Student peers help quell fears around online study

Speaking during a recent PIE webinar, panellists shared their experiences regarding emerging approaches to student engagement during Covid-19, with peers being utilised as a meaningful way to help deliver some certainty and reassurance to overseas students.

In March, all of a sudden our teaching transitioned to online,” explained Bronwyn Bartsch, director international at CQUniversity Australia.

“So a lot of our international students wrote some stories about their experience and putting tips and tricks for other students to access. How do you cope with moving to online?”

She added, “They did some videos as well. So trying to spread the content across a few different platforms, in terms of how people consume that.”

At Unibuddy, Sophie Henderson, partnerships manager, explained that offering access to a peer group could help students feel confident enough to enrol. “[Prospective] students are already kind of nervous and have lots of burning questions when deciding where to study,” she explained.

“Then throw in a global pandemic and there is even more anxiousness and a real need to connect, which is what [this platform] facilitates and helps students build confidence.”

With the University of Western Australia one of the universities using Unibuddy’s digital platform, Trish Rechichi, director, future students explained that Unibuddy has proven to be a “really effective recruitment tool” not only for international recruitment but domestic recruitment as well.

“One thing we did was we talked to Unibuddy about turning the ‘chat to staff’ function on to allow prospective students speak to an international relationship manager here in Perth or a regional manager in one of their own countries,” she revealed.

“We’ve found that that actually works really well.”

Bartsch explained that the pandemic had forced the university to revisit how it was engaging with students, partners and agents, “now that face to face interaction isn’t an option anymore”.

“For us, the message is still about getting out there with impact, with reach and with relevance,” she added.

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“How do we engage? What messages do we now need to send? Is it appropriate to send some of the messages we were putting out there in the market? And how do we get that information back to inform us of what our next steps are?”

Rechichi explained that UWA has been hosting successful interactive masterclasses that are interactive, with a recent one organised for school principals and administrators securing 3,000 attendees.

Additionally, the university recently opened two online learning centres in China.

“It’s a partnership with a couple of universities that we have and the students are able to enrol online, but also then go to the campuses [Nanjing and Chongqing] and get whatever experience they can through the campus, through us,” Rechichi said, adding that around 40% of UWA’s current and future international students are from China.

The shift to online teaching has brought about a change in international student enquires the panellists noted, ranging from questions from existing students who may be stranded offshore about when they can return to prospective students questioning what online learning actually looks like.

“To them, it’s already daunting enough moving to a new country. But then they’re trying to make new friends and understand what they’ve got to go do through a screen, that makes it even harder – and that’s the type of enquiry we’re getting more and more,” said Rechichi.

Bartsch added, “If students commence online learning at home, they want to know about their eligibility for graduate visas. But the other big one is employment and jobs because a lot of the students are really concerned that there is probably not many jobs around.”

• The Unibuddy Asia-Pacific Summit is taking place on 23 July.

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