SYDNEY: Australia's Education Minister raised concerns yesterday that a plagiarism scandal involving Malaysian students at an Australian-run university would damage higher education exports worth billions of dollars.
Brendan Nelson urged Newcastle University to reopen a case in which it secretly re-marked the assignments of 15 students who had been failed for plagiarism at a campus it runs in Malaysia.
The 15 were initially awarded zero marks for using unattributed material from the Internet in an assignment, but their former lecturer claims the university overruled his decision because it was concerned about losing revenue from offshore students.
The students at the university's graduate school of business in Kuala Lumpur were subsequently issued pass marks, some of them receiving distinctions.
Nelson said a university investigation had failed to thoroughly examine the plagiarism claims and left important questions unanswered.
He said the scandal could sully Australia's reputation for high academic standards and damage the booming education sector.
"Perception and reputation in higher education is absolutely everything," Nelson told Nine Network television.
"If we have a number of instances involving one or more universities, whether in Australia or indeed at offshore campuses, which are considered and indeed found in fact to be totally unacceptable then obviously our entire reputation as a country is diminished."
Overseas students pay full fees averaging A$20,000 a year when studying at Australian universities and higher education exports now total more than A$5.2 billion a year.
Nelson said the Newcastle University council needed to reassure him that its processes were impeccable.
He also warned universities against targeting whistleblowers who alerted authorities to corruption or malpractice.
"There will be absolutely no sympathy, from me or the Commonwealth government, for any university that seeks to vilify or to otherwise persecute an academic who brings forward a serious concern in relation to the quality of education that is being delivered," he said.
The lecturer involved in the Newcastle University case, Ian Firns, has lodged a complaint with the New South Wales state corruption watchdog ICAC over the affair. - AFP