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Enhancing the experience of international students in Australia
Student Voices: Enhancing the experience of international students in Australia.
Report prepared by Christopher Lawson
Australian Education International
ISBN 978 1 922125 34 7
With the exception of the Commonwealth Coat of Arms, the Department’s logo, any material protected by a trade mark and where otherwise noted within this publication, all material presented in this document is the copyright of the Commonwealth of Australia and provided under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/au/).
The details of the relevant licence conditions are available on the Creative Commons website (accessible using the links provided) as is the full legal code for the CC BY -NC 3.0 AU licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/au/legalcode).
List of tables
List of figures
List of acronyms
As the third largest destination in the world for international tertiary students, Australia hosts more than 400,000 international school, vocational education and training (VET), higher education and English language students each year. With word of mouth being one of the most important influences on the decision making process for prospective students, the experiences that these international students have living and studying in Australia are important, and satisfied students can become important ambassadors for Australia and Australia’s education system.
To understand the views and experiences of international students and to provide useful information to international education providers, Australian Education International (AEI) conducts national benchmarking surveys of international education students in each sector. The most recent of these surveys was conducted in 2010 and found high levels of satisfaction with the overall living and studying experiences of international students in Australia.
These high-level findings are very positive and the surveys have identified a number of areas where improvements can be made to enhance the overall experience of international students. These areas include:
To support Australian education institutions to deliver a high quality international education experience, the Council of Australian Governments developed the International Students Strategy for Australia 2010-2014 (the ISSA). The ISSA is designed to “support a high-quality experience for international students, in order to ensure a sustainable future for quality international education in Australia”1. Under the ISSA the Australian Government has implemented a number of initiatives to support international students’ education experiences and to further enhance the student experience, including holding two international student roundtables and providing funding to ISANA, TAFE Directors Australia and Universities Australia to develop good practice guides for the sector.
This research report represents a part of this broader Government response. To develop a greater understanding of and ideas for improving the experiences of international students around the issues of interaction, support services and relevant work experience, AEI conducted 41 focus groups across Australia in 2011. These focus groups included groups of international school, VET and higher education students, as well as domestic VET and higher education students and international education support staff from a wide range of international education providers. Focus groups were held in Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth, Sydney and Melbourne, with the assistance of Study Adelaide, Queensland Education and Training International, the Western Australia Department of Education Services, the New South Wales branch of ISANA and the City of Melbourne.
International and domestic students shared their experiences of studying in Australia and talked about ideas for improving interaction with Australian students and enhancing the experience of international students. Some of the voices of the students are captured in the body of this report, providing a human element and giving more context to some of the findings of AEI’s international student surveys.
The focus groups with international education support staff provided an opportunity to discuss strategies that effectively support international students, and to workshop ideas that can further enhance and improve the experience of international students in Australia. Many of the ideas and experiences that were communicated by international education support staff are also presented in the body of this report.
Looking at the lifecycle of the international student experience, from pre-departure through to work experience and graduation, the key findings of this report are:
Section 1. Introduction
Between 2008 and 2011, more than 400,000 international students a year have studied in Australia on student visas, with the large majority choosing to study in Australia because of Australia’s reputation as a safe, high quality education destination. For most international higher education and vocational education and training (VET) students, studying in Australia presents an opportunity to experience a new culture or lifestyle, while allowing them to improve their chances of employment after graduation through gaining an internationally recognised, high quality qualification.
The OECD’s Education at a Glance 2011 shows that Australia was the third largest destination for international students studying at the tertiary level in 2009 (the most recently available data)2. While Australia is extremely successful as an international education destination and has grown its share of the global international education market, there are a growing number of countries developing themselves as international education destinations, competing for the attention of prospective international students. For Australia to continue to attract international students in this increasingly competitive environment, it is important that international students studying in Australia are satisfied with the quality of their education and their experiences of studying and living in Australia.
Research has consistently shown that family and friends as well as current and past students are strong influences on the decision about where to study3, both at the country and at the institution level. Word of mouth is a key source of information used by prospective students. The purpose of this research report is to provide further insight into individual students’ experiences of studying and living in Australia. It is intended to detail some of the individual stories that underlie the broader statistical findings from large scale surveys, including Australian Education International’s (AEI) international student surveys.
To support Australia’s international education sector, the Council of Australian Governments developed the International Students Strategy for Australia 2010-2104 (the ISSA) , which was released on 29 October 2010. The purpose of the ISSA is “to support a high-quality experience for international students, in order to ensure a sustainable future for quality international education in Australia”. One of the five elements of the ISSA is the provision of better information – including through international student surveys “to better understand international students’ experience of living and studying in Australia.”
AEI conducted a national survey of international students in each of the sectors in 2006, with a follow-up survey of graduating VET and higher education students in 2007. AEI also conducted a national survey in 2010 under the auspices of the ISSA, using the International Student Barometer (ISB) developed by i-graduate for the English language, VET and higher education sectors, and a separately designed survey for the schools sector. Each of these surveys showed high overall levels of satisfaction with the experiences of studying and living in Australia, with the 2010 surveys showing results comparable to international benchmarks4.
An international higher education student reflecting on studying in Australia: “you know how to manage time ... and you get to know how to balance your living and also your study ... and I think get to meet lots of people here ... because in China I don't think there are the [same] ... opportunities to communicate with others”
While the surveys showed that most students were positive about their overall experience, and were willing to recommend studying in Australia to their friends and family, there were some consistent themes coming through where improvements could be made. Three of these themes have to do with encouraging and supporting social interaction between international students and Australian students and members of the broader Australian community, providing more opportunities for international students to undertake relevant work experience while studying, and promoting and developing support services for international students.
These themes are not new – social interaction, in particular, is a theme that has been a topic for research for many years. They are also not unique to Australia’s international education system – surveys of international students in other countries have found similar results5.
A separate AEI survey of international graduate outcomes and employer perceptions further reinforces the first two of these themes, with employers seeing a need for more to be done to improve the language and communication skills and work experience of international graduates to prepare them for the workforce6.
A number of resources relating to social interaction have been prepared to support education providers, such as the Finding Common Ground: enhancing interaction between domestic and international students guide for academics7.
AEI has also contributed to resources encouraging social interaction, producing the Examples of good practice in assisting international students to integrate with Australian students and the wider community8 publication in 2009 and providing funding to ISANA9, TAFE Directors Australia10 and English Australia to produce good practice guides for the sector. In 2012, AEI is collaborating with Universities Australia to establish a number of projects that demonstrate good practice in enhancing international student experience.
As a follow up to the 2010 international student survey, AEI conducted a series of more than forty focus groups across Australia in 2011 to investigate in more depth the experiences of international students studying in Australia and to provide more opportunities for student voices to be heard. This report outlines the key findings of these focus groups, and looks at some of the ways that Australian providers and organisations are enhancing the experience of international students studying in Australia.
Section 2. Methodology
To get an understanding of the views and experiences of international students from a number of different perspectives, AEI held separate focus groups with international school, VET and higher education students, domestic (Australian) VET and higher education students, and international education support staff working in Australian education institutions. All participants were 18 or older at the time of the focus groups.
The focus groups for this project were conducted in two waves, with the first wave, covering South Australia (SA) and Queensland (QLD), conducted over March and April 2011. The second wave, covering Western Australia (WA), New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria (VIC), was conducted in August 2011.
AEI worked closely with partners in each of these states, and would like to acknowledge the assistance received from Study Adelaide, Queensland Education and Training International (QETI), the WA Department of Education Services, the NSW branch of ISANA and the City of Melbourne. These partners helped disseminate information about the project and encouraged students and education providers to participate in the focus groups. The success of this project would not have been possible without their support.
Table 1 below outlines the number and range of focus groups that AEI conducted in each state, as well as the total numbers of participants.
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