Foreign students on par with locals

INTERNATIONAL students do just as well as Australian students at Australia’s elite universities, countering claims that international students are “soft-marked” and are dragging down academic standards, according to the author of a new study.

The research examining students at Australia’s leading eight research universities, a coalition known as Go8, also found that women did better than men and postgraduate coursework students did better than undergraduates.

The study by Hong Kong-based education consultant Alan Olsen counters the view that fee-paying international students are “soft-marked” to help them succeed through the education system because they are a lucrative source of income for cash-strapped universities.

Mr Olsen said his study showed that, on their merits, international students at the Go8 universities did just as well as Australian students.

“We don’t say that girls do better than boys because they are ‘soft-marked’. We don’t say that the problem with boys is poor English standards. It is only the international students that these presumptions are made against,” he said.

“If there is a mountain of evidence (that international students are soft-marked), where is it? This study shows that is not happening in the Go8.”

The Go8 universities are the Australian National University, Monash University, Adelaide University, Melbourne University, the University of NSW, Queensland University, Sydney University and the University of Western Australia.

The research was commissioned by IDP Education, a global student placement and English-language testing company, for presentation at the Australian International Education Conference in Brisbane this week. IDP Education is a sponsor of the conference.

The study found overall that 140,903 Australian students at the Go8 universities in 2007 passed 92% of what they attempted, 46,812 international students on campus passed 91.6% and 7939 international students overseas passed 89.2%.

Overall, female students passed 93.3% of what they attempted and did better than male students (89.9%).

The 2007 study finding on international students is consistent with a study of 22 Australian universities in 2003.

But it is at odds with a 1996 study in which international bachelor students passed 84.3% of what they attempted, compared with 79.3% of Australian students.

Mr Olsen attributed the difference between the 2003 and 1996 findings to international students in 1996 being a smaller and more elite group.

Sushi Das | October 8, 2008 | The Age

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