Quality international education always highest priority
The Australian university sector has a strong international reputation for offering high quality education and has a long standing commitment to maintaining standards and combating fraud - a commitment that is constantly evolving to address new challenges as they emerge.
Last night's ABC Four Corners program about student cheating, academics under pressure to mark international students leniently and universities using unscrupulous agents to recruit international students, presented a one-sided picture of international education in Australia.
"It is unfortunate that Four Corners failed to acknowledge Australia's global leadership as a provider of high quality, and highly regarded international education," said Chief Executive of university peak body, Universities Australia, Ms Belinda Robinson.
"Of course any evidence of cheating, lax academic standards and malpractice by agents should be condemned and thoroughly investigated by the appropriate authorities.
"Universities are determined to protect Australia's hard-earned reputation for the provision of high quality education and are taking action through institutional, national and international initiatives to reduce any fraud or misconduct," Ms Robinson said.
In accepting that the actions of a minority highlight the risk associated with providing international education, Ms Robinson rejects a systemic problem with cheating, academic standards and agents.
"As with any multi-billion dollar sector, there are risks, as both Four Corners and the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption concede. Universities have been working continuously to reduce and mitigate them through ever-evolving processes and systems, plagiarism detection software, new taskforces and terminating the use of suspect agents.
"The list of agents terminated by Australian universities over the recent period indicates that Australia universities have robust systems for identifying and stamping out fraud and unethical behaviour."
As well as institutional responses, national and international measures have been adopted to address the risk of misconduct and maintain Australia's reputation for providing high quality education.
"At the national level, oversight and quality assurance is provided by the independent regulator, TEQSA, in ensuring institutional compliance with the Education Services for Overseas Students (ESOS) Act and the National Code," Ms Robinson said.
"Four Corners also failed to acknowledge the development by the International Education Association of Australia of a further quality assurance programme of initiatives for offshore and onshore education agents," she said.
In noting that the challenges aired by Four Corners were not unique to Australia, Ms Robinson noted that Australia is developing a sector wide approach to digital student data portability through participation in the Groningen Declaration process to help prevent fraudulent entry into universities.
"Our universities have been providing high quality international education for over three decades - a vitally important endeavour that enhances Australia's cultural, diplomatic and personal global engagement. We are determined to do everything possible to uphold the highest standards and combat fraud or cheating," Ms Robinson concluded.
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