Friday, February 19, 2016

International Students Beware - Part 2

So, as promised, the plot thickens when it comes to my now ex-housemate.  First a bit of background.

After joining my wife in Melbourne, we decided we needed to be a bit closer to her university.  I arrived a few months before the start of her new course at the better university.

Most of the properties we viewed in the area close to the university were either tiny or dirty and old for the price we could afford, so with this in mind we decided to rent with someone else and get a rather nice place to live in.  The only interested party was a Chinese girl on the same English course prior to the start of the nursing course.  My wife knew little about her other than she seemed harmless enough.

Many of the courses that offered places to international students would have an English level requirement.  In most cases this was an IELTS 7.  This is quite hard to achieve, so most still offer places to international students if they complete an English course prior to the commencement of their main course, obviously at an extra cost.  Still, most institutions require at least a level 6 in all four disciplines.

They stipulate that a certain level (presumably the equivalent to IELTS 7) must be achieved in order to start the course, however, a problem occurs if the student's English level is still not good enough.  If the universities keep on failing students for their English, the likelihood is they won't pay the larger fees to start their actual course and once word of this gets out, less and less overseas students will come.  I therefore highly suspect that most universities will not fail students for their English more than once.  Why am I so cynical, you ask?  Well, for two reasons:

1) My housemate's English was awful, and when I say awful, I mean diabolical.  She rarely understood anything either I or my wife said to her.  On top of this, her basic speaking skills were terrible.  Stringing sentences together just didn't happen unless it was a commonly repeated phrase, like, "I got it", or "Okay sister", to my wife.  I remember once asking what she thought of my new car only for her to reply, "I am go meet friend".  She never ever, not once in about 9 months asked me to repeat what I said, she always guessed and was, at least 50% of the time, wrong.  She pronounced simple words like, "dollar" and "chili", wrong, saying "donar" and "chini", instead.  It was painful communicating with her.  My speaking and listening in Korean was better than her English, I understood more and I made less basic mistakes.  My Korean is not at all good, and certainly not good enough to do a degree in Korean.

I'd been an English teacher for a few years, so I think I can judge English level pretty decently.  This girl's English was no better than an average Middle school student in Korea at best.  I doubt whether her IELTS level got much past level 5, let alone approaching level 7.  How on earth was she accepted onto this course?

It turned out that my housemate failed her English course once and then was passed the second time.

2) As chance would have it, one of my personal training clients at work used to be an English tutor in one of these pre-degree course English schools.  I asked her why she left and she confirmed my suspicion that students could fail only once, that after one fail she was told to just pass them.  When it appeared that she had to lie in order to do her job, she quit (she could do this on principle as her spouse and family in general were very well-off).

Now there is no way her English was good enough to start a nursing degree, no way. What's wrong with this?  Where do I start?

While it seems the university was doing her a favour by letting her start her nursing course, it clearly was not.  How on earth would she ever pass the course (she still hasn't by the way, she is having to repeat a number of modules, at extra cost of course)?  If she did even somehow manage to pass the course, how could someone employ her?  If by some miracle someone did employ her, what would it mean for the patients she was helping treat?!

As well as all this, the personal cost to her family would be mounting and mounting.  She had already had to repeat her English course and then a number of modules on her nursing course.  This already must be up into the tens of thousands of donars, sorry, I mean dollars.

So where was my housemate getting all this money from; for her students fees, failed modules, and living costs while in Australia?  She had a rich family?  She worked tirelessly at a part-time job, right?  Wrong.  She never worked, and all the money her family poured into their daughter were in loans, this is all straight from the horses mouth, as we asked her.  She had already been in Australia for 2 years when I met her, and this was over a year ago.  By my calculations, the money spent by her family must be a six-figure sum.  Frightening.  The pressure on her and her family for her to pass must be immense.

All of this gave me an interesting first-hand insight into what must be going on when it comes to the economy in China.  It seemed like a microcosm of the the wider economic problem there, anecdotal, but telling evidence that money and wealth in the country appears mainly a sham.  Assuming that it isn't though, and that debts have to be re-paid, my housemate's family were being driven into bankruptcy.

The old saying, "sometimes you need to be cruel to be kind", seems to apply here.  In all honesty, she never should have been offered a place on any course in the English language (other than an English course) and the reality of the initial disappointment would have saved her and her family in the long-run.

This was a girl of mediocre talents from a small city Chinese background, not ready at all for life outside of China, and it showed in everything she did.  It is impossible that the university couldn't see that this was the case.

I can't figure out how she even survived or passed any modules on her course at all.  Although there were rumours of vast resources for cheating in the Chinese student community.

I bemoaned the online element of the course in the previous post, and it is relevant here also.  Many tests could be cheated on because of this.  Students can all sit in a group and use each other to find answers, perhaps this is how she managed it.

Believe me, I felt very sorry for this girl.  She spent 99% of her time in her room, especially when she was on vacation from university.  She never went anywhere, other than to get food from the shops.  She had no one, and no knowledge whatsoever of the country she was in.  We tried to be friendly, but she often purposely avoided contact with either my wife or me.  To say she was anti-social was an understatement.  How would she ever improve her communication in English?

Here are a couple of examples to show how disconnected and incompetent she was:

- After living in Australia for nearly 3 years, she had no idea what cricket was.  This became clear after my cricket birthday cake was shared with her and we discussed it (with difficulty).

- She did not know how to pay at restaurants.  Most embarrassingly for my wife, our housemate just shoved money into the hand of a waitress after lunch with her one time.

- Worryingly for her potential future profession, she was incredibly negligent and unaware of some very basic things, including some which were potentially dangerous. She would often forget she was cooking, leaving food on the stove for hours; she would wash one piece of clothing in the washing machine until one day I caught her and told her off for it; she put plastic in the microwave twice; her personal hygiene was awful.

- She would only turn the heating and air-conditioning on when we were not there. We only found out because clearly she had forgotten that she had turned it on sometimes and the house was either like a sauna or a refrigerator when we got home.

- She would put the air conditioning on while having the windows wide open.  She would also leave windows wide open in the winter and run the heating, or at least let all the cold air in.  This infuriated me no end because of the extra cost in bills and the inconvenience of always coming home to a house too hot or too cold, solely caused by a weird desire of one person to leave the windows open all the time, regardless of the weather.

To be quite honest, I don't know how we put up with her.  I suppose the fact that she was in her room the whole time helped.  All in all, I am thankful she didn't burn the house down or something, it was a relief to see her go.

The picture I'm painting is of a person you would least like to be a nurse.  Frankly, she was ignorant, unable to speak the language, negligent, dishonest, and unable to perform or remember to do the most basic of tasks.  The fact she was on a degree course in Australia was truly unfathomable.

There is so much more to tell on this subject, but I worry I'd be going on too much.

I wrote this whole post with nothing more than a suspicion that something fishy was going on, based on my own experiences.  However, after I wrote part one, one of my readers sent a link to a very interesting investigation on the topic, and it appears my fears are very well-founded, indeed, they are exactly as I suspected and the story I tell here fits in nicely with the following documentary:

There are a number of victims in all of this, international students and their families and society as a whole are put in real strife and possible danger because of this.  Thinking of specifically nursing, how happy would you be to have incompetent people looking after your health?  But a whole host of people could be graduating from university, in a variety of different professions, that are simply not capable doing what the universities said they can do.

On a personal note, it is gnarling for my wife.  She has already received a frosty reception on her first few days of hospital placements.  This eventually evaporates as it becomes clear that she can understand English and is capable, but a prejudice and suspicion is occurring of international student nurses, and in a way, the staff at the hospitals can't be blamed for that.  This is why many international students who graduate end up doing their nursing in old people's homes, and who could be more vulnerable than the elderly?  What a scandal, what a mess, what is going on, and is it going on in other Western countries too?  I suspect so.


  1. This has really shocked me! I just finished a UK nursing degree course and I do feel sorry for you (two) and the girl in this scenario, but I can honestly say, from my experience anyway that this could not possibly happen on a UK nursing course.
    Possibly the nurse could train in another country and do the course to register in the UK but no way would she get through a nursing degree in this country if she was failing multiple times, they would probably ask her to leave the course. The pass criteria in placement and academically is really strict and if you fail you get a second attempt, if you fail that you have to appeal for a third attempt from the university if you don't get that attemot approved or you fail then you're out and this is for every assessment we did over the three years, including practical assessments in placement.
    Also if she was failing multiple modules she would probably get kicked off the course over here anyway.
    I guess the difference if the academic degree is funded by the NHS in essence the Uk government (they are trying to scrap this now) and places on a degree nursing course are pretty limited, so the criteria can be stricter and in comparison a higher standard of candidate or at least a more appropriate one. Also the degree pass criteria is academically regulated by the uni and monitored plus regulated by the Nursing and midwifery council. so you have to pass the degree but also meet the criteria the NMC layout to become professionally registered.

    1. I was typing quick lol way too many typos in there! Sorry.

    2. Thanks for the comment, Georgina. It's a relief to know that these shenanignas aren't going on in the UK, at least with regard to nursing. Good to get your perspective on the matter, as I was wondering whether any of this was going on in other countries. Unfortunately, university has become really profitable concerning international students, and the withdrawal of public funding means that these universities rely more and more on the funds international students bring in. I'm sure it isn't only an issue here in Australia and I should imagine that the problem is not going to go away anytime soon. Hopefully it stays away from the nursing profession in the UK.

  2. This situation sounds quite familiar. It isn't the some for all universities and English language schools. Some of them are really rigorous with their grading and who they let go through to university. I think the problem is they are all dependent on the international student market. Those with name recognition can rest assured that students will want to come to their university based on the fact that it is a 'good university'. They can be picky about who the allow and disallow to enter. Other universities which will never attract students based on being a top 100 university can only attract students by setting the bar lower with who gets let in. Or at least the agents working abroad certainly push them that way. It might not be a name university, but it's an overseas degree with little risk of failing.

    From what I have learnt about English language schools around the place, many students test into schools based on tests that they complete under the agent's supervision. The agent, of course, to get their commission sells it to the students that with a little extra help on the test the student can go straight to the last level of the language course, which is 'easy,' and the student can go to university without spending too much extra time or money on learning to communicate in English or write an essay.

    Many language schools will just let students like these fail repeatedly. Other students might be let through because of soft hearted teachers who take pity on the students. In other places it might be 'unofficial' company policy to let students through lest they get a reputation for being too strict and scare away potential customers.

    It definitely isn't the case with all Australian universities, and I hope not even a large proportion.

    However, any level of these shenanigans are damaging for graduates whose degrees are meant to signify that the holder has a certain level of competence in a given area. Employers might start looking on degrees gained by international students from Australian universities as different from those gained by local students, which might disadvantage international graduates even more in the local job market. Moreover it is damaging for the reputation of the Australian education system as a whole both locally and abroad.

    Let's hope someone sets some standards and rigorous external reviewing, to put a halt to this situation before any permanent damage is done.