Foreign students in US coping with online shift better than locals

Familiarity with remote formats tempered by concerns over racism and health, survey finds

July 1, 2020
Source: IStock

Foreign students enrolled in US research universities are largely satisfied with their online experience, reflecting their greater familiarity and competency with the format, a 30,000-student poll has found.

Three-fifths of foreign undergraduates said that they had adapted well to remote instruction during the coronavirus crisis, according to the survey responses collected in May and June by the Student Experience in the Research University Consortium.

Fewer than half of domestic US undergraduates felt the same way, according to the Seru Consortium, a global multi-institution partnership led by the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Minnesota.

The findings could help calm US institutions that are hoping they will not lose large shares of their lucrative foreign students this autumn, although the survey affirms that students from abroad remain anxious about their health, safety and immigration status.

Their comfort with online teaching probably reflects data showing that foreign students, as compared to domestic US students, have greater past exposure to remote formats and have better technical resources due to having higher-income families, survey organisers said.

“Socio-economic factors are important when it comes to adapting to remote instruction,” said the Seru Consortium’s director, Igor Chirikov of Berkeley. “Poor and low-income students were more likely to struggle in adapting to online instruction compared with their peers.”

Warning signs in the data include responses from foreign students concerning visa issues, health concerns and racial harassment in the US. A quarter of the foreign students responding to the survey admitted concerns related to discrimination.

The survey found that 17 per cent of foreign undergraduate students and 12 per cent of foreign postgraduate and professional students reported personally experiencing such harassment related to their national origin. The rates were highest among students from China, South Korea, Japan and Vietnam.

Immigration and visa issues troubled 44 per cent of foreign undergraduates and 55 per cent of postgraduate students, and concerns about staying healthy were cited by 52 per cent of foreign undergraduates and 67 per cent of the postgraduate students.

The Seru Consortium report was based on responses from 22,519 undergraduates and 7,690 postgraduate and professional students.

The issue of past experience with online formats was especially true among foreign students at the postgraduate and professional levels, said Krista Soria, a co-author of this year’s survey report with Dr Chirikov, and director for student affairs assessment at Minnesota.

Nearly 20 per cent of foreign postgraduate students had some online experience, compared with only 7 per cent among US students, Dr Soria said. That online experience among foreign students often wasn’t for-credit study, but involved non-academic work such as free online courses, test preparation classes and language classes, she said.

paul.basken@timeshighereducation.com

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