Congratulations to the writer for having the courage and decency to express his views on the deteriorating quality of Australian education. I taught for a number of years in an offshore campus. Some of the events and practices I witnessed while there make even the plagiarism scandal involving Newcastle and a Malaysian institution seem very minor by comparison. I left the university in disillusionment and disgust.
The marketing machinery of offshore campuses create the impression that what we have here is pretty much what one may find in Australia. However, the reality is very different. By and large, Australian academic staff do not know what goes on in the offshore campuses and do not care. Many even disapprove of the idea of such, and with good reason.
Many students I had to teach were of extremely poor quality,and were quite impossible to teach, yet there was pressure from the management to pass as many of them as possible. Twenty percent is generally the acceptable failure rate and anything more than that would earn the lecturer the unwelcome attention of the administration.
The lecturers, mostly people who were in the twilight of their careers, would obviously try to avoid this. The solution was quite simple - they just had to give high marks for assignments, or simply had to ‘moderate’ marks after an examination, ie, add marks across the board to bring up the percentage of passes.
The marks allocated for final examinations usually accounted for 50% of the total marks, and marks given for assignments, quizzes, practical reports and tests, constituted the remainder. A student often needed a score of just 30%, sometimes even less, in the final exams in order to sail through. In a few instances, students who failed exams were allowed to submit medical reports after the exam results were known, entitling them to sit for supplementary examinations.
There appeared to be no limit to the number of times a student is allowed to repeat a subject, and it was common for students to come back between four to six times, in contrast to the practice in more reputable universities where students who fail core subjects two or more times, or obtain CGPAs of less than 2.0 for two consecutive semesters would be asked to leave.
Such students had a cumulative effect on the failure rate of the subjects I taught, as they would come back the following semester and invariably, inevitably, fail again. Yet I still had to pass 80% of them!
The academic staff were not exactly world-class either. Most were in the last stage of their career, having already retired from positions at Malaysian universities. They could be counted upon to be compliant and not bat an eyelid in passing, or even awarding high grades to undeserving students. The job for them was but the first phase of their retirement plans.
As for the few young academic staff, they were mostly fresh PhDs or even Masters degree holders from Malaysian and Australian universities, and almost all were without post-doctoral work experience. In top universities, a PhD alone is not enough, and one should have completed ‘post-doc’ training prior to being offered a lectureship.
Thus my impression of working for an offshore campus - low standards, low quality academic staff and highly dubious practices. I am first and foremost a teacher. Teaching is my vocation, my life. It will never make me rich, but it has enriched me in other, intangible, ways.
It is and should be a noble profession and I cannot imagine myself doing anything else. I found teaching under such circumstances heart-rending and destructive of the very soul and purpose of education.
Unfortunately, it will probably go on as long as there are people who want to acquire degrees easily and with the minimum of effort, and institutions that are willing to oblige.