International Students as Customers

Earlier today I blogged about Linda Tang’s problem with UNITEC not apologising for the way she’d been treated and thought it would be good to look into the problems and expectations that international students have whilst studying in New Zealand, specifically at UNITEC.

I’ve dug up a document released in 2004 by the Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia (HERDSA) who promote the “development of higher education policy, practice and the study of teaching and learning”

HERDSA’s report was called “Students’ as customers: The expectations and perceptions of local and international students” authors Carol Sherry, Ravi Bhat, Bob Beaver and Anthony Ling – all of UNITEC.

Abstract: This study assesses business students’ perceptions of services experienced at New
Zealand Tertiary Institute. The questionnaire used in this survey was based on the SERVQUAL scale that contains 20 service attributes, grouped together into five dimensions, Tangibles, Reliability, Responsiveness, Assurance and Empathy. The study found a significant difference between students’ expectations of what an “Excellent tertiary institution” should offer in the way of services and the students’ perceptions of the services currently experienced.

A significant difference was also found between the perceptions of local students and international students in all five dimensions with the international students’ perceptions of services being lower than the local students. The Degree students had higher expectations of an excellent tertiary institute than the Diploma students, while the Diploma students rated their service experiences of Unitec as slightly better than the Degree students”

The report talked about how the numbers of international students have increased dramatically in New Zealand – a three fold increase in the last eight years. With such a dramatic increase the challenge is to measure the legitimate needs and expectations of this group of students so that steps may be taken to meet, or exceed, them whilst still satisfying the needs of local students.

UNITEC didn’t meet student expectations
“The survey found a significant difference between students’ expectations of the service that an excellent tertiary institute should provide and the perception of services being provided at UNITEC. These results are not surprising as most institutions strive to do their best but very few reach perfection…..the majority of students have had positive experiences with the services provided at UNITEC. This study has however highlighted the difference in perceptions of services offered at UNITEC by the international students and the local students. When student responses were separated it could be seen that the expectation gap was larger for the international students on all five dimensions [tangibles, reliability, responsiveness, assurance and empathy] This indicates that the international students have greater concerns with the services offered to them at UNITEC than the local students. The fact that International students pay far higher fees than the local students may mean that they expect more…..”

International students not getting value for money or adequate support
“….this study also confirms concerns of the international students with issues of assurance. The students in this study are not confident that they are getting value for money, or that the skills they are being taught will get them good results both academically and for future employment. They are also unsure of lecturers’ knowledge in their subject area and do not feel that an adequate range of support services are being offered to them. These are all issues that should concern the management at UNITEC.

The international student numbers at UNITEC have more than doubled in the past two years placing a lot of stress on both academic and administrative staff alike, making it difficult to manage the individual needs of students. However if the institution wants to maintain the existing rate of growth, further research into these service areas is recommended to put in support structures for both staff and students alike.”

I’m interested to learn if UNITEC took the study on board – does it view its international students as customers. If so how can someone as capable as Linda Tang progress to the final year of her degree and seemingly fail due to what looks like a lack of support?

If her accent is a problem (I’ve heard her on TV and I don’t think it is) why wasn’t she given the support she needed to improve it earlier on in her studies, how is it possible for her to have progressed so far with such an awful ‘impediment’ after passing English language assessments?

I think that some tertiary institutions need to remember that international students are very valuable customers who pay a premium rate to study in New Zealand, they are entitled to expect value for money and higher levels of support.

The report may be found here