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Australia: student satisfaction rates fall in international cohorts

A survey on the student experience in Australia in 2020 has found a sharp drop in satisfaction with the entire educational experience, particularly among international students.

More international students also considered leaving their studies in 2020 due to issues associated with the pandemic, the survey showed. Photo: Unsplash

Some 18% of international students indicated they were considering giving up their study

Student ratings of the quality of their entire educational experience among undergraduates fell from 78% in 2019 to 69% in 2020.

This is data drawn from a Student Experience Survey – funded by the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment – which collects data and focuses on aspects of the student experience that are measurable, linked with learning and development outcomes, and potentially able to be influenced by institutions.

The SES measures five aspects of the student experience: Skills Development, Learner Engagement, Teaching Quality, Student Support, and Learning Resources.

The Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT) 2020 Student Experience Survey provided an opportunity to measure how the higher education sector has responded to the Covid-19 pandemic as seen from the perspective of students and their lived experience of these changes.

There were also substantial falls in student positive ratings of Learner Engagement, from 60% in 2019 to 44% in 2020, and of Learning Resources, from 84% in 2019 to 76% in 2020. There were smaller falls in positive ratings for Student Support, Skills Development and Teaching Quality.

International students however appear to have reported a sharper fall in student ratings than domestic students in 2020, with ratings of the quality of their overall education experience declining by 12% in 2020 and their ratings of Learning Resources declined by 11%.

“Around 76-77% of primary student visa holders were actually in Australia in August/ September 2020”

However, international students experienced a lesser fall in Learner Engagement, 10% in comparison with the 16% decline reported by domestic students.

“There may be a partial explanation for this finding in that data from the Department of Home Affairs shows around 76-77% of primary student visa holders were actually in Australia in August/ September 2020,” according to QILT.

“This possibly runs contrary to the popular perception that most international students were unable to come to study in Australia due to Covid-19 restrictions surrounding international travel. That most international students were studying in Australia may have contributed to a smaller decline in Learner Engagement among these students than might first have been imagined.”

More international students also considered leaving their studies in 2020 due to issues associated with the pandemic. Some 18% of students indicated they were considering giving up their study, the main reasons were financial difficulties (38%, up 18% compared to 2019) and fee difficulties which increased by 14% to 35%

The survey also asked students to rate whether their financial circumstances, living arrangements and paid work commitments negatively affected their study.

While there was relatively little change in these factors for domestic students, there was a substantial increase for international students.

The proportion of international students reporting their study had been negatively impacted by their financial circumstances ‘quite a bit or very much’ increased from 28% in 2019 to 47% in 2020, while the negative impact of living arrangements on study increased from 23% to 34%, and the negative impact of paid work commitments on study increased by 9% to 30%.

Universities in Victoria experienced the largest decline in student rating of the quality of their overall education – University of Melbourne (25%), Monash University (18%) and RMIT University (16%).

The QILT report suggested Covid-related lockdowns contributed to the fall.

“That these are all Victorian universities and the survey was undertaken in August/September 2020 at the height of the lockdown during the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in Victoria may, in part, be due to students reacting to the broader Covid-19 environment and its impact on their higher education experience,” the report said.

Other universities that experienced larger than average falls in student ratings of the quality of their overall education experience included the Queensland University of Technology and the University of Wollongong (in New South Wales).

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