Advance HE, a member-led charity for higher education providers, released its annual Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey with nearly 84,000 responses from across 101 HEIs, and the results showed mixed reviews for international students.
The author said that one out of 10 overseas postgraduate taught students are more positive than those that are UK domiciled.
When looking at satisfaction in various areas – resources, teaching, engagement, assessment and organisation – non-EU domiciled students’ satisfaction was trending higher in every category. For example, in resources, UK students reported 87% satisfaction; non-EU students reported 93%.
In teaching, engagement, assessment and organisation, the UK scored 82%, 79%, 77% and 71%, respectively. Those from outside the EU responding scored 87%, 85%, 82% and 82% respectively.
Notably, all the non-EU students’ scores in those categories have increased by at least 5% since 2014, only dipping during the pandemic.
Such an increase in the satisfaction among non-EU domiciled students is so evident in the report that even the author doesn’t quite see why it’s happening.
“Why the experience of PGTs from India and Pakistan in particular should have shifted through this period of expansion is not clear from the data in PTES,” the report noted.
“One indication is that overseas students tend to express negative views less in their comments… some appear less likely than UK PGTs to criticise when things don’t go so well,” Jason Leman, the report’s author and survey executive at Advance HE, told The PIE.
However, the report said it is not necessarily just students avoiding negative feedback but that “a change in experience for the cohort as a whole has made feedback more positive”.
Speaking with The PIE, Leman said the evidence from the report shows the provision has generally emerged “strongly out of the pandemic”, and is delivering successfully for an expanding international cohort”.
“When considering the position of UK HE globally, that seems a real positive for the sector,” he added.
One of the most prominent things that overseas postgrads talked about in their comments, included in the report, was how the teaching experience impacted their satisfaction level.
A student from India noted that their entire academic assessment was focused on exams at home – in the UK, it was a different story – and it made a difference in their studies.
“The [coursework] has been quite challenging and interesting at the same time. I enjoy doing the necessary research,” the student wrote.
This satisfaction, Leman commented, highlights “the successful expansion of taught postgraduate study for these students across UK higher education”.
The report also added that experiencing diversity in the classroom may be “particularly important to overseas PGTs studying in the UK” – reflected in one student’s response.
“I was assigned to a group of British, Indian and Chinese people to explore problems and consider solutions together.
“I think this not only increased my understanding … but also taught me how to better communicate,” the student recounted.
When examining whether students were thinking of leaving a course for any reason, UK students scored higher than overseas students – something Leman attributed to the difficulty of balancing studies or possibly having to look after family.
While the figure was lower for internationals – something for which, Leman said, the reasons were not clear – that didn’t mean the issue was non-existent.
“There are also indications that expansion has delivered provision that has met the needs of international students”
“Going into 2022, there was a significant drop in the proportion of Indian and Nigerian PGTs giving financial difficulties as a main reason for thinking about leaving their course,” the report said.
“However, as the cost of living crisis has hit in 2023, there has once again been a significant increase in PGTs from these two cohorts facing financial difficulties, with it being the most common reason to think about leaving for India-domiciled PGTs,” the report continued.
Leman noted that international students expressing their concerns about being able to work to support their study said that these were mainly around the support from their institution in finding opportunities.
Overall, the promising figures for overseas postgraduate taught students gives indications that the sector is adapting to meet expectations.
“There are also indications that expansion has delivered provision that has met the needs… of international students looking for a diverse and global postgraduate experience – just by being in the UK they are getting an added benefit.
“Other research indicates a similar picture may well be found for UK PGTs who study abroad,” Leman added.