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The Impact of International and NESB Students on Measured Learning and Standards in Australian Higher Education


  • Jennifer Foster



Do international students and/or students from non-English language speaking backgrounds (NESB students) perform worse than other students in Australian undergraduate classrooms? What happens to other students' marks when these students are added to classrooms? I provide new empirical evidence on these questions using very recent administrative panel data from the business faculties of two Australian Technology Network universities. Results show that both international students and NESB students perform significantly worse than other students, even controlling for selection into courses. Both effects are large and do not disappear after the first semester, but non-English speaking background predicts substantially more of a reduction in marks than international student status. Adding international NESB students to a tutorial leads to a reduction in the marks of English-speaking students in that tutorial, whereas the marks of all students benefit from the addition of domestic NESB students to tutorials.Finally, evidence of an upward buoying effect on marks is found from adding international NESB students to courses, which is likely due to the presence of grading on a curve at the course level, but this effect is only felt by international NESB students themselves. Logic suggests that this rise is unlikely to be due to a true learning effect, implying that on average, international NESB students' already low marks are inflated in courses with large fractions of such students.

Suggested Citation

  • Jennifer Foster, 2011. "The Impact of International and NESB Students on Measured Learning and Standards in Australian Higher Education," Discussion Papers 2011-01, School of Economics, The University of New South Wales.
  • Handle: RePEc:swe:wpaper:2011-01

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    More about this item


    higher education; Australia; peer effects; international students; NESB;

    JEL classification:

    • I23 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Higher Education; Research Institutions
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity

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