Hobsons Choice – International Student Decision Making

A recent publication by Hobsons EMEA “Beyond the Data: Influencing international student decision making” provides a ten point plan which provides an insight into how international students make decisions about overseas study. The report contain useful information on who a typical international student might be, the motivations for selecting a particular institution, information gathering, decision making and application, and ends with questions about “what is teaching quality”.

In addition the report shows that ‘student experience’ and contact time are much less important to applicants than institutional and course-specific league table rankings.

The ten point plan is summarised as:

  1. Course, then country, then institution: that is the order of an international student’s decision-making process. Students select a course to study first, then they evaluate the country and only after doing that will they select the institution
  2. Fees are the second most important consideration for international students and are the number one reason for declining offers
  3. Subject/course rankings are more important in student decision-making than institution rankings or other factors including fees
  4. Perception of student satisfaction does not drive choice of institution
  5. Graduate outcomes are a key factor in international students’ decision-making
  6. Each institution has a role to play in marketing their country as a desirable destination
  7. Country level messaging reinforcing welcome and safety of international students will support institutional marketing
  8. Institutions must be clear on their brand value proposition for each course
  9. Students want to engage with institutions and their content through visual social media sites (YouTube and Instagram) during the research phase of selecting an institution
  10. It is not just about giving out information or an offer: students need to be nurtured from the information gathering phase through to enquiry and then application.

As someoen who works with league tables and portfolio performance, I was interested in teh survey results on how international student perceive teaching quality:

When students are asked to rate the importance of factors related to teaching quality respondents said that academic reputation (76 per cent), subject or course ranking (76 per cent), student satisfaction with the institution (74 per cent), tuition fees (72 per cent) and use of technology in teaching (72 per cent) were their most important determinates for teaching quality. It was interesting to us that graduate employment rates (64 per cent) and teaching hours per week (57 per cent) were less important. The two least important factors were the age of the institution (33 per cent) and high entry requirements (39 per cent).

When studnets were asked to comapre the variosu factors, and trade themm off against each pther, then fees can be seen to be the ost important, with subject ranking just behind. Studnet satisfaciiotn seems to be of little importance!


Overall, a document worth reading, especially for anyone involved in international student recruitment – it may reinforce the things we already know, but, for example,  I didn’t know that student satisfaction was seen of being as such little importance when used in deciding where to study, That doesn’t mean it’s unimportant, as it’s of massive importance once a student is with us.


The Importance of Maths

A new publication from the Higher Education Academy this week looks at the
needs of students for an understanding of mathematics and statistics when undertaking undergraduate studies in various disciplines.

The discipline areas studied were: Business and Management, Chemistry, Computing, Economics, Geography, Sociology and Psychology. The  suggestion in the report is that many of the discipline specific recommendations are transferable to other disciplines. Notably physics and engineering are not included, as we expect students in these areas to be highly numerate.

One of the key findings is that:

“Many students arrive at university with unrealistic expectations of the
mathematical and statistical demands of their subjects. Lack of confidence and
anxiety about Mathematics/Statistics are problems for many students.”

This is worrying if students are not aware of the importance of number in their studies. As a nation we are always happy to belittle the more numerate as “geeks” whereas an ability to write in (supposedly) perfect English is seen as a strength. This is dangerous thinking – being able to make proper inferences from numbers and data is a critical skill in so many roles.

The key recommendations are:

1. There should be clear signalling to the pre-university sector about the nature  and extent of mathematical and statistical knowledge and skills needed in undergraduate degree programmes.
2. As part of this signalling university tutors should consider recommending the  benefits of continuing with mathematical/statistical study beyond the age of 16.
They should be aware of the full range of post-16 Mathematics qualifications, in  particular the new “Core Maths” qualification.
3. Guidance documentation should be commissioned to provide university staff with a description of the range of knowledge and skills that students with
GCSE Mathematics at different grades can be expected to demonstrate when they start their undergraduate studies.
4. Key stakeholders within the disciplines should actively engage with current and future developments of discipline A-levels as well as those in post-16 Mathematics qualifications, (e.g. “Core Maths”).
5. University staff should consider the benefits of diagnostic testing of students’  mathematical and statistical knowledge and skills at the start of degree
programmes, and of using the results to inform feedback and other follow-up
6. Teaching staff should be made aware of the additional support in Mathematics  and Statistics that is available to students. Students should be actively  encouraged to make use of these resources and opportunities.


It’s important that we get to understand better how students transition into HE. For instance, according to the report only 13% of entrants to Psychology for example had an A-level in maths prior to entry in 2013. This will have an inevitable effect on those students’ ability to engage with any statistical tools or numerate analysis.

As well as considering the transition into HE, we should also consider how students with limited maths ability might struggle throughout their awards across a range of subjects and modules – one of the reasons that might explain low numbers of students gaining good degrees in some subjects may be their inability to engage fully with numerate modules or topics.


(from http://www.math.hope.edu/newsletter/2006-07/05-09.html)

The lack of numeracy does go further than students engaged in undergraduate study. This is a bit of a hobby horse of mine, but in years gone by, we created lists and mappings of skills that we expected to be attained by students. Communication was always included, maths never was. In our latest iteration of graduate attributes, again we recognise professionalism, team working and global citizenship, but still don’t give prominence to mathematical ability.

Long term this is concerning both for the individual and for employers – we (and other universities) might produce graduates who enter the workplace with only the flimsiest ideas of how to use number, and sometimes a too-trusting reliance on what Excel and other spreadsheets can produce.

For example, when I read a report that shows a log scale graph which the authors then claim demonstrates a linear relationship,  I worry about the kind of decision-making that will be made when the base data is presented in such a skewed way.

Maybe we could look to ensure that one ways in which we differentiate Staffordshire graduates is that in future they are more numerate and data literate.

Education for Sustainable Development

This is one for all colleagues working wth our Staffordshire Graduate attributes. We’ve recently added the cncept of sustainability into the attribute of Global Citizenship, and at a ecent workshp I heard of some of the great work being done in this area – an not in teh usual subjects of engieering or geograpy, but in Law!.

A new publication from HEA/QAA on Education for Sustainable Development has been produced, to provide guidance to UK HE providers.

QAA are at pains to explain that this document is not part of the quality code, but is to complement it.

In terms of defining education for sustainable development, the report refers to the definition used in the United Nations Brundtland Report:

“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”


“Education for sustainable development is the process of equipping students with knowledge and understanding, skills and attributes needed to work and live in a way that safeguards environmental, social and economic wellbeing, both in the present and for future generations.”


The paper proposes a range of graduate outcomes, under the headings of Knowledge and Understanding, Skills and Attributes. Of particular interest for us might be the section on attributes, which are described as follows:


The report concludes with a series of questions for academics to ask under the following headings:

  • Debating sustainability/sustainable development
  • engaging students
  • engaging colleagues
  • the learning environment

In conclusion, a worthwhile read for anyone considering how to incorporate aspects of sustainability into their Staffordshire Gradate attributes



Guardian University Guide 2015

The latest of the league tables has just been published, and this is the one that the authors claim to be of most use to, and influence on potential students.

The Guardian, unlike other tables, does not include a score for research, but instead allocates 25% of its score to outcomes of the National Student Survey.Also, the percentage of firsts and 2(1)s is not used directly, but instead a factor called “value added” is used, which effectively moderates the good degree score based on student entry characteristics.

So here are the headlines:

  • Cambridge remains at number 1
  • Climbers include include the Universities of Glynd?r (from 108 to 64), Derby (from 79 to 50) and Falmouth (76 to 53).
  • Coventry rises to 27 from 33 last year
  • Anglia Ruskin has seen the biggest drop (from 67 to 105), caused in part by a rising student/staff ratio.
  • Birmingham City also fell (from 61 to 88), as did Bournemouth (52 to 71), Aberystwyth (88 to 106), Greenwich (70 to 87), Chester (46 to 61) and Bristol (23 to 34).
  • London Met have the misfortune of propping up the table this year

And as for Staffordshire, we have risen by two places to 90th. All the work that was done on our HESA returns has paid off, and there has been a big improvement in graduate prospects. It’s clear from looking at the overall data what the next areas are for us to tackle – the whole attainment/satisfaction agenda – but there will be a lot more detail in the subject tables to be produced tomorrow.



Overall, an expected result  –  one that will be improved on in future!