Hit by a slump in foreigners seeking admission in Australia amidst attacks on them, a leading university is offering a slew of incentives to students including iPods, laptops and even airfare for recruiting fellow pupils from overseas.
Students at Central Queensland University (CQU), a Rockhampton-based university whose Sydney and Melbourne campuses are targeted at the international market, The Australian reported today.
Melbourne University's professor of higher education, Simon Marginson, an expert on the overseas student industry, said he had heard of students earning "pocket money" for marketing before, but nothing as systematic as a student-based recruitment scheme.
"The rewards programme was not a desirable provider of student relationship," he said.
At the top end of the scheme, recruiting six earns a return airfare to the home country, seven earns a new laptop, and eight people earns a return airfare and accommodation for two family members at graduation valued at US $4,000, but would bring in more than US $2,00,000 in fees for the CQU.
But the recruited student must have received and accepted an offer of admission, paid the required tuition fees and remain enrolled past the census date, according to a brochure which the CQU has confirmed is current.
Felicity Fallon, president of the peak overseas student welfare and advocacy association ISANA, said she had worked in the industry for seven years and was "flabbergasted" to learn of the practice, which uses students as recruiting agents.
"They are recruiting; that's what agents do," she said.
Fallon said overseas students often complained about the quality of information available on Australian courses, conditions and accommodation before they enroll. She said she doubted whether CQU students operating in this way could be relied upon to give accurate and honest accounts of the university. Fallon said the "blurring of boundaries" under which students' education providers become akin to an employer troubled her.
Marginson said the focus of the relationship between a university and its students should be on providing education and pastoral care, not on using students as recruitment agents. Brisbane-based migration consultant Parmesh Chand said similar recruitment schemes were used in Australian private colleges.
"We believe there are other institutions offering incentives and (which) have engaged students on their payrolls," he said. "They get commissions."
The recent incidence of attacks on foreign students especially Indians and irregularities in several private colleges in Australia have resulted in foreigners avoiding to take admission there.
CQU university spokesman Mike Donahue defended the longstanding recruitment practice yesterday, saying while the recruiting student provided an introduction, the CQU did the enrolling and organised the tuition fee payments. Education agents did not like the scheme since it allowed students to bypass them and enroll directly with the university, he said.
The rewards were designed to help students with their education, he said. The CQU earned US $109 million from international students in 2007, or 44 per cent of its total funding. It has the largest exposure to the international student market of any Australian university.