Half of European students ‘not experiencing internationalisation’

Study finds that a quarter of students at European universities think internationalisation is of little importance

September 27, 2018
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Half of students at European universities say that they are not experiencing key aspects of internationalisation, while a quarter think that internationalisation is of little importance, according to a study.

A survey of more than 2,360 students from six universities in the UK, Republic of Ireland, Belgium and Germany asked respondents to assess the importance of five aspects of internationalisation – social integration, academic integration, communication skills, foreign language skills, and global skills and support – and then rate their experiences in these areas.

While about 75 per cent of students said that they thought these aspects were important or very important, the remaining 25 per cent thought they were of little or very little importance to them.

Meanwhile, around 50 per cent of students reported that they were not experiencing or developing in these areas at their institution.

Communication skills was rated as the most important aspect of internationalisation, scoring an average of 4.4 out of 6 (where 1 is not at all important and 6 is very important), and was also the area where students reported having the most experience (3.99).

But global skills and support, which was deemed the second most important aspect with an average score of 4.2, was the area in which students’ expectations were least likely to be met. On average, students gave it a score of just 3.5 for experience.

The study also found that domestic students attach significantly lower levels of importance to internationalisation than international students. They also report the least experience of internationalisation at university.

For example, 68 per cent of domestic students said that global skills and support were important, but only 41 per cent said that they had experience of this in their institution.

Meanwhile, Asian students, compared with domestic and non-domestic European students, attached the greatest importance to internationalisation but show the largest gap between the global education they aspire to and what they actually experience. Nine in 10 Asian students said that global skills and support were important but only 61 per cent said they had experience of this activity.

Helen Spencer-Oatey, professor of applied linguistics at the University of Warwick, who was set to present the findings at a Learning and Employability Gain Assessment Community (Legacy) Project event in London on 27 September, said that “in all cases experience is not meeting expectations”.

She said that the study aims to provide more insight than previous surveys of internationalisation, many of which are based on satisfaction. “Our feeling was that with a satisfaction survey, if you don’t care about something you could be perfectly satisfied,” Professor Spencer-Oatey told Times Higher Education.

She added that the findings show that there is a “wide range of viewpoints” among students when it comes to internationalisation, and that universities must use different strategies when trying to engage with those who do not attach importance to internationalisation and those who attach importance to it but feel they are not experiencing internationalisation.

“Just putting on events to help students mix together is not going to be of any use if people aren’t interested in that in the first place,” Professor Spencer-Oatey said.

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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