Back then, I noted that international student pass rates had increased since 2006 after a long period of stability. In previous analysis I had taken stable pass rates as prima facie evidence that there probably wasn’t widespread or systemic increases in soft marking of fee-paying students as unis had become more reliant on their fees. But after 2006 that seemed to be changing.
We now have another year of data (appendix 4), which shows that domestic and international student pass rates are converging. The figures are for commencing undergraduate students, and the figures represent units passed/ (units passed + units failed + units withdrawn).
As I noted last year, the trend is not sector-wide, it is being driven by a smallish minority of universities. In some, domestic and international student pass rate trends are moving in opposite directions, which seems odd – though we need to keep in mind that the two groups have different distributions between faculties.
And what seems to be happening in several unis is a recovery to previous pass rates, and/or convergence on the national average of about 85% of units passed. It’s the trend that seems odd, not the overall pass rate. As we are dealing with commencing students here, perhaps one explanation is that some unis realised that their entry standards had dropped too far, which they then corrected with a quick flow-through to better results.
One other point. If theory is that unis soft mark for financial reasons, it would have been very odd for a noticeable trend to start after 2006. 2005-2008 were good years for universities. Public funding per student increased in real terms every year, the 25% increase in student contributions was flowing through, and international student fee revenues were booming, up $1.3 billion in 3 years. Financially these were probably the best years for unis in the last 20, with the lowest levels of desperation.
But the data needs explaining. I find it hard to believe that international students have suddenly improved their academic performance.