The benefits of isolating international student satisfaction data

De Montfort University has been participating in the International Student Barometer (ISB) since 2020. We hear from Chris McCafferty, International Planning Manager, as he explains how it gives them a more focused lens on the experiences of their international students, and how it positively impacts the university’s recruitment strategies.

De Montfort University had experienced a drop in The Guardian rankings and The Times rankings, in certain countries the impact of this fall was likely to be felt more keenly, something which represented a clear challenge for De Montfort University to overcome.

In China, for example, there is quite a focus on university rankings when deciding on study destinations. So, for Chris and the team, they particularly wanted to better understand perceptions of the university amongst their international student cohorts, as well as obtain the relevant metrics for that student population which can often be lost amongst the rankings data.

Having already participated in the ISB in 2020, the decision to repeat the exercise in 2021 was an easy one. Their first participation had already provided Chris with a great deal of insight into how the university was being received by international students, despite the limitations of Covid. By running the survey again, he was able to start seeing trend data for how those perceptions were changing over time.

“I think the fact that we now have two years’ worth of strong data where we've shown increased scores year-on-year, that we're above the overall benchmark in most of these categories, and being able to compare ourselves against benchmark universities, it has given us good vision and identified areas on which to focus.”

The ISB provides a rich source of data around student satisfaction, perceptions, motivations and decision-making factors for the entire student experience, but it also provides anonymised open comments from students, revealing greater insight into all aspects, such as the living experience, the organisation of social activities, right down to whether or not there are enough vegetarian options in the canteen.

With a strong data and insight gathering background Chris appreciates the importance of detail. The university’s National Student Survey (NSS) scores gave a bit of a guide for the overall student experience, but using the ISB gave greater clarity. The university’s NSS scores were in-line with the average, but in isolating the international data using the ISB he was able to see how much better that particular cohort was performing against global sector benchmarks.

“Whilst the NSS data provides valuable insight, it's important to isolate that international student voice. The ISB provides us with this measure that helps us better understand our International cohort.”

Like most participating universities, De Montfort University shares the ISB findings with a wide range of stakeholders, including their regional managers who in turn will share that information with their respective agent networks. This enables them to highlight areas where the university is high-performing on student satisfaction and therefore differentiate itself from competitors, especially if those competitor universities have no relevant comparative data to surface, or only have their NSS data to reference. In India for example, agents are now aware that De Montfort University scores 94% for India students on overall satisfaction, so it’s an additional metric to support the sales team.


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At the time of writing, Chris was in the throes of disseminating the latest results and analysis through a series of online presentations. Having written the supporting reports, including the year-on-year comparisons he knows there are plenty of favourable results to surface across the organisation. The previous year, however, did give rise to some less favourable results for one or two faculties. Using the ISB data interrogation dashboard, InTouch, Chris was able to break down the data by course to understand the composition of those low results, and ultimately pinpoint which areas required closer attention in order to impact student satisfaction scores, whether that was related to the learning experience, living, or support, for example. Having the impartial evidence does help with potentially difficult conversations when improvements are required, as well as giving faculties or support areas meaningful KPIs for such improvement.

Chris explains how they are also using the ISB to encourage knowledge sharing around the university. “So, if there is an area or faculty where we have seen significantly improved scores, we look to share that with other faculties and say, “This is what we're doing for our international students and this is the benefit we've seen from the increased satisfaction scores” and in this way we encourage a more collaborative approach across the Faculty Deans for International, so good practices can be applied into each faculty’s ways of teaching or their methods.”

One area that the university has impacted through this collaborative approach, and use of data is that of de-risking their high-risk recruitment strategies. In recent years immigration compliance has restricted recruitment from certain markets due to a higher non-completion rate.

“The metrics within the ISB have allowed us to share results with faculties and provide feedback on the profile of students who are less satisfied with their course, and task them with making the course and content more engaging in these areas. More engaged students will therefore reduce the non-completion rate, and thus allow us to increase recruitment in these markets.”

In general, Chris has found the feedback from the ISB well-received, and the university’s Associate Deans of International are keen to see the level of detail and information afforded by the survey results, so they can make the best-informed decisions going forwards.

“The ISB provides fantastic insight into our International Students regarding decision factors, expectations, concerns as well as tendency to recommend. The results not only allow us to measure our overall performance against benchmark institutions, but will allow us to make better informed decisions to enhance the overall international student experience at DMU.”

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