We the Cash Cows

By Zhuang (Michael) Xu

Australia Broadcast Company recently released a documentary titled “Cash Cows: Australian universities making billions out of international students.” The documentary attempts to shed light on the problem of universities in Australia that waive English and other academic requirements for international students. In response to the funding cuts for public Australian universities, universities are attempting to recruit more international students.

According to the documentary, numerous Australian professors voiced their unease with some international students’ questionable academic ethics (usually in the form of plagiarism). Australian students are also concerned with the English proficiency of some of their international peers. One student recalled his experience of working in a student group in which he was the only Australian and others were “from the same place, [and they] all [spoke] their native language to each other.” In 2017, an Australian professor stated his opinion on Chinese students in his class explicitly by writing, “I will not tolerate students who cheat” in English and Chinese on his PowerPoint, even though there were students from other countries present in the class.  

Although the documentary calls the students in question “international students,” it is obvious that they are mostly Chinese and Indians. Australia is far from the only country that sees increasing percentages of Chinese and Indian students on its college campuses. For example, according to the Institute of International Education, the number of Chinese students studying in U.S. colleges rose from 81,127 to 363,341 between 2008 and 2016 — a 348% increase. The trend corresponds with a more than $7 billion cut in public funding for colleges in the U.S. from 2008 to 2017, as a report by Center on Budget and Policy Priority reveals. 

Increasing enrollment of Chinese and Indian students serves the interests of U.S. universities. On the one hand, Chinese and Indian families that choose to send their children abroad can provide precious financial revenues to American universities. Furthermore, Chinese and Indian students make the campuses look more diverse and therefore more appealing to liberal-minded students and parents.   

However, as the documentary points out, such a practice leads to some severe conflicts between different groups. International students can experience anxiety and culture shock. Chinese students specifically experience stereotyping. I can’t speak for Indian students’ experience, but I imagine it is somewhat similar. Commonly held stereotypes about Chinese students are: Chinese students only talk and hang out with other Chinese students; they are the most isolated group on campuses; and they are all rich and drive luxurious cars. These stereotypes even find their audience in China, where students studying abroad become the perfect punching bags on the internet for people to unleash their outrage about increasing economic inequality. The persistence of stereotypes forces Chinese students to further alienate themselves, and in this way, the stereotypes are reinforced.

The documentary pretends to care about the well-being of international students in Australian universities, but in reality, it is simply a more moderate and presentable version of “they are not sending their best, but some I assume are good people.” It portrays Chinese and Indian students as a monolithic group of incompetent cheaters who can’t speak English properly. I do not wish to dismiss the fact that some Chinese and Indian international students are from wealthy families and their academic performances can be less than satisfactory. However, to demonize them, while refusing to reflect on the reasons behind public higher education budget cuts and ignoring the fact that privileged white students have similar problems on college campuses, is utter hypocrisy.

The Catalyst readers will be naïve to think that these problems only occur in large public universities. Every year, most Chinese students paying full tuition in the upcoming class of Colorado College come to CC early to participate in the “Global Scholars Program” for a full block. The logic behind the program is that some students must have the proper preparation for their CC careers, which is the only plausible explanation for the fact that the GSP is mandatory only for some Chinese students. The underlying assumptions here are unsettling and outrageous, especially considering the fact that, as far as I know, participants have to pay for a full block of tuition and activity expenses, and the Office of Admission has never communicated its selection process.  

The Chinese student body here at CC can also be stereotyped by both Americans and other international students as being isolated from the rest of the college community. Most people do not realize that during GSP, Chinese students socialize only with each other. By the time the semester starts, their social circle is already saturated. The accusation of Chinese students’ collective social isolation in the context of CC is particularly hypocritical, as most people here also stay in their own comfortable, static social groups. 

So here we are, being the cash cows for universities, yet subject to prejudices from students and professors. We are the products of the neoliberal world order, but somehow take the blame for the damage that it has caused — a common treatment for foreign workers or students in the U.S. — and people wonder why we do not unanimously accept the liberal values that are supposedly applicable everywhere in the universe. While we struggle to adjust to living in countries in which many of us have never set foot, our hosts have decided to overlook the socioeconomic (did I mention that not every Chinese student is rich?) and ideological differences among us. 

We deserve better.  

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