A chain of internal emails shows senior academics at Murdoch University had warned the university for months about underprepared international students struggling to pass courses.
- Four Corners has revealed that Murdoch University and others around the country have waived English entry requirements for some foreign students.
- Leaked emails show some Murdoch academics had been raising concerns about international students since early 2018.
- The emails detail how students were struggling with course work and high academic misconduct cases.
Several academics at the university wrote to each other in November last year describing the steps they had taken to warn Murdoch’s management about the growing problem.
A Four Corners investigation has revealed Murdoch, along with other universities across Australia, has been accepting international students with English below the universities’ published standards and students who had not taken independent language tests.
Three Murdoch academics said they were worried that speaking publicly would put their jobs at risk but they felt they had no choice after making a number of complaints about academic misconduct through university processes.
Now, internal emails show other senior Murdoch academics have been raising the alarm since early last year when they noticed an influx of Indian students who were struggling to cope with university requirements.
‘The issues are serious’
Dr Yvonne Haigh from the School of Public Policy at Murdoch wrote to colleagues in November saying she had raised concerns in two emails which were forwarded to Murdoch senior management:
“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,” she wrote.
“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.
- Inappropriate teaching space to cater for the number of students.
- In-class exams and quizzes were not effective as an assessment due to a range of disruptive behaviour from international students.”
Dr Haigh told the ABC she stood by the comments made in her 2018 email and added she believed “the issues are serious” and required external investigation.
“I have serious concerns for the many international postgraduate students who are studying at Murdoch … these students will require extra support,” she said.
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The former head of the Sir Walter Murdoch School of Public Policy and International Affairs, Professor Benjamin Reilly, also wrote to colleagues in November saying concerns “are widely shared amongst faculty” and they have been brought to the attention of members of the senior executive numerous times.
He wrote that he understood that the university had lowered its English testing score for entry into some of its courses:
“In semester one 2018 we experienced a surge in new international students into some postgraduate courses. This surge increased sharply in semester two 2018, with several hundred new students, mostly from the Punjab region of India, enrolling in a small number of postgraduate courses.
“While some were OK, many do not have the language skills to study at a postgraduate level and have thus been unable to participate in class or complete assessments for the units legitimately.
“Hence we now have a much larger number of academic misconduct issues, supplementary assessments and outright failures than we have previously experienced in the units in which this cohort has enrolled.”
Professor Reilly also expressed in the email chain that he was worried about the impact on domestic students, who encountered a “much diminished in-class education experience” due to the language barriers.
“In several cases of which I am aware, these domestic students have chosen to end their studies at Murdoch as a result. Again, I have previously shared these concerns with [Murdoch senior management] in writing,” he wrote.
“The risks that this situation creates for the university are obvious, not least in terms of its reputation.”
‘An increase in problems’
Dr Duncan Farrow, a maths lecturer and academic misconduct investigator, wrote that concerns about the international student intake were “widely held”.
He had written to senior management in June 2018, laying out the challenges he was encountering with those students.
“Perhaps the most telling statistic of them all: 48 of the 80 students admitted to the MIT in semester one this year had at least one academic misconduct finding against them,” he wrote.
“Not only was there a huge increase in numbers of misconduct cases but additionally the investigations were more difficult due to the poor language capabilities of many of the students involved.
“I have just reviewed the results for students from the Punjab region in BSC100 Building Blocks for Science Students and it is depressing. Of the 52 students in this category, 12 have passed the unit outright — a pass rate of less than 25 per cent.
“The above speaks to awful outcomes for this cohort of students who have travelled a great distance to study at our university. Too many of the students admitted to Murdoch are not ready for the course they have been admitted to.
“We are doing them a disservice by telling them that they are. The impact on their welfare and well-being must be dreadful.”
Associate Professor Michael Calver from the School of Veterinary and Life Sciences said while the school had lower numbers of international students, they had still noticed an increase in problems and had to hire a student advisor to support them.
“Despite this, there have been lower success rates in these units,” he wrote.
“Problems were the same type that others have reported: poor language skills, poor study skills, and a need for more support than we could offer.”
Murdoch University declined to be interviewed by Four Corners. Acting vice-chancellor Romy Lawson wrote to staff this morning saying:
“We refute the overarching claims contained in the program that Murdoch University is lowering academic standards to allow more international students into the university,” she wrote.
“I want to assure you that our university prides itself on upholding the highest academic standards and equipping students to achieve their educational goals.
“As a university community we will always value the contribution and success of all of our students.”