As with many universities, COVID represented a temporary halt on the University of Limerick’s plans to develop their internationalization strategy and to increase the recruitment of international students. Now however, the university is back into full recruitment mode again and planning for the next five years. We hear from Yvonne Crosse, Student Support Officer at University of Limerick Global - how their participation in the International Student Barometer provides the insight for strategies that will help the university build back up again.
University of Limerick (UL) has participated in the International Student Barometer (ISB) for over a decade now – Yvonne Crosse and her colleagues in the Global Office take real pride in the student experience and in ensuring the students' expectations are met. The ISB is the student survey tool used by institutions around the world to track and compares the decision-making, expectations, perceptions and intentions of international students from application to graduation.
“In order to do that," Yvonne explains, "we have to obtain regular feedback from students - we can improve all the services we want, but we have to know we're meeting the students' expectations with those improvements; that we're making the right decisions about the improvements to the service. Yes, we like to hear about what's working, but, more importantly, we want to hear about what's not working. So, the Barometer is key to how someone like me, in my role, plans the year, basically.”
Informing the drive into new markets
UL’s recent ISB results confirmed much of what they had anticipated when it comes to the knock-on effect of COVID – that the lack of face-to-face student engagement would impact the student experience - but the ISB also provides insight into students’ decision-making – how they came to choose Ireland and their specific institution. Now that Yvonne’s focus is recruitment and new markets, those elements of the data are elevated, and, combined with the global benchmarks for a multitude of student experience metrics, she is able to inform decisions to help drive the university forwards.
As a group of Irish education institutions, we are working hard to promote Ireland as an education destination as well as promoting specific programmes, supports and facilities in our individual institutions. Knowing that Ireland generally, and UL in particular, exceeds the global benchmark in many aspects of student support and employability is very helpful in this work.”
Improving the student experience
The reporting aspect to the ISB enables Yvonne to filter the data by a number of parameters to further interrogate and understand the full picture. In this way participating universities can gain insights into the experience for different levels of study, country of origin, division, or course, for example. This analysis means the results are keenly anticipated by a wide group of stakeholders across the university – they also share that keen interest in seeing how they can improve their services.
This analysis and insight has helped Yvonne and the stakeholder teams inform decisions impacting the entire student experience, including discussion around bigger accommodation allocations on campus, and how language support is delivered. The latter in particular has been a focus of improvement as it was felt there was too much of a variance against benchmark and they identified the means of addressing the gap. A module was developed to assist their learners where English was not their first language, and this has had a positive impact on the experience of those learners. It’s important to give every student the best opportunity to succeed in their course, so where feedback surfaces a potential issue, the university is able to understand it and implement appropriate initiatives.
The fact that the ISB has become so embedded in planning and operations speaks volumes about UL’s culture of evaluation and improvement. Areas where the impact of this approach is particularly evident include arrival, learning satisfaction and value for money, where UL performs 4%, 3%, and 11% above Ireland benchmarks. Value for Money is especially impressive as this metric is up 3% on last year, and 10% above the global benchmark, at a time when many universities have struggled to maintain this element of performance.
The arrivals score comes with mixed emotions for Yvonne for a number of reasons. In Ireland public transport wasn’t available during COVID lockdowns for newly arrived students into the country. To adhere to the government guidelines, the university therefore transported all their new international students from regional airports and ferry ports in Ireland directly to their accommodation. Naturally this made for a fantastic experience for the students, but in terms of workload and expense, it isn’t a sustainable initiative. However, although the university is returning to more of a pre-COVID arrivals process, Yvonne as been able to look at the impact of the temporary process and take some learnings from that in order to inform how the university can deliver a sustainable approach. This is just one area where the team has taken learnings from the ISB during the COVID-impacted period of the last two years. The pre-arrival and welcoming of new students have also been areas where UL has been focusing on in terms of getting students in and settled and adjusted, so their experience can be conducive to a successful and rewarding time at UL. Their ISB results reflect this – “Overall satisfaction – Arrival / Getting Started” received 93% satisfaction (vs Ireland benchmark of 89%); “Orientation programme” satisfaction was 84% (vs 79%); and 92% of students indicated they were happy with their life at university (vs 88% in the Ireland benchmark.)
Outperforming all other universities, globally
Another likely contributing factor to UL students’ perception of value for money is the quality of support services, where the university ranked the best in the world in the latest ISB results. Yvonne admits, in a small country like Ireland, the national benchmark is really important, but the global one is just as important if UL is to compete on the international stage. It’s also a strong endorsement of the work the teams put in across the university to affect the student experience.
“I want to see those results grow across all four areas reflected in the ISB, but it's good to be able to see that the results that we're getting enable us to benchmark ourselves globally as well. It is really important for our staff too.”
The international student experience at University of Limerick is on an upwards trajectory, which will enable the university to compete at higher levels globally. The wealth of data and insight Yvonne and the Global Office continue to acquire through their participation in the International Student Barometer, coupled with the institution-wide commitment to delivering a world-class experience, certainly lends itself to a positive outlook for University of Limerick and their students.
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