Pakistani Students ‘Sold a Dream’ by Australian ‘Scam Colleges’

Pakistani and other international students are being lured to Australia with the false promises of world-class education and lucrative jobs.

Pakistani Students 'Sold a Dream' by Australian 'Scam Colleges' f

“I was sitting there in an empty room. It’s all fake.”

International students, including Pakistanis, are falling victim to false promises from foreign agents in Australia.

Foreign agents are paid huge bonuses by private providers to lure international students into substandard courses with assurances of full-time work and a path to permanent residency.

Foreign agents have been used by Australian universities for decades to drive enrolments and assist students offshore with application processes and accommodation.

But this world is an unregulated one, with some foreign agents accused of bribing international students with laptops, easy course models and false promises about what could happen after they graduate.

At a parliamentary inquiry into the international student sector, Phil Honeywood, the chief executive of the International Education Association of Australia, claimed that Australia’s international education system had become a “Ponzi scheme”.

He said onshore and overseas agents were paid up to 50% commission by independent institutions to lure South Asian students into courses with poor credentials that didn’t suit their talents or skills.

Honeywood said: “These agents need to be regulated.

“It’s not hard to do but they’ve been getting away with it for two decades.”

One victim is Pakistani national Muhammad Ihsan.

He arrived in Australia in 2013 on a student visa to complete a Master’s in biotech and bioinformatics at a university in Melbourne.

He had graduated top of his course with a Bachelor’s in medical genetics.

Muhammad says the agents who enrolled him in his initial course in Australia had travelled to Pakistan.

He thought it would he would receive a world-class education, which would lead to a six-figure job.

However, Muhammad found that of the 90 students on the course, just two were Australian. The majority were Indian.

He says agents often enrol students in courses and then send them to different institutions in order to gain more commission.

In one instance, Muhammad was advised by one agent to enrol in what he calls an independent “scam college” in Tasmania where there was “no education [standards] whatsoever”.

He paid $20,000 in upfront fees but after paying the agent, he was unable to contact them with queries about the course.

Another course Muhammad took at an independent institute in Melbourne cost $56,000 for two semesters.

He says: “You can’t even label it as a course, it had no use.

“Teachers were teaching masters level courses and you can’t comprehend a single thing they’re saying.”

More than 100 people turned up for the first session. Muhammad believes they still passed with degrees, however, many of them stopped coming to class.

He added: “I was sitting there in an empty room. It’s all fake.”

In 2012, the government tried to reform the foreign agents sector with a public voluntary register, aimed at placing greater accountability on what agents the institutions were using.

But Honeywood says it has not worked. Instead, it has become a “race to the bottom” in an increasingly competitive, and lucrative, market.

He said that sometimes money was being “handed in an envelope under the table” to agents who directed students into courses.

In its submission to the Australian Universities Accord, Independent Higher Education Australia called for the mandatory registration of international agents.

In the public university sector, Honeywood says agents are offered a maximum of around 15% commission from institutions for the services they provide to applicants.

But among the private sector, the figure is closer to 30%, jumping to 50% during the Covid-19 pandemic when border closures disrupted the market.

Data found that while international student arrivals were still 22.5% lower than pre-Covid levels, there had been a surge in enrolments at independent institutions.

In February 2023, around 6,270 internationals arrived on student visas at independent institutions, up from 1,020 in February 2022.

Social media apps are rife with agents offering courses like nursing with “pathways to permanent residency” like nursing and carpentry, falsely promising long-term visas.

Under Australian law, eligible students who live, study and work in regional areas are offered one or two years of work rights after studying.

From July 2023, international students will be eligible to apply for two-year temporary graduate visas in “select degrees” in “areas of verified skills shortage”.

Gabriela Weiss, of the Intake Assessment and Referral (IAR) crisis management service for international students in New South Wales, says many students are “sold a dream” by agents in their home countries of life in Australia.

There’s often “misinformation” as to how expensive it is and how many hours they can legally work on a student visa.

She says: “They work so hard, every cent is to pay for studies, accommodation and life expenses.

“And they’re completely alone and denied basic human rights.”

“One student was living in rat-infested living conditions and, after raising this issue, received a retaliatory eviction.

“Another student was told they’d get a rental discount if they took on the job as building manager, but ended up working unacceptably long hours, experiencing workplace exploitation instead.”

For Muhammad, he lives in Launceston, Tasmania, driving Ubers and doing short-term jobs, still hoping to secure permanent residency.

“I’ve lost every shot I can have at a career, and more will be exploited in the same way.”

Wishing he had not wasted a decade of his life, he added:

“Hundreds of thousands of people like me are on the verge of a breaking point.

“I’m a broken man. I shake. [But] I can’t cry in front of my family.”

Dhiren is a journalism graduate with a passion for gaming, watching films and sports. He also enjoys cooking from time to time. His motto is to “Live life one day at a time.”

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