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International Students at University

Understanding the Student Experience

Harshi Gunawardena and Rachel Wilson

Education of international students is central to the aims, orientation and financial viability of many universities. However, the way that culture impacts on the experiences of international students remains largely unexplored. This may be due to two factors: first, much of the previous research treats the entire international cohort as a homogeneous group without investigating the diversity of cultural backgrounds and; second, the research methods used to investigate student ‘experiences’ in universities are dominated by quantitative surveys that leave little room for exploring personal perspectives and new issues. This book higlights the cultural issues that emerge in the experiences of international students. The authors explore the Australian international tertiary education sector and focus on one cultural group. Through a culturally-sensitive theoretical framework, the experiences of students from the Indian subcontinent are given voice. The resulting personal accounts provide a platform upon which more appropriate policy, marketing, pedagogy and future research can develop to provide tertiary systems that are more responsive to the needs of students.

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Chapter 6 Conclusions and Challenges 183

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183 Chapter 6 Conclusions and Challenges International education is an AU$12.5 billion dollar industry and Australia’s third largest export (Department of Science and Training (DEST) 2008). Despite the value to the Australian economy, international students experience a plethora of misadventures and a range of problems related to economic, social and cultural issues that impact on their experiences at Australian universities. Previous research (Bamford et al. 2002; Biggs 1994a, b, 1996. 2003; Edgeworth and Eisman 2007; Krause 2005a, b; McInnis 2001a, b) broadly attributed these difficulties to ‘cultural differences’. However, there is little attention in educational research to the way that culture impacts on the experiences of international students. This is largely due to the kind of instruments used to investigate both ‘culture’ and ‘experiences’. Using a historical and culturally-sensitive theoretical framework and research tools we explored the experiences of international students from the Indian subcontinent. Choosing Australia as the Destination Country There are many factors that draw international students to Australia, which vary along cultural and economic lines. Australia was not the first destination choice for the majority of international students from the Indian subcontinent. A series of other values emerged as important and significant in making Australia their choice. 184 While there were individual differences in income, the current research suggests that students coming to Australia from the Indian subcontinent are from the lower end of the rising middle class. Ninety- five percent of the participants in this study had student loans, and 88% of the students were...

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