After an interview with a distressed Indian student, Murdoch University academic Gerd Schroeder-Turk was left feeling so shaken that he wrote to senior staff setting out his concerns about an increase in the number of international students struggling because of their poor English.

His email, leaked to The West Australian, suggested that despite admission standards not being dropped, the university was admitting “under-prepared” students and called for urgent action to protect their mental wellbeing.

Dr Schroeder-Turk, a senior lecturer in maths and statistics and a member of the Murdoch University senate, said in his email that the first-year student had requested the interview to ask him to waive a prerequisite maths unit.

He realised her poor command of English and lack of maths background meant she was unlikely to have a realistic chance of passing units in her chosen course.

He said the student’s case seemed to be the norm, not the exception, for a big group of international students, with a significant proportion from the Punjab region in northern India.

Dr Schroeder-Turk wrote that his email represented concerns expressed by numerous colleagues from different disciplines across the campus.

“Put simply, some of these students appear to be either not ready for university at all or, particularly for those who join us for postgraduate course work study, not ready for the course they have enrolled in,” he wrote.

“I do not understand how these under-prepared students could be admitted to their respective courses.

“I appreciate that, on paper, our admission standards have not been dropped ... I can only speculate that we must have become complacent in checking diligently that the qualifications correspond to actual learning or knowledge standards.

“Maybe the wave of under-performing students in semester one took us all by surprise and maybe we do not fully understand why our usual checks and balances did not work to ensure adequate student standards.”

The email said the university had a responsibility to set its students up for success but it seemed it was letting them down. It claimed academics were placed in an impossible position, trying to support under-performing students to study successfully while upholding learning standards.

“The student advisers are equally powerless, as for many of these students the problems are overwhelming,” Dr Schroeder-Turk wrote. “As one example, language problems occur that are not problems of ‘academic writing’ at university level; the problem is basic communication in English.”

Murdoch University Provost Romy Lawson said its admission standards were benchmarked with other universities.

“Murdoch has not lowered its admission standards,” she said.

“The English language proficiency ratings we set are in line with those required for international admissions at other sector institutions.

“Murdoch works with a broad range of international recruitment agencies who are cognisant of the admissions standards the university uses to assess student applications.”

A response to Dr Schroeder-Turk’s email from student management director Greg Caust said the university was aware of the need to constantly review entry requirements.

Birinder Chawla, chief executive of Overseas Education and Career Consultants which has held Murdoch recruitment seminars in India, told TheWest Australian that students had to meet minimum requirements and received an offer only after assessment by university staff.

“The issue of poor English language skills cannot be questioned as they meet university requirements,” he said.