Open letter to the management of Murdoch University for publication in The Australian

While management of Murdoch University has dropped the financial component of its case against Associate Professor Gerd Schroder-Turk, it continues its attempt to remove him from the university’s senate.

His “wrongdoing” has been to initiate a debate regarding international students. This assault on academic freedom exemplifies the danger to Australian higher education presented by its current funding model.

Australian universities rely heavily on international student fees. The increase in international students was initially driven by the need to compensate for a decline in government funding to universities.

This decline was coupled with the demand that universities source additional revenue, and a relaxation in the regulation of student numbers. As a result, admission requirements were also often relaxed.

As such, students appear to be seen as “customers” who need to be lured in, provided with “satisfaction” even in shallow ways, and veiled from the failings of the corporation to which they are paying very high fees.

International students are particularly vulnerable in this context. The fees they pay are very high, but students are not necessarily able to judge their ability to complete their course of study.

When admission standards are lowered, international students can feel a false sense of security, only to realise later that they are not up to the task. But universities are not necessarily inclined to let students fail, as they will no longer pay fees. So there is a tendency to “push them through”.

Schroder-Turk rightfully raised concerns about the wellbeing of international students. We, as academics and as part of academic institutions, have a duty of care to our students. And data supports Schroder-Turk’s concern: on average, international students do not do as well as domestic students. The reasons behind their poorer performance are likely to be diverse, and it is crucial that they are discussed. International students and their families invest too much to receive an education of questionable quality.

The Australian Association of University Professors lauds Schroder-Turk’s courage to speak up. We ask the vice-chancellor and chancellor of Murdoch University to drop any legal or punitive actions against Schroder-Turk immediately. In taking legal action against Schroder-Turk, management at Murdoch University is merely shooting the messenger.

Instead of legal action, management at Murdoch University would be better served by examining its international student services to alleviate the concerns raised by Schroder-Turk and others.

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