With an 'overall satisfaction’ score of 91% (vs bespoke UK benchmark of 87%) and an 'overall learning experience’ result of 92% (vs global benchmark of 87%), the University of Hull’s International Student Barometer results reflect its world-class offering. Here, Victoria Sanderson, Director of Strategic Planning and Performance at University of Hull, explains why the scores also represent pause for reflection.
University of Hull is currently investing in an ambitious new international strategy with the long-term goal of globalising the university through people, place and partnerships. To achieve its targets in today’s competitive, post-Covid climate - the university knows that it needs to put the student voice at the heart of everything that it does. Not just the curriculum, but its research partnerships, and student opportunity development - and its marketing and recruitment too. It’s why the university has created a Student Surveys and Student Voice Group, led by Victoria, which is dedicated to giving students a voice at every opportunity:
"We run several university-wide surveys as well as the National Student Survey and a number of postgraduate ones… but to be competitive on a global scale, we know we need a deep understanding of why our international students have chosen Hull and what their experience has been."
That’s when The Strategic Planning and Business Intelligence team, led by Victoria, worked with the University’s Global Engagement Service and identified a way to address the gaps in their other survey instruments with the International Student Barometer (ISB), which tracks and compares the decision-making, expectations, perceptions and intentions of a university’s international student population, from application to graduation. Intrigued by the insight the ISB would provide, The University of Hull committed to a three-year contract with Tribal i-Graduate to provide insightful benchmarking and analysis.
Through the ISB, the university is not only able to score its current performance, but benchmark its offering globally. It also offers a bespoke benchmark, comprising a selection of universities of heightened interest to University of Hull for comparisons with universities that are, for example, of a similar profile, a potential competitor, or on a similar growth trajectory. This means the Global Engagement Team at Hull is not simply interpreting raw figures from the survey, but really getting to grips with how competitive the University is within specific markets, and in comparison to their competitors. These insights can then be fed directly into University of Hull’s international activity, helping teams across the institution to focus continuous improvement activities in areas that students care most about.
On receipt of the results from the ISB, the University started with a wide invitation from the PVC International to a presentation from the Tribal i-Graduate team to set the scene and frame the results by highlighting those that should be celebrated, as well as considerations for the university’s improvement agenda. The current university committee structure was used to plan the best way to take the results to, not just the university’s International Strategy Committee, but multiple other forums to disseminate the key messages from the presentation and feed them into action plans.
“We’re taking whole-university responsibility for the experience our international students have. As a community, we’ve listened to what our students have told us, celebrated what has worked well, considered where we need to improve and then planned for next year. And we can also demonstrate that we have listened to what our students have told us.”
One of the critical findings from the survey and a key part of Tribal i-graduate’s presentation to the team was that the university needs to be making more of the opportunity to showcase what they are doing well. Indeed, many of Hull’s results from the ISB were exceptional.
The university’s result for ‘student happiness’ is a great example of something to shout about, with 93% of students sharing that they are happy with their life at university so far, compared with 91% in their bespoke UK ISB benchmark. This is of particular note when viewed in the context of overall student happiness which, according to the ISB, is in decline. There are, of course, many factors that contribute to student happiness and the ISB asks students a series of questions to create a rounded sense of what students are looking for from their international study setting. Hull scores highly in all of these key areas, as Victoria explains:
“There isn't any one result we would say we're more proud of than others from my perspective. Value for money, arrivals and welcome, the faith provisions - not least the quality of our lectures, courses, and the learning environments that we have created - I think it's all really positive for us. And it does reflect in recent years, where we've invested in our facilities.. What we need to do now is celebrate these positive results and find ways to showcase them in our communications outside of the institution.”
Another very significant success area is that relating to careers where year-on-year, ‘the impact on future career’ is identified as the most important factor for students in all regions when deciding on where to study. For the question, “How well has your experience prepared you for your career goals?” asked of final year students, 88% felt they were well or very well prepared compared to 67% in the bespoke benchmark, a result which is true testament to University of Hull’s commitment to its students’ futures. Taking this result alongside that of ‘Value for Money’, where the University of Hull scored 92% (against their bespoke UK benchmark of 79%, and the global benchmark of 75%), there are some outstanding strengths to work with when it comes to communicating the university’s international offering.
As well as looking at the ISB data strategically and operationally, the Student Voice team has performed a lot of additional interrogation, using the ISB reporting dashboards to drill down to subject and service level, and then sharing those data sets and analyses with local teams.
“We want all sources of student feedback to be accessible by course teams, so that they can apply that within their own discussions in terms of course improvements and, of course, academic monitoring. We have found that working to a benchmark absolutely helps teams take ownership of the improvements they want to make."
In committing to three years of gathering and analysing ISB data, Victoria and her team are hoping to be able to see the impact of the interventions and activities that the various teams are now implementing. It will also provide useful trend analysis, to ensure the areas that performed well, continue to do so, and help the team with medium to long-term, and then future forecasting around University of Hull’s international student recruitment strategy.
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