Students are paying thousands of dollars for online courses they believe are run by prestigious universities but have actually been outsourced to for-profit companies that use aggressive recruitment tactics and refer to students as “customers”.
A Guardian Australia investigation into the tertiary education sector’s growing use of external companies to run online courses has found that some have used out-of-date prerecorded lectures and involve “no actual [live] teaching”, according to one academic. Assignments are marked by gig workers who also oversee online “discussion boards”, which take the place of tutorials.
Australian universities now offer more than 850 courses, mostly online postgraduate diplomas or master’s degrees, where the course management, administration and marketing is contracted out to third-party online program management companies, or OPMs.
Molly Dragiewicz, a criminologist and domestic violence expert, told Guardian Australia she resigned from the Queensland University of Technology in 2019 in part over concerns about how a graduate certificate she designed was outsourced to an OPM.
After she left, her name remained on the course materials provided to students. Audio recordings of her lectures continued to be used.
“[One time], a woman I’d never met before came up to me and said, ‘I’m a student