What affects Chinese students’ satisfaction with UK TNE programmes?

by Kevin Prest
East Asia

@British Council

The British Council, along with the China Education Association for International Exchange (CEAIE), recently conducted a research project on UK-China transnational education. One important component of this research – alongside other areas such as analysis of the administrative structure and decision-making processes of joint programmes and institutes – was an investigation into Chinese students’ satisfaction with their courses and the factors that affect this.

Overall, the research found that there was a high level of satisfaction with UK joint programmes and institutes in China. Based on a large-scale survey of current students, 77 per cent completely or mostly agreed that they were satisfied with their programme. However, there were differences in the level of satisfaction among different groups of students. By looking into these differences, we can uncover the main factors affecting student satisfaction and understand how to best improve the TNE student experience.

Attitudes towards the course’s internationalisation are closely linked to overall satisfaction

Of the ten factors that were analysed, the strongest predictor of overall satisfaction was students’ agreement with the statement that “I am satisfied with the international elements of my course”. Overall, 90 per cent of students that agreed they were satisfied with this aspect of their course were happy with their programme overall, compared to less than half of those that were neutral or disagreed. Students on programmes with a UK study component were significantly more likely to be satisfied with their course’s level of internationalisation, compared with those who stay in China for the whole of their course.

One way to address this issue, which is already being used by many UK-China joint programmes and institutes, is to do more to bridge the gap between students in China and academics in the UK. This includes both greater use of online teaching resources as well as encouraging interaction between students and UK-based teaching staff through online platforms. Paired teaching was also mentioned by some TNE administrators as another innovation which helps to bridge this divide. Other improvements suggested by students include more exchange and short-term overseas study opportunities.

Other important factors include language modules, perceptions of teaching staff expertise, and course organisation

Behind internationalisation itself, the second strongest predictor of overall satisfaction was whether students felt their language modules prepared them well for the English-taught portions of their course. English-medium teaching is one of the most commonly-cited advantages of joint programmes and a large majority of students were satisfied with their language modules, but some felt that these modules did not prepare them to study academic modules in English. Others saw their own level of English as adequate but commented that their classmates’ poor understanding had a negative effect on the classroom.

The quality of course management also has an effect on student satisfaction. In particular, clear and timely communication regarding arrangements for the short intensive periods taught by overseas academics (“flying faculty”) is essential.

Lessons for UK institutions

Based on an analysis of student satisfaction, the research has uncovered some areas where addressing student concerns could help to improve both student satisfaction and learning outcomes.

To meet students’ desire for a greater connection with the UK, institutions should consider other international opportunities for students on courses without a UK study component, such as short-term summer or exchange programmes based on the UK campus. More broadly, universities should pay close attention to improving students’ opportunities to engage with UK teaching staff, despite the limited time staff on some programmes are able to spend in China.

Institutions should also take a renewed look at whether their programmes’ language modules are meeting student needs – particularly for programmes taught mainly in Chinese.                                                                                                                         

The complete British Council – CEAIE report, “UK-China Transnational Education from the Perspective of Administrators and Students”, goes into more depth about student attitudes to different aspects of their course as well as the impact on overall student satisfaction. It also includes an extensive section on the administrative structure, management mechanisms and decision-making processes of joint institutes and joint programmes, based on a combination of surveys and interviews with administrators from both UK and Chinese partner institutions and case studies on four different partnerships. It can be downloaded from the SIEM website.

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