinese students.
The University of Melbourne had previously explicitly pitched its foundation programs to students who “don’t meet entry requirements” and suggested they could take ‘equivalent’ tests or subjects as alternative pathways to admission. But now the university more responsibly encourages students to explore admissions options without suggesting that the alternatives are any less rigorous than the usual entry requirements.
It may not sound like much, but it’s a good start. Compare the improvements at Melbourne with marketing at the University of Sydney, which advertises that if a student is “unable to meet the minimum academic requirements for undergraduate study”, its foundation program “could be your ticket to study with us.” Other leading universities — such as ANU and Queensland — feature similarly enticing language. They seem to treat their foundation programs more as services for sale than as rigorous educational experiences requiring hard work and perseverance.
The University of Melbourne’s reforms are cosmetic, but important. Marketing may sound like a frivolous issue, but it sets expectations that stay with students throughout their studies. If other universities follow Melbourne’s lead, we can start a race to the top in international student recruitment. The higher we set our sights, the higher our students will set theirs.
Salvatore Babones is a political sociologist at the University of Sydney and an Adjunct Scholar at the Centre for Independent Studies.
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