Date of Award

2013

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Psychology and Social Science

Faculty

Computing, Health and Science

First Advisor

Dr. Shirlee-Ann Knight

Second Advisor

Associate Professor Deslea Konza

Abstract

Aim: This study aimed to explore the experiences which influenced the perceptions of three key groups of stakeholders: academic and support staff, international students, and their domestic peers, when engaging in International Education at one Australian university. The original research questions for this study were:

1. What experiences influence staff members’ perceptions of International Education at one Australian university?

2. What experiences influence international students’ perception of their education at one Australian university? As directed by theoretical sampling, the views of domestic students were then also sought, to shed light on the following research question:

3. What experiences influence domestic students’ perceptions of International Education at one Australian university?

Conceptual Framework: A Social Constructivist theoretical framework was employed within a Case Study approach for a number of reasons. First, institutions have their own specific characteristics, budgets and student populations and so can be studied separately in order that the researcher might develop a detailed critical understanding of the intricacies of the single case. Since International Education is a complex phenomenon, the researcher also needed to include the multiple realities of the different stakeholders involved. The researcher’s personal philosophy aligned with Social Constructivism, which argues that perceptions of reality are subjective to the person experiencing them. As such, Social Constructivist Grounded Theory allowed for the interpretation of both the participants’ views of reality as well as the researcher’s. Finally, this approach allowed for a co-construction of reality through the interactions of the participants and the researcher during the data collection process. This was important since the researcher, too, is an international student. Data collection strategies associated with Grounded Theory (GT) were used to obtain a more holistic understanding of the complex issues at play, and allowed for theoretical sampling, such that the researcher could follow up new directions as they arose during data analysis.

Methodology: The study evolved in three interwoven stages, during which 25 international students, 38 staff members (academic and non-academic) and 10 domestic students were interviewed using semi-structured, face-to-face interview techniques. Theoretical sampling allowed new issues to be addressed in subsequent interviews as the study progressed.

Participants: Data collection ceased after 38 interviews for staff members. This group comprised of 28 females and 10 males, most over 45 years of age, and an approximately equal mix of academic and non- academic staff. For international students, data collection ceased after 25 interviews. This group included both undergraduates and postgraduates, with only two having English as their first language. Length of stay in Australia varied from 2 months to 9 years. Data collection for the third group of participants, the domestic students, ceased after ten interviews, due to the difficulty of recruiting more students. There was an important gap in the sample of staff members, with no representatives from the SSC (Student Services Centre) responding to the numerous invitations to participate in the research. Ironically, SSC staff reported there was a policy based deterrent by which any staff working in the SCC were technically unable to participate in this (or any) research within the course of working hours.

Procedure: The sampling process was carried out using snowball and volunteering techniques. Invitational emails, flyers and website posts were used to inform staff members, international and domestic students about the research. The participants then contacted the researcher to arrange for an interview date and time suitable for all parties. Interviews ranged from 30 to 45 minutes in length and data were transcribed immediately after each interview, so that a constant comparison with previous data could be carried out. Data were analysed using Constructivist Grounded Theory techniques.

Findings: Perceptions of the key stakeholders were influenced by experiences both at the university level as well as at student and staff levels. It was observed that experiences of International Education depended on staff members’ roles and how much experience they had had with international students; how they perceived their international students; questions about the motivation of some students; and concerns about some students’ communication skills. At the university level, staff experiences were influenced by frustration with existing services and multi-level miscommunication across the university. These factors led to a number of implications for the staff, the students and the university. Issues such as lack of time to work with students, heavy workloads, lack of training or incentives to participate in training, and tensions around student assessment led to some staff members feeling “frustrated” or “resentful” about working with international students. International students’ perceptions of their education were influenced by concerns about the adequacy of their own communication skills, a lack of confidence in participating fully in the academic and social life of the university; and their perceptions of staff roles and responsibilities. Their broad experiences of their education were also affected by concerns about the services provided, which were either not specific enough, not familiar enough, or poorly coordinated. They also perceived some negative responses from their domestic peers. These combined factors resulted in a reluctance to access available services; some level of withdrawal from full participation in classroom activities, and feelings of being treated as the ‘other’ by some staff and students. Domestic students were recruited to the study using theoretical sampling after issues surrounding culturally-mixed group work were raised in the interviews with staff members and international students. Domestic students’ perceptions of International Education were influenced by concerns about some international students’ communication skills; in-group favouritism; and their belief that teachers did not facilitate group work to the extent required. At the university level, some commented that limited promotion of both the benefits of diversity, and of a sense of community on campus, influenced their experiences of working with individuals who were culturally and/or linguistically different.

Conclusions: The study highlighted the importance of the university’s Value Position in influencing the International Education experiences of staff and students. The findings of the study supported the view that the model of service provision did not acknowledge that different student cohorts had, to some extent, different needs. This stance then influenced how staff and students responded to those they deemed as different. The contributions of the current study, its limitations and directions for future research are also discussed, along with a set of recommendations for the current Case aimed at enhancing the key stakeholders’ experiences of International Education.

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