The increasing pass rate for international students

With renewed debate about ‘soft marking’ (Club Troppo here, my original post here, Catallaxy here), I revisited a post from last year about pass rates for international students.

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are for commencing undergraduate students, and the figures represent units passed/ (units passed + units failed + units withdrawn).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.

5 thoughts on “The increasing pass rate for international students

  1. As my University has put a lot of resources into helping international students over the last five years, resources that weren’t being expended prior to that, so a 2% increase in pass rates doesn’t strike me as excessive


  2. I have the same feeling as Martin (especially because the results for individual universities are all over the place — suggesting that different universities are are doing different things) — I think the rise of the dollar, the GFC, and the knowledge that US universities are starting to think about the OS market more means that some universities are start paying much more attention to keeping these students than they once did.
    I don’t think it’s impossible to decrease the attrition rate either — things like mentoring programs when implemented properly would certainly get you a few percentage points, although they seem bodged up in many places — one of the problems of having mainly white English speaking staff above 55 when you really want younger staff that know the various cultural eccentricities of all the different groups that come (no doubt speaking the language of the groups helps also). I imagine the cut back in clubs and societies at many places also probably had a reasonable detrimental effect, especially for mixing between the Australian and OS students, and this could be fixed to some extent also.


  3. In today’s news, “Curtin University staff allegedly took bribes to falsify the English test results of visa applicants, West Australia’s corruption watchdog has heard.” Hmmm


  4. What an embarrassement ! Most international students I’ve met are complete do-dos. How can they have pass rates like that. And 80% pass rates for domestic or international is still way too high. No respect from me for these degree factories.

    As I’ve always said, professional exams like the CFA and actuarial programs garner far more respect from me.

    As a final touch, with all these marriage posts of late, might I mention that this ole Aussie finally tied the knot….And yes, the Groom’s speech made mention of the first meet being at a CIE conference, with the punch line being:

    ‘There were about 30 lads and 3 lassies at this conference. Odds of 10-to-one. Not since King Hazza the 5th spoke on Saint Crispin’s day has man faced such odds and yet proved to be soooooo vicotorious !!!’


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