The Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee has toughened its code of ethical practice following allegations that some universities had used questionable tactics to boost their enrolments of overseas fee-paying students.
In recent months, universities have come under attack by students and some vice-chancellors after it was revealed that a few institutions were offering bribes, including free cars and cash, to agents in Asia to direct students to their courses. Others were denigrating their rivals in an effort to win more clients.
In the revised code of practice, the AVCC says universities must improve their control over overseas agents, some of whom are said to earn up to Aus$2,500 (Pounds 920) in commissions for each student enrolled. The committee warns that institutions may be banned from the federal government's international student programmes if education and support service standards are not met.
"The AVCC believes it is essential for all universities offering courses to international students to make a conscious commitment to the code and to adopt consistent and caring procedures in the recruitment, reception, education and welfare of international students," the document says.
It adds that universities should ensure that students seeking admission are qualified academically for their desired courses and that institutions should uphold academic standards.
"Given the financial and cultural consequences of failure, special care is required to ensure that only those international students who have reasonable chances of success are enrolled," the document states.
The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology was this month forced to deny claims by a former tutor employed in Malaysia that students undertaking preliminary RMIT courses there had been allowed to pass some subjects despite poor command of English.
The university dismissed the claims and said students from Kuala Lumpur who came to Australia to study obtained good marks, which showed they were meeting entrance standards.
Vice-chancellors of Australia's 37 public universities agreed to the new code, which also sets down guidelines on fairer refunds for students who are dissatisfied with their courses, are forced to leave or who transfer to another university.
The code consolidates previous guidelines covering onshore and offshore activities. It also includes provisions relating to staff support and strengthening the references to overseas agents.