Investing in student experience, what we can learn from the University of Nottingham

Studying abroad is on the rise, with UCAS reporting there were 7,300 more applications from international students to British universities in 2018 and 12,400 fewer applications from UK students.  But how are UK universities managing the experience of these international students? Creating the best experience for students improves employability, decreases the universities dropout rates and can influence  TEF (Teaching Excellence Framework) ratings.

According to HESA student enrolment statistics 2016/17, the University of Nottingham was 18th in the top 20 largest recruiters of international students in the UK. The University of Nottingham uses the International Student Barometer (ISB), a benchmark for student experience, to examine the feedback of their international students. The ISB is an i-graduate (part of Tribal Group) product, that tracks and compares the decision-making, expectations, perceptions and intentions from application to graduation. They used the ISB results as evidence in their recent TEF application, where they were awarded gold. Through the University of Nottingham, UK universities can learn how to increase their own successes, by examining and listening to international student feedback.  

Here are some of the things an institution can do to ensure student experience is at the forefront of everybody’s minds:

Understand the importance of a great experience

Global universities are increasingly realising that student experience is crucial to long-term success and can impact upon every area of a university. Students, more than ever before, can use their voice to share their views on a student experience, and with just a click of a button, they can influence prospective students.

Around a decade ago, the University of Nottingham found they were attracting more and more students from overseas to their Nottingham campus. With campuses in three countries (UK, China and Malaysia) they needed to understand what it was like to be an international student, so they could ensure their international students had the best experience possible. 

Since 2005, The University of Nottingham have used the ISB to measure student experience, Dr Thomas Loya, University of Nottingham’s Director of Strategy, Planning and Performance said:

“We examine the results locally and then dig into the data and look at the university and can drill down into detail like course level results. We examine the data, so we can see where we can improve in the aspects of our education experience.”

Capture an overview of the student experience to implement change

Universities should look to track and compare satisfaction levels of international students and identify specific areas of key importance to them. Most importantly, looking at these results will help identify whether the students would recommend the university to others.

The University of Nottingham uses international student feedback to influence investments in strategic decision making, careers and employability services, accommodation and student support, to name a few. Feedback touches on every element of the university. The university is constantly looking at results from the ISB and make changes based on the feedback students give.

Don’t underestimate the value of feedback

Using international student experience helps universities to develop targeted communications to prospective students and helps inform recruitment and retention strategies. International student feedback can act as evidence to provide strategic input to key investment decision making, alongside optimising resource allocation throughout a university.

The University of Nottingham invested in improving their careers department based on the feedback of their students. This was a long-term project and through examining several years they saw improvements in feedback filtering through from international students. They changed their welcome processes two years ago based on feedback gathered through the ISB and now feedback has improved.

Dr Thomas Loya said:

“The changes made are overreaching and immeasurable, from our curriculum to our library, online learning resources, accommodation, there have been so many changes in different schools, departments and locations. We track year on year our student experience and every area of activity is informed by the ISB.”

The University of Nottingham shows the value that can be achieved from benchmarking international student experience and working on continually improving it. The knowledge they receive from gathering international student feedback is used to inform strategic and tactical decisions that impact upon many areas of the universities, truly influencing their processes from student enrolment through to graduation.

Student Barometer information

The ISB helps institutions make informed decisions to enhance the international student experience and drive successful recruitment and marketing strategies.

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