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Survey details learner engagement satisfaction drops in Australia

The overall quality of education experiences of international students at education providers in Australia fell in 2020, particularly among Chinese and Malaysian undergraduates, a survey has revealed.

The survey found, in general, international students remaining in Australia rated their study experience more highly than those studying off-shore. Photo: pexels

Around nine in 10 students from key markets who used agents rated their services "good" or "very good"

Surveying more than 87,000 offshore and onshore international students between July and October 2020, the 2020 International Student Experience Survey showed overall education experience remained largely stable among respondents in vocational education and training, with 84% rating positively in both 2019 and 2020.

However, higher education international undergraduates recorded a large drop in satisfaction from 75% in 2019 to 63% in 2020 in positive ratings overall.

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, international students living in the country reported “record high levels”, with 91% expressing a positive experience living in Australia.

“Satisfaction with teaching quality, student support and skills development remain relatively stable for local and international students, recording only modest declines. This is testament to the adaptability shown by students, universities and teachers,” Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson said.

“All of our students are looking forward to getting back on campus”

Learner Engagement saw the biggest drop over the year among both domestic and international students, falling from 60% to 44% among domestic cohorts and 59% to 49% in internationals.

“We understand the anxiety felt by all students who are affected by the lockdowns, as well as those unable to return to Australia to continue or complete their studies,” Jackson continued.

While international undergraduate student living experience ratings increased to 91% in 2020 from 89% in 2018, this did not include not international students located off-shore.

On-shore students rated Skills Development, 76%, Teaching Quality, 75%, Student Support, 71% and the quality of their entire educational experience, 64%, but off-shore students rated the same aspects as 73%, 73%, 67% and 61%, respectively.

Both international on-shore and off-shore students rated their Learning Resources equally at 72%, the report found.

“In general, international students remaining in Australia rated their study experience more highly than did international students who studied off-shore,” it read.

“Differences in the student experience between these two groups of students was most keenly felt in Learner Engagement, with international on-shore students rating this aspect at 50% in comparison with 42% among international students who were studying off-shore, a gap of 8 percentage points.”

Under usual circumstances, the survey’s scope would be restricted to international on-shore students, but some students with Temporary Entry Visas may have been “located off-shore due to restrictions on overseas travel arising from the Covid-19 pandemic”, the report noted.

“A big part of the university experience is the opportunity to mingle with local students, peers and engage with educators in the classroom,” Jackson added.

“All of our students are looking forward to getting back on campus. Australian universities continue to put safety and community welfare first, and I pay tribute to the students and staff who are showing incredible resilience despite the challenges of the pandemic.”

The survey also found that overall quality of educational experience fell by the most at the University of Melbourne and Monash University, with each institution dropping from 72.1% and 75.2%, to 41.4% and 50.6% for positive student feedback, respectively.

Edith Cowan University and Southern Cross University were in fact the only two universities that recorded increases in overall satisfaction during 2020, with Edith Cowan rising by 1.4% to 79% in 2020, and Southern Cross rising by 1.2% to 75.5%.

Among non-university providers, respondents highlighting positive experiences at SP Jain School of Management shot up from 52% in 2018/19 to 75.1% in 2019/20, with seven other providers recording better results than in previous years.

The survey also broke down satisfaction among respondents by country, finding that Chinese students rated their overall living experience slightly less favourably than other cohorts.

In addition, 38% of Chinese students rated learner engagement positively – at least 20% lower than the proportion of Indian and Nepali students saying the same.

The survey also found Chinese students in-country were more likely to rate improving English skills, accommodation, transport, making friends and personal safety on and off campus lower than students from the other top source countries – India, Nepal, Vietnam and Malaysia.

Additionally, around nine in 10 students from key markets who used agents rated their services “good” or “very good”, with 96% of students from both Vietnam and Malaysia using agents agreeing services were good. Nepal was slightly lower than other countries, but still high at 88%.

The survey also found that the overall top reasons students opted to study in Australia were: reputation of the qualification; institution offered the course they wanted to study; and personal safety and security.

While the report presents results for undergraduate students only, results for postgraduate students are “broadly similar”, it added.

The international education sector has been significantly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, it continued, and international student enrolments declined by 7% in 2020.

However, new international students commencing both from within and outside Australia in the second half of 2020 has “[demonstrated] Australia’s continuing appeal internationally as a world leading provider of international education”, the report concluded.

“Students studying from outside Australia in the first half of 2020 contributed $1.44bn in tuition fees”

“This builds on the growth of international students studying in higher education, which increased by more than 60% over the decade to 2019.

“International education contributed more than $37.5 billion to the Australian economy in 2019-20 and international students studying from outside Australia in the first half of 2020 contributed an additional $1.44bn in tuition fees.”

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