New study goes deeper into international student exploitation

A joint UNSW Sydney-UTS study into the exploitation of international students has received almost $80,000 in NSW government funding. 

Students studying

International students will benefit from the findings of a newly funded UNSW Sydney and UTS study, which will investigate the issue of the exploitation of international students at work and in their accommodation.

A UNSW Sydney and UTS project will lead the international education sector to respond to exploitation of international students in accommodation and at work.

The NSW Government through Study NSW has announced $78,670 in funding for a study to be led by UNSW Law Senior Lecturer Bassina Farbenblum and UTS Law’s Dr Laurie Berg.

It follows a 2017 report by Berg and Farbenblum, Wage Theft in Australia, that found a quarter of international students surveyed were earning $12/hr or less and 43% of students earned $15/hr or less – well below minimum wage.


Bassina Farbenblum, senior law lecturer at UNSW, is co-author of the 'Wage Theft in Silence' report.

“This study will give the international education sector a deeper understanding about the problem of student exploitation, finding out what information international students need to avoid exploitation at work and in their accommodation, and to address it when it happens,” Ms Farbenblum said.

UNSW Sydney Pro Vice-Chancellor (International), Laurie Pearcey, said this research should be on the radar of every Australian university. In a sign of growing momentum across the sector, the issue was debated at the Australian International Education Conference last week.

“This issue is bigger than any one education provider and this is why UNSW and UTS have been coordinating a sector wide response through our engagement thus far with government and peak bodies such as Study NSW, the International Education Association of Australia and Universities Australia,” Mr Pearcey said.

This new project brings together supporting partners that include English Australia, Redfern Legal Centre, Council of International Students Australia, the International Education Association Inc (ISANA NSW) and Commonwealth agencies such as the Fair Work Ombudsman.

UTS Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice-President (International), Iain Watt said this was an example of the kind of collegiate collaboration which universities are uniquely placed to undertake.

“It is an excellent fit for UTS especially given our detailed work in wage theft and related issues affecting international students,” he said. “It is incumbent on all Australians to do everything we can to provide our international students with the best possible experience while they are visiting us.” 

Collective approach

Dr Berg said the Wage Theft report found the vast majority of students being underpaid were aware of the underpayment.

“This shows us the solution is not as simple as educating on the minimum wage in Australia, it’s something that requires a collective approach from the sector,” Dr Berg said.

The grant was the largest announced in $356,000 of Study NSW funding for organisations to deliver programs to support international students in NSW.

Minister for Trade and Industry Niall Blair said the NSW Government strongly supports international education and the wellbeing of international students.

“I am pleased to support this program, ensuring that when students choose to study in NSW, they not only receive a first-class education, but also great experience in a safe and welcoming environment,” Mr Blair said.

Other supporting partners include English Australia, Redfern Legal Centre, Council of International Students Australia, the International Education Association Inc (ISANA NSW) and Commonwealth agencies such as the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Study NSW is a dedicated unit within the NSW Department of Industry focused on supporting the NSW international education sector and improving the experience of international students in the state. 

Study NSW supports partner projects that align with its objectives and are jointly funded and delivered with organisations in the international education sector. 

Applications for Study NSW Partner Projects are held annually. For more information visit the Study NSW website: