The Australian government has just released the findings of its International Student Survey 2014, which focused on measuring students’ satisfaction levels as well as comparing these to international benchmarks obtained via the International Student Barometer (ISB) survey.
The scope of the research included international students studying at Australian universities, vocational and training institutes (VET), and the English language training sector (ELICOS); a total of 55,609 students responded. A separate survey covered international students aged 16 years or over studying in Australian secondary schools in years 11 and 12.
High satisfaction overall
Nearly nine in ten (88%) international students studying at the tertiary level in Australia reported being satisfied with their experience in 2014, virtually matching the levels recorded for the previous two survey periods (87% in 2012 and 86% in 2010).
Eight in ten (80%) international students studying in VET institutes said Australia had been their first choice of destination for study abroad; this fell slightly among students in higher education, ELICOS, and the schools sector (73%, 72%, and 71% respectively). The most important motivations for students choosing Australia are the reputation of Australian qualifications, quality of education providers, and overall education system; personal safety; and the quality of teaching and research (all above 90%).
Nearly nine in ten tertiary students reported being satisfied with their experience of living in Australia (89%) as well as their study experience (87%). The schools survey found higher levels of satisfaction than in 2012 (82% are satisfied with their overall study experience, compared to 74% in 2012).
In general, Australian international students’ positive experiences remain stable from previous years, and they are similar to the levels of satisfaction found among international students in other countries surveyed by the ISB. The study makes a point of noting that the high levels of satisfaction of international students studying in Australia’s ELICOS sector (90% satisfied) is important given that students often move on from ELICOS to further programmes of study in Australia.
Good news from the schools sector
More good news stems from the country’s schools sector, where 81% reported satisfaction with their living experience in Australia, up significantly from 72% in 2012. 77% consider the teaching they are experiencing is good or very good, up from 69% in 2012. Moreover, 76% of school respondents said they wished to move on to tertiary-level study in Australia.
Room for improvement
The importance of students getting work experience and feeling prepared to enter the workforce is a constant theme in ICEF Monitor articles; across the world, schools are realising that it is ever more crucial to establish industry linkages for their programmes.
While Australia’s education providers do not come in much below international benchmarks for satisfaction with work experience and careers advice, they are nevertheless slightly below on this measure overall (78% compared to the international benchmark of 80%).
Satisfaction in these areas slips further, albeit only slightly, in relation to international benchmarks in some sectors:
- Australian higher education: 65% and 68% for work experience and careers advice, respectively, compared to the international benchmarks of 68% and 72%.
- Australian VET: 78% each for work experience and careers advice compared to the international benchmark of 80% for both measures.
In terms of postgraduate responses, satisfaction was slightly higher than international benchmarks for “managing research” and “topic selection” but significantly lower for “opportunities to teach” (64% versus the international benchmark of 75%).
Satisfaction was high for the following measures, across sectors:
- Learning supports;
- Learning alongside students from other cultures.
Importantly for the overall health of international education in Australia, international students studying in one sector reported strong levels of enthusiasm for transferring to another one. Four in ten (41%) VET students, nearly half in ELICOS (47%), and 80% of school students indicated they were on a pathway to further study. We wrote recently about the key role the ELICOS sector in particular plays in funneling international students through the Australian education system.
The survey found high levels of satisfaction among international students arriving in Australia and getting set up (as gauged by such measures as support for getting a bank account, finance office assistance, formal welcome, Internet access, support of friends).
There is room for improvement in making international students feel integrated and comfortable once they are studying. Australian schools came in under international benchmarks for satisfaction on such measures as host friends (69% versus the ISB international benchmark of 74%), local orientation (77% versus ISB 86%), and meeting staff (79% versus ISB 91%).
Living in Australia
International students indicated high levels of satisfaction (around the 90% mark) for the experience of living in Australia (gauged by such measures as campus environment, “good place to be,” eco-friendly, safety), but were less happy about the cost of living, the ability to earn money, the cost of accommodation, and financial support. Satisfaction with these affordability-related measures was in some cases as low as 49%.
It is important to note that Australian schools did not fare badly regarding affordability concerns relative to other countries surveyed by the ISB; but in many cases, students’ satisfaction levels in these areas fell by various degrees compared to what they were in previous years.
The decreases in satisfaction on these fronts is particularly important when we look at the VET sector, since Australia’s VET programmes are so popular among foreign students. Satisfaction with financial support fell from 77% in 2012 to 69% in 2014, and satisfaction with the ability to earn money fell from 75% in 2012 to 68% in 2014 among students in the VET sector.
The report notes that affordability issues are particularly acute among students in the higher education and VET sectors because of the longer duration of their programmes compared to relatively short ELICOS courses.
Nearly nine in ten (87%) international VET students said that being able to work while studying was a factor when deciding where to study, and 76% of higher education students said the same.
Increased use of agents
In 2010, just over a quarter of higher education respondents said agents had been a major influence in their choice of where to study in Australia. By 2012 that percentage had risen to 44%. In 2014, it rose to 50%.
Students recorded high levels of satisfaction with agents; for example, 90% reported that the service they received was good or very good.
Use of agents increased across other sectors as well, and in general, students said agents had been more influential than friends or relatives in their choice of school.
Motivations for study
The top three reasons international students chose Australia varied according to sector:
- For higher education, it was reputation of chosen qualification (95%), reputation of chosen institution (94%), and reputation of Australia’s education system (93%);
- Reasons were similar among students in the VET sector, and personal safety and the reputation of the qualification were equally as high for VET students;
- For ELICOS, it was teaching quality (97%), personal safety and security (95%), and reputation of the institution (92%);
- For schools, it was improve English (65%); gain experience living and studying in another country and/or culture (62%); and improve chances of entering a good university in Australia (53%).
A commitment to improvement
Overall, international students studying in various types of institutions are reporting high levels of satisfaction regarding their study abroad experience in Australia.
Improvements in two areas could see Australia boost its competitiveness still further:
- Providing more career guidance and opportunities for students to work while studying;
- Increasing a commitment to industry linkages and, where possible, job opportunities.
Of the findings, Chief Executive of Universities Australia, Belinda Robinson, commented:
“Australia’s reputation as a world-leader in international education is built on a commitment to delivering an education experience of the highest quality – and as this survey shows, this isn’t going unnoticed.”
But Ms Robinson also noted that there would be ongoing commitment to improving international students’ experiences still further:
“Whilst our universities are proud of Australia’s enviable reputation for quality, their commitment to continuous improvement is essential for maintaining the global high regard we enjoy.”