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.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

International Students Beware: Sneaky Sneaky Universities - Part 1

My wife has now finished her nursing course in Australia.  This was a huge achievement; I can't imagine how hard it must be to complete a degree in another language, so she deserves a lot of credit.

The whole experience of my wife being an international student in Australia did give me an interesting perspective into what's going on with the universities here.  It is not an understatement when I say I found what they were up to a smidge immoral.

This actually has less to do with my wife's time at university and more to do with our ex-housemate's.  Before I get on to our dear little lodger, however, I shall first explain what my wife and I have had to deal with, and in part two, I will write about the far worse scenario that went on with our housemate.

Firstly, I am not going to complain about the fees - exorbitant though they are - more what you are getting for the fees and the level of dishonesty surrounding what the universities are doing.  I also will not name the learning institutions involved, just in case, and because I think it is largely irrelevant anyway, as I have learned that this behaviour is fairly endemic across the board.

To begin with, my wife enrolled in a course at a well-known TAFE in Melbourne.  These are smaller college-like campuses, still offering degrees for many subjects.  They often have the advantage of having less students per member of staff, and therefore provide greater support and usually for less money also.  My wife's course was to be 2 years full-time, with one year part-time because of partial credit for what she had already done in Korea.

However, as soon as time came to start her course, things changed.  Instead of doing one or two modules per semester in year one - as offered before she left Korea - all of a sudden she had to take extra modules because they were not satisfied with her previous knowledge.  Unsurprisingly, this would come at extra cost, about $8000.

Having carefully planned our outgoings before we embarked on this venture, this was unacceptable, not just for the extra charge, but for the amount of time it took away from my wife's ability to work in that first year in order to help out with finances (for much of the first year she was on her own in Australia, as I stayed in Korea to finish my teaching contract and save money).

To put it mildly, I was not a happy bunny.  What made things even worse was that speaking to somebody about this was extremely difficult.  My wife tried, but I had the feeling they were purposely confusing her and fobbing her off with weak excuses and promises.  I wanted to speak with them, but a familiar problem I experienced in England, as well as Australia, occurred, the complete lack of someone to speak to when you really need to. It took a lot of skype calls from South Korea and an incredible amount of quite strident complaining to find someone that could speak to me about it.  After making them all feel very uncomfortable indeed, they delayed charging us extra and putting my wife on extra modules until the following semester, before which my wife and I decided to pull out of the course and join another university.

Luckily, this university had some prestige in the area of nursing and offered just a one-year course, giving my wife credit for the time she worked as a nurse in Korea and the learning she had already done at the TAFE.  Curious, I thought, that a better university thought her experience warranted just doing the last year of a nursing degree (which she then passed fairly comfortably), while the lesser institution demanded two and a bit years, and then more when we arrived.

I think the reason for this is that once an international student arrives in Australia, most of them have no choice but to give way to the universities demands for extra tuition at extra cost.  Even before they arrive they can also call for more study than is necessary, again in order to swell their pockets.  Once we were in Australia, knew the system and knew others that had been through it, we could find a better offer.  How many international students have this knowledge or indeed have a miserly, moaning, old fart of a husband to truly hold the universities accountable for this sneaky trickery?

For most students, they had been sent to Australia with their family's money in order to make a career for themselves, mainly from China and India, but basically all parts of Asia.  What are you going to do if your son or daughter phones home and says they need more money than expected as they need to take extra modules?  Pull them out and send them back home, having already heavily invested in paying at least the first semester upfront and moving them half-way across the world, or pay up?  My suspicion is that the universities know full-well that the vast majority will simply pay up, especially as many international students and their families lack the English ability to put up much of a fight when it comes to putting their case across and complaining.

Most of the universities my wife had her choice of, once we left the TAFE in question, also were not advertised or made known to us in Korea.  Now that we are here, it seems different universities advertise in different parts of different countries, China, of course, being the most popular.

Unfortunately, the story doesn't end there.  My experience of university some 15 years or so ago seemed a lot different to what I saw with my wife.  I'm not talking about the social life or anything like that, but the way learning was structured.

Universities these days appear to take full advantage of the internet, making the online element of their courses gain larger and larger significance.  Far from aiding learning, I believe this has given universities the ability to save an extraordinary amount of money by being less hands on with students and this helps them by requiring less staff.

I used to regularly meet with my personal tutor at my university, at specified times, usually 3 or 4 times a month with 4 other students.  Other lecturers and tutors were also quite available to deal with any difficulties I might have had.  But this was before the sophistication of the internet was really adequate enough to run a course mainly from online, it really had to be done on a more person to person basis.  At my wife's university, the ratio is hundreds and hundreds to 1 of students to tutors.  Problems are dealt with online, and from what I saw, there were plenty of them as well, as regular maintenance problems with much of the material online.

With international students in particular, you could also make a case for them needing greater support, but it seemed less to me.  Did they really pay all this money for almost zero support except for a few vaguely answered questions on the university's online portal?

To top it all off, after receiving an awfully large sum of money from us, the graduation ceremony was to take place 100Km away in another campus at a charge of approximately $400 (more if you don't decide straight-away to attend).  This is annoying for us, but extremely disappointing for any international students wishing to attend, what for many is supposed to be one of the proudest days of their lives, as the graduation takes place 5 months after the finish of the their course.  Almost certainly, all those planning not to stay in Australia would have had their student visas run out by this time.  They either couldn't attend or would have to go home and then come back.

So, to sum things up, it looked to me that universities were out to squeeze all they could out of international students, and they'd do it with a mixture of bending the truth, shoddy service, and in my opinion some big fat lies to boot.  To put the icing on the cake, they also decide not to give a second thought or any effort to alleviating any of the many inconveniences and special issues international students might have compared to ordinary Australians at university.

If it wasn't for the qualification at the end of it all, it can only be described as one sneaky little con job, designed to extort vast sums of money from countries like China, India, and Korea, just some of the countries now where people have increasing sources of capital.  All in all it was a disgraceful case of the bottom line coming before human beings.  I wonder how many families in Asia universities have bankrupt, or put in severe debt, because of the innocent dreams of a better life for their sons and daughters and security for the family as a whole.

Now if this all sounds like I am making a mountain out of a mole hill or I am rather too suspicious of the motives of Australian universities, the story of my housemate in part 2 might sway you into my highly cynical position on them.  I can't say this girl was my favourite person in the world, but I did feel mightily sorry for her.