Enhancing the International Student Experience Projects, Universities Australia commissioned by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations
Collaboration between RMIT (Catherine Gomes & Marsha Berry), Melbourne University (Shanton Chang) and Centre for Culture, Ethnicity and Health (Daniel Reeders) for the project “Mapping the Social Networks of International Students: Foundations for Improving Communication”
Disseminating crucial information to international students while they are in Australia has been a challenge since Australia receives large numbers of international students Challenges range from providing relevant information in a timely manner, understanding sources of information which students rely on, and more recently, the use of social media in facilitating information exchange amongst international student communities. At various levels, key service providers and governments have tried to produce information portals specific to international students in the hope that they find these sites useful.. Yet, there is very traffic or interest in these portals. Universities are also aware that it is a challenge to get students to keep in touch with them and to get students to seek out information even within University websites. These challenges are compounded by the lack of understanding about how international students seek out information and how they use information. More importantly, some early research shows that international students display different information seeking behaviour depending on the type of information they seek, where the students are from and the extent to which they might or might not integrate with Australian communities. This project therefore seeks to map out the social networks of international students as foundations to improving communication.
This project explored how different groups of international students might access information that affects their health and lifestyle in Australia. The project also studied the relationship between international students’ self- perceived identity/social roles and social networks, in order to understand the patterns of communication of different groups of students. For example, do students who identify themselves strongly as temporary visitors rely on Australian sources of information or go back to their home country sources, given the ease with which this might be done in the digital age. We found that there were some clear practical implications from this project in the way educational institutions, service providers and government communicate with students. The findings may influence the manner information is disseminated across broad areas of academia, support and marketing.
First, the findings indicate that students within the sample varied considerably in terms of where they sought information from on a range of issues including social activities and events, health, and accommodation. Second, the diversity of responses in terms of where international students go to for information strongly suggests that there is benefit to be gained from closer ties between education providers and other service providers such as health and accommodation since students currently tend to go directly to those sources for information when they have serious life issues. Third, from a marketing perspective, the students in the sample (from the College/VET and undergraduate groups) indicate that they do not really refer to the educational institution websites until either after the COE has been offered or just prior to their arrival in Australia. Fourth, international students indicate that they rely on educational institution websites for information to manage their academic development and progress. Fifth, social media is clearly used by students to maintain contact with friends, family and social networks in their home countries. Hence social media needs to be incorporated into university and college communication strategies for international students particularly given that Facebook operates on similar levels of trust as word of mouth. It is also important to explore the most popular non-English social media platforms such as Weibo, Renren, and Orkut, even when institutions are looking to provide information for onshore students in Australia.