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Sydney University lowers entry levels to woo Chinese students

The University of Sydney will lower entrance requirements for some Chinese applicants to boost international enrolments and attract the top students who do not choose to study in Australia.

Those who have achieved a highest rank in the GaoKao China National Education Entrance Examination will no longer have to take foundation studies to enrol in undergraduate degrees, if they meet the highest English speaking requirements, the university announced this week.

Initiated by the business school, the decree is effective immediately to abolish barriers to the brightest students coming here, said Professor Tyrone Carlin, acting dean at the University of Sydney business school.

”Many of the top students – if they weren’t exercising their right to go to one of China’s top institutions – they were often going to the US or other jurisdictions where there was a direct admissions pathway for exceptional students,” he said.

Candidates must have an International English Language Testing Score score of seven or above: IELTS has a scale of 9 for the most proficient and 1 for the least. If they satisfy any other admissions requirements, ”the academic board of the university has taken a view that it would be sensible and appropriate to open a pathway to these students”, Professor Carlin said.

The president of the Council for International Students in Australia, Arfa Noor, said the initiative was welcome and many incoming students would adapt easily without passing foundation courses.

”The education in China is so competitive. A lot of what they’re studying here in Australia they’ve already studied in high school school already, so it’s very repetitive. Our studies are a bit more aggressive than the education system in Australia so we would have studied a lot of these things before already.”

Education is Australia’s third largest export and was worth $16.3 billion in 2010-11, but the sector is feeling the pinch from a sharp drop in foreign students.

Sydney University has been developing a special relationship with China, last year opening a China Studies Centre, and hopes to capitalise on its burgeoning student population.

Professor Carlin said the intention was not a numerical target to import students. ”It’s predicated on putting our foot forward and saying this is all about quality of students,” he said.

Chinese students who come to Australia were settling for second or third best, said Greg McCarthy, head of social sciences at the University of Adelaide, and were opting to study in their own country, Britain or the US.

Tertiary education lagged in Australia, unlike its regional neighbours where the top universities quickly outstrip ours in world research and teaching rankings, Professor McCarthy told a conference yesterday hosted by the National Tertiary Education Union, at Sydney University.

He said Asian countries targeted the rich and middle class, and international students would regard Australia as a lower quality alternative.

While recognising the importance of foreign students to the economy, Ms Noor told the conference Australia should stop treating them as a commodity. Educators need to provide a better experience, rather than just taking their money and providing no real support, she said.

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