Almost half the Chinese students who took a English language test required for permanent residency visas in Australia failed, despite having completed their courses over the previous 12 months.
Last year, Australia's Immigration Department began requiring students from a number of South Asian countries to sit the International English Language Testing System test, which is used by education institutions around the world to assess written, aural and spoken competency. A minimum score of six gives students 20 points towards the minimum 120 needed to qualify for a residency visa.
Of the 2,655 Chinese who sat the test on finishing their studies, 45 per cent failed to score six on a 10-point scale - the level considered necessary to be able to tackle a degree or diploma programme. Most of those who failed had already spent several years studying in Australian education institutions. Yet, apparently with poor English, they still managed to complete their courses.
In contrast, 94 per cent of the 2,400 Indian students who applied for residency achieved the required IELTS test score.
Last year, more than 72,000 students from China were enrolled in Australian universities, schools and technical institutions - a 19 per cent increase on 2004.
The test results were revealed by Monash University sociologist Bob Birrell who was commissioned by the Immigration Department to investigate Australia's skilled migration programme. Dr Birrell said that while one in five of all students who sat the test failed to achieve the level necessary to qualify for the visa, the figure for those from China was twice as high.
"The main reason this seems to have occurred," he said, "is that most of these students who enrol in our tertiary institutions do not come via the student visa system [where they must first complete the IELTS test] but through other means, such as schools or foundation programmes."
Dr Birrell said the findings left open the question of how students who did not demonstrate this level of language competency had managed to complete their university courses satisfactorily.
The chance to obtain permanent residency in Australia after completing a university course has led to a huge growth in foreign student numbers.
Between 2001 and 2004, the number of foreign masters students jumped from about 9,400 to almost 17,000 - an 82 per cent increase.