Ombudsman recommends external oversight

Photo: Aun Ngo

Photo: Aun Ngo

This is the third part in our series about the Victorian Ombudsman’s report into international student education.

AN INVESTIGATION into international student education by the acting Victorian Ombudsman has made a number of controversial recommendations that if implemented would take some control away from universities.

Acting Victorian Ombudsman John Taylor recommended external assessment of both English proficiency and assessment methods, in a bid to stop some of the concerning issues identified in the report.

Recommendation 8 suggests universities appoint ‘external examiners to report on their academic standards and assessment methods.’ Recommendation 9 is for ‘an independent risk assessment of the extent of cheating and bribery amongst staff and students and the effectiveness of their existing policies and procedures by mid-2012’.

The difficulties some international students have meeting the language requirements of their courses was a chief concern of the Ombudsman, and this was reflected in the recommendations. Six of the seventeen dealt with English proficiency, and how universities assess and monitor it.

The Ombudsman recommended that universities make all international students undertake an externally assessed language test, and that universities review their minimum entry scores to make sure they are enrolling students capable of completing their courses.

He also recommended universities monitor the academic progress of international students enrolled through different pathways (i.e. those who get in through IELTS compared to those who get in after completing TAFE courses) so they can better assess what is and isn’t working, something only Swinburne does at the moment.

When it comes to dealing with cheating and bribery, another concern of the investigation, the Ombudsman recommended staff education on how to deal with such situations as they arise.

The response to these recommendations was mixed across the universities. Deakin was the most open to them, saying it had started looking at its processes. Swinburne and Ballarat responded differently to each recommendation, accepting some while merely noting others.

RMIT flatly rejected the recommendations as ‘outside the jurisdiction’ of the Ombudsman.

RMIT Chancellor Professor Margaret Gardner said in a statement that the university “has confidence in existing Commonwealth and State Government regulation to continue to produce high-quality outcomes for all students and does not agree with the Victorian Ombudsman’s criticisms of the current regulatory framework.”

“Further regulation of a world-class university system is an unjustified burden, taking away scarce resources from teaching and research,” she said.

Earlier in the report, the ombudsman said that maybe external oversight was needed of the sector, as it was in the interests of universities to enrol as many students as possible.

“While the ideal of universities as independent centres of teaching and research remains important, I consider that they are not well placed to self-regulate their dealings with international students when they are competing for those students and are reliant on them for such a large part of their revenue,” Taylor said.

Do you think the Australian Government should take a closer look at how universities deal with international students? Let us know what you think.

Post Your Thoughts