New research shows high levels of satisfaction with Australian English language sector

Educational services have grown to become one of Australia’s largest services export industries, generating over AUS$18 billion dollars in export revenue at its peak in 2009-10. Export income from the English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students (ELICOS) sector contributed over AUS$1.8 billion at its peak in 2008.

The past few years have been challenging times for Australia’s international education sector. A number of factors have resulted in the first significant systemic decline and reduction in student numbers since the sector developed. The ELICOS sector was significantly affected in this downturn, declining by 17% over the last three years from a peak of 162,114 students in 2008 to 134,440 in 2011. Factors causing this trend include the global financial crisis, the high Australian dollar, significant domestic regulatory reforms, negative publicity around international student safety and intense international competition.

Despite this, predictions indicate continued international growth in student mobility. Over the past three decades the number of international students has quadrupled, from 0.8 million (1975) to 3.3 million (2008). Since the late 1990s, growth has accelerated; in 2008 alone, global growth was up 11% from the previous year and the OECD predicts that between 4.1 million to 6.7 million students will be studying abroad by the year 2020.

Students are attracted to Australia as a study destination for a variety of reasons, including access to quality institutions and courses, proximity, safety, affordability, a welcoming Australian community, and the potential for migration. The ability to attract and retain international students is core business for English language colleges. In a competitive market, student satisfaction is a key indicator of sustainable enrolments.

In light of this, English Australia has revealed the latest findings regarding the international student experience in the English language sector. The 2011 Australian English Language Barometer (ELB) is a critical tool that providers and the sector can employ to understand the level of success in meeting students’ expectations. Providers can analyse the outcomes to leverage their strengths, address possible weaknesses and continue to improve marketing, administering, teaching and support services.

Almost 9,000 students from 49 English language colleges across Australia shared their views on their experience in a wide‐ranging online survey undertaken at the end of 2011. The results from the ELB were overwhelmingly positive and showed high levels of satisfaction on almost all aspects of their experience, from pre‐arrival, through learning and living to student support.

Sue Blundell, Executive Director of English Australia, commented on the results:

“What is particularly pleasing are the high levels of student satisfaction with all aspects of learning, teaching and assessment, as well as with their welcome, social and cultural events. We are not complacent, however, and with this publication have sought to identify areas of priority for the sector and provide best practice approaches to addressing issues, thus allowing for continuous service delivery enhancement across the sector.”

Overall feedback

  • Over 87% of students were satisfied or very satisfied with their Australian English language experience. This is an increase of 6% from the 2009 figure of 81% and above the Australian International Student Barometer (ISB) result of 86%.
  • Overall learning satisfaction results have increased from 86% in 2009 to an impressive 91% in 2011.
  • Overall living satisfaction is also very high at 89% – up from 86% in 2009
  • Overall satisfaction for support services in 2011 is 83%, up from 76% in 2009.
  • 94% of students – an increase of 3% on the 2009 ELB – feel they have made progress in learning English since starting their course.
  • When asked if they felt their course was value for money, 78% of respondents agreed. This was also up from 72% in 2009.

Marketing

  • A significant number of respondents (83%) indicated that Australia was their first and only country of choice when deciding where to study, indicating a slight improvement on the 2009 figure of 81%.
  • For those that considered other countries, the key competitors were USA (5%) and the UK (4%). The US dropped slightly from 6% in 2009, whilst the UK remained the same. The Philippines emerged as a destination option in 2011.
  • Whilst there are many motivators for students to choose to study in Australia, the primary reasons given by respondents as motivations are English as the language of instruction (39%) and the opportunity for further education there after English studies (35%).
  • The primary influence – with over 40% – in the selection of an individual provider was personal recommendation. Whilst indicating a slight drop from 42% in 2009, this factor remains very high.
  • Reputation of the school (31%) as a factor in selecting an educational provider increased slightly from 2009; so too did the provision of entry to a university for further study (25%).
  • 52% of respondents cited education agent or consultant as the main influence in making their final choice of course or place of study, decreasing only 1% from 2009. Friends (25%), alumni (21%) and parents (15%) remain the next influential factors, unchanged since 2009.
  • Preparation for further study is the main reason for studying, rising from 48% in 2009 to 53% in 2011. The improvement of future employment opportunities was the next main reason for study at 22%, dropping down from 26% in 2009.
  • 27% of respondents are undecided in what they will do after their studies are complete; 10% want to travel or take some time off, with only 14% considering employment options. 39% of students will continue their studies within the country, either at their existing institution (22%) or another institution (17%). Only 5% will return home to continue study.

Application

  • 85% of respondents were residing in their home country prior to commencing study in Australia; 11% were already residing in Australia.
  • The majority of respondents (87%) held a student visa, while 10% held either a tourist or working holiday visa. Packaging ELICOS with other courses is the most used visa for 47% of respondents to the 2011 ELB, having risen from 40% in 2009. Independent ELICOS Visas have dropped from 45% in 2009 to 40% in 2011.
  • Direct online applications (10%) and those via a university (12%) have both increased in the 2011 ELB results; however, applying with the assistance of an education agent remains the most common application method at 68%, with 87% rating the service they received from an agent as very good (28%) or good (59%).
  • There has been an increase of 4% in first time, quick and easy enrolment applications, from 71% to 75% between 2009 and 2011 ELB.
  • There has been an increase from 82% to 87% for those indicating very good and good satisfaction with the application support provided. The ELB matches the ISB (87%) in this area.

Satisfaction ratings

Living

  • Satisfaction scores for all 18 elements of living are high and generally improving, with the largest improvement recorded in opportunities to earn while studying (+14%).
  • The most significant drawback of living in Australia is the high level of dissatisfaction with the cost of living and the cost of accommodation.
  • The only three elements showing a decreased satisfaction since 2009 were the cost of living (decreasing by 4%), transport links to other places (decreasing by 2%), and the weather (decreasing by 6%).

Learning

  • Satisfaction scores in all 18 learning elements are generally high, and they have all improved since 2009 by an average of 5 percentage points.
  • The greatest satisfaction (with levels of over 89%) is with all aspects of teaching, feedback, assessment, personal support from teachers, and course content.
  • The lowest satisfaction is with flexibility of study, with non-classroom activities to help learn English and opportunities for work experience as part of their course.

Support

  • The satisfaction levels for support are generally high and all elements show marked improvement since 2009 (+7% overall).
  • The highest satisfaction is with help and support with visa applications (88%) and advice on further study (85%).
  • Conversely, satisfaction was lowest with advice in relation to part-time work (68%).

Recommendation

  • 78% indicate that they would encourage others to apply to their college and only 4% would discourage others. As with other scores, these show an improvement since 2009 and are marginally better than the ISB scores.
  • 82% indicate that they would encourage others to apply to study in Australia and only 4% would discourage others.

Assessment of minimum and maximum results

The ELB is an aggregate of data reported from participating schools. Analysis of the individual institutions’ data shows significant variation in the level of satisfaction on various items. The most significant of these included: technology (60% variation), transport to other places (54% variation) and advice on employment/career options (51% variation).

Areas with consistently high scores and limited variance across all providers included: easy to understand teachers (88 – 99%), friendly and approachable staff (90 – 100%), and fair and transparent assessment of work (87 – 98%).

Background

English Australia is the national peak body for the English language sector of international education, and represents over 100 member colleges throughout Australia that provide quality English language programs to students and professionals from around the world.

The survey, analysis and reporting is independently administered for English Australia by the International Graduate Insight Group (i‐graduate). i‐graduate is the world leader in customer insight for the education sector, tracking and benchmarking student and stakeholder opinion across the globe.

Source: English Australia



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