The International Student Barometer (ISB) has been an integral part of Teesside University’s planning strategy since 2016. With their continued trust in the ISB and outstanding achievements in their ISB feedback scores, we asked George Hunt, Director of International Development overseeing international recruitment, student mobility initiatives, and international partnerships, to explain just how important the information provided by the ISB has been for developing effective current and future plans within the university.
Building success year-on-year
Since their inclusion in the ISB, Teesside University have displayed significant growth in the understanding of their student population and how to ensure the student experience remains a key global strength – Teesside University came out on top of student rankings in the 2023 ISB for overall happiness (scoring 96% against the UK benchmark of 89%) and value for money (93% vs UK benchmark of 80%).
George was keen to make note that the student experience is integral to everything that Teesside University does, not just in their international recruitment:
“We understand how important it is to capture the student voice. We recognise that our student population is what makes us so it's really important that we're in tune with what students are saying, the experiences that they're having, and that we're in tune with what our student demographic is. The ISB is our window into those.”
Using the ISB it is possible to survey the student body on a number of insightful factors that make creating an informed marketing strategy easier. The decision to continue to take part in the ISB is one that Teesside University makes year-on-year knowing that the information given is able to inform staff not only of students’ overall happiness and satisfaction with the university, but into all the finer details of their student experience, including aspects such as satisfaction with campus security and student, wellbeing factors, social activities, and support functions.
Comparing statistics to stand out from the crowd, domestically and internationally
One of the most useful aspects of the ISB is being able to see how your institution compares to others across a wide range of touch points, perceptions, and decision-making factors. Higher education, domestically and increasingly internationally, is a crowed space, and it is important for George and the team to understand where they stand in that space. In this regard, they benchmark not only against the international benchmarks afforded by the ISB, but also a defined comparator group of institutions of particular interest to them.
“Surveying students on specific questions about their experiences and perceptions of the university environment and then benchmarking those results against our comparator group, is invaluable really - there's no alternative, cohesive way of getting that kind of information in a usable format.”
Surfacing and using the information is key for Teesside’s continued success – survey data and insights feed into team meetings and strategic working groups, as well as the Student Union; it informs marketing messaging, and is shared with regional offices speaking with students face-to-face around the world.
“It actually has an impact on the way that we present our offer at the front-end to students, and in many cases, parents with undergrad students.”
“All of the working groups feed in somewhere into the university committee structure – it might be the student experience subcommittee, or it might be the international committee for example. And then there are informal groups - one with associate Deans of International from each school; one which is more focused on compliance; and one focused on recruitment operations as well. For some time now, we have weaved the ISB into our university strategic KPIs. So, it isn't something that we ‘just do’ - we are really committed to delivering on the ISB responses first and foremost for the students. It is also as a measure of our strong international performance.”
By way of example, Teesside scores an impressive 94% (vs UK benchmark of 87%) for their student support, giving staff a reason to shout about their institution along with the evidence to back-up their claims.
As George says:
“Being able to actually quantify that new initiatives are having an impact is beneficial for us. Staff recruiting students and armed with something tangible - I think that's the really important thing. We all have nice anecdotal things that that we can say, but being armed with what we've actually achieved, we can say how we stand out amongst comparable institutions both in the UK and internationally.”
This approach has been key for them in bringing new international students to Teesside and driving student recommendation, with their Net Promoter Score of 44 vastly outstripping the UK benchmark of 18.
Utilising ISB data for continuous improvement
The insights provided by the ISB allow Teesside and other participating institutions to not only see where they perform best or how they compare to the global, regional and bespoke comparative benchmarks, but also where there are distinct opportunities for improvement. George cites the example of the university’s Meet & Greet service. They could see that with an increase in student numbers and a flat amount of investment, satisfaction score fell. The effectiveness of the service dropping might lead to students getting lost, or getting locked out/unable to reach their accommodation in the early hours of the morning, which leads to a bad start to their Teesside University experience, which can have a knock-on effect for attainment and a host of other issues.
“Being able to identify those key themes and having the data and insight upon which to base decision-making has been invaluable.”
Accessing further information about students by their nationalities and other demographics has also allowed George and the team to be able to assess which services to improve, even if the feedback is mostly positive. When they researched the experiences undertaken by their Indian students for example, they asked where they could make changes to their pre-departure processes, such as including face-to-face meetings to allow students to be more confident in their arrival to Teesside:
“One of the things that we've started to do now, that has largely come as a result of some of the feedback from the ISB, is that we ask regional staff to travel to the UK when it's induction time. It's much easier for new students to come in, see a member of the regional office they've already met and say, ‘I'm a bit unsure about this particular aspect, or how and where do I apply for this” for example. It smooths that process a little bit more. We find that those relatively straightforward initiatives make a huge difference at the other end. The ISB does influence some of the practical things we can put our budget towards quite easily.”
This attention to the detail is borne out in the university’s results – overall satisfaction with the arrival phase is 94% compared with the UK benchmark of 91%; 92% of students feel academically prepared when they arrive at Teesside, compared against the UK benchmark of 84%; and 46% of students were ‘very satisfied’ with their face-to-face orientation programme vs 35% in the UK benchmark.
Elsewhere, the university has been able to apply ISB insights to look at how things like employability advice for students is managed, and how the accessibility of counselling services was something to shine a lens on. Demand for the latter has increased in the last 18 months, and Teesside University’s response has been very strong indeed – at 98% satisfaction, they are way ahead of the benchmarks for the UK (91%) and their bespoke comparator group (93%). It is also the university’s most improved aspect of support since the previous survey, giving assurances to stakeholders that the resource investment is being applied effectively. And these high scores are not just limited to counselling support – results across the full spectrum of support categories exceeded UK benchmark, and overall satisfaction sat at 94% compared to 90%.
It is clear that in their involvement with the ISB over the years, Teesside have been able to form robust strategies around their university improvements, as proven further by their latest results. George and the team have embedded the survey into the university’s strategic decision-making, and in doing so have created a culture where the student experience is an important part of the university’s successful trajectory.
“University-wide, people recognise this isn’t ‘just another survey’ - there’s an awful lot it can tell us. This is right up there with the most important pieces of information-gathering that we undertake as an institution, and it’s represented in the university KPIs. It’s something we’ve been able to perform consistently in and that’s a result of it being taken so seriously, not just by us, but by everybody in the university.”
For a detailed analysis of the latest International Student Barometer (ISB) data and how UK institutions compare, access our latest regional webinar:
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