Here, Ren Yi, Pro-Vice Chancellor (International) talks about what it means for the University of Southern Queensland to capture the student voice and how it feeds into their strategies to tackle the challenges of the current international education landscape.
For the last three or four decades, Australia has been the leader in terms of international student numbers per capita, but in the last ten years that edge has seen a slight decline. For Ren Yi and many of his counterparts, capturing the student voice, especially from international student cohorts, is incredibly important, never more so than now
“We need to understand what students want. The Australian federal government’s new international education plan puts the student at the centre of international education for the first time. So, capturing, monitoring, and learning from the student voice is critical, as is understanding how the university compares with other institutions.”
Clearly, the last two years have posed challenges for all Higher Education Institutions globally, and the latest International Student Barometer results (2022 Global Student Experience report) indicate that student satisfaction in many areas has recovered to pre-pandemic levels, testament to the work institutions and their staff have put in throughout the challenging period, but also their desire to understand and dissect the impact the pandemic has had on their students.
Ren has the advantage of having worked with the International Student Barometer (ISB) for over 10 years now, so is aware of how trends in student satisfaction and perceptions can be cyclic in their nature – the Asian financial crisis had a significant impact on Australia’s Higher Education, but the sector quickly bounced back by making the right decisions at the right time. So, Ren also acknowledges the importance of gaining a deep understanding of the impact of the pandemic and how the University of Southern Queensland has fared during that period. There are many survey, benchmarking and ranking tools available to Higher Education, but for Ren there is particular value in the ISB.
“For me, having that longitudinal data from the International Student Barometer means firstly we can better understand the last two years, and examine how all the policies, services and strategies we have put into place are working. And if it's not working, specifically which areas are not working, and how are we going to improve it? It also helps inform our planning for the future.”
And while universities in Australia will be keen to restore that historic edge in international student numbers, informing plans for the future is not limited to just recruitment strategies – the influence of the rich ISB data and analysis stretches to numerous other areas including teaching, learning, research, international relations, mobility, all the way to how the university manages support services like careers support and faith provision.
The data, analysis and recommendations provided by Tribal i-graduate are often just the beginning of the story – how participating universities disseminate the information across the institution is critical to facilitating a culture of improvement. At the University of Southern Queensland, Ren manages that process to good effect, providing a consistent, tailored approach with the right level of analysis without overwhelming staff with inappropriate levels of granular detail.
The benefit to those stakeholders is threefold. Firstly, it highlights how the university, its departments, services and strategies are performing over time, as reflected in student satisfaction levels and recommendation. Secondly, it enables the University of Southern Queensland to compare itself against other Australian universities to give national context to the results. And finally, it provides the equivalent international comparison so universities can see how their performance stands up to universities from competing and partner nations globally.
“It keeps people informed to make evidence-based decisions but also you don't want to make it too over-the-top for people. It’s a mature and objective way of comparing things so we try to make it as useful as possible for our stakeholders. It has been very informative for senior staff, and particularly in the international education space.”
(University of Southern Queensland SQ conducted the International Student Barometer, Student Barometer (for domestic students) and the Online Education Barometer in 2021.)
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