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Emerging markets students prone to ‘digital shocks’

UK higher education providers need to better support international students on their digital needs to mitigate ‘digital shocks’ on arrival to the country, a report has suggested.

Students from emerging market areas could be "particularly liable" to experience digital shocks, the report suggests. Photo: pexels

Challenges with digital technologies included its practical uses, such as accessing university systems outside the UK

The International students’ digital experience Phase two: the experiences and expectations of international students studying in UK higher education report, published by Jisc, includes recommendations for providers pre-arrival, on arrival, as well as during the course.

Analysising feedback from more than 2,000 international students, the paper found that while the majority of international students were positive about the use of technology-enabled learning on their course, many had initial challenges (‘digital shocks’) as they transitioned into the habits and expectations of UK higher education.

The first phase of the report, released in May 2023, found that international students are likely to experience digital systems and tools differently from domestic students.

The latest report detailed that international students want more guidance on effective and appropriate use of AI to support their learning.

Challenges with digital technologies included its practical uses, such as setting up authentication and accessing university systems outside the UK.

The paper noted that students from emerging market areas – such as African countries or from Indian Subcontinent countries (which have seen big upticks in enrolments in recent years) – may be “particularly liable to experience digital shocks in transitioning to UK HE TEL expectations”.

The ease of transition to processes in the UK were mixed among all the students surveyed, with a minority of those who had appeared to have unsuccessful in transitioning, left feeling “isolated, frustrated and/or disappointed”.

According to Elizabeth Newall, senior sector specialist (digital transformation), higher education at Jisc, given the recent changes in the UK’s international student cohort, research is timely as it is “the first time we have been able to consider the potential impact of different home global areas on the student digital experience”.

“Students coming to the UK are increasingly diverse, arriving with different personal perceptions, cultural backgrounds and prior experiences”

“The open and honest feedback from international students in this report provides an opportunity to improve HE for everyone. Students coming to the UK are increasingly diverse, arriving with different personal perceptions, cultural backgrounds and prior experiences, both inside and outside formal education,” Newall said.

Among the pre-arrival recommendations are providing students with an accurate summary of how technology will be used on their course, detailing internet access on and off campus, including what eduroam is, and ensuring multifactor authentication that uses mobile numbers allowing for the likely transition to new devices when arriving in the UK.

On arrival, students should have an overview of university digital systems  and be advised on which digital platforms, technologies, resources and apps are available.

During studies, all recorded lectures should have “clear, high-quality audio and captions that correctly describe subject-specific terminology”, and teaching and support staff should have the means to cater successfully for a diverse student cohort.

“Ensure international students’ digital needs are reflected within institutional strategies, including the diversity of digital experience associated with different home global areas,” the report also recommended.

Jacqui Jenkins, global programme lead for International Student Mobility, Education and Society at the British Council, described the research as “vital”.

“It will inform a wide range of stakeholders, improving the HE experience of all our international students, and positioning the UK as a world class study destination,” she added.

British Council was one sector body, in addition to Advance HE,  BUILAUKCISA, UUKi and others, to contribute to the research.

The second phase of research hopes to clarify how more tailored support can help to smooth international students’ digital border crossings.

Jisc will also release of a series of briefing papers in 2024 that will seek to advise on how to give international students the best possible experience while studying in the UK.

“With a commitment to inclusivity and a primary focus on equitable results for international students, we have the potential to forge a digital learning experience that caters to all students,” Newall concluded.

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