R & D project

Researching international students' digital experience

Highlighting alternative perspectives and considering issues that might affect the digital experience of international students.

International students smile as they use their laptops on a bench outside on campus.


Expected outcome:


About the project

Building on 18 years of research into students’ digital experience, including seven years of running the digital experience insights surveys, we wanted to take a deeper dive into the digital experience of international students coming to study in the UK.

To support the HE sector in providing an equitable student learning experience, we wanted to understand the previous experience of our international students in accessing and using digital technologies. However, we recognised this wasn't just about access; this was about considering cultural and digital expectations and differences.

What have we done so far?

The first phase of our research centred on reviewing issues and perspectives from UK HE providers, policy-makers, academic and grey literature, and advocates working in this space. In April 2023, we launched our phase one report.

Phase two has focused on direct consultation with international students in UK HE. From May to July 2023, we ran a cross-institutional survey with 14 UK HE providers, and made ten visits to undertake international student focus groups. The survey generated 2,067 responses and we spoke with 150 students. Analysis of this data, along with recommendations for the HE sector, are in our phase two report, published in November 2023.

Why is this needed?

International students constitute a significant proportion of the overall student population in the UK. In the academic year 2021/22, 680,000 international students were studying at UK universities. At the same time, our members told us the pandemic shone a light on the digital experiences of international students in particular.

The challenges international students faced were not only in relation to access to technology, but also in terms of the expectations UK HE providers placed on its use in teaching and learning. With the pandemic accelerating the use of digital technologies, which can now be seen embedded throughout the student life cycle, there is a clear need to undertake research into the digital experience of international students.

Next steps

We will:

  • Work with partner HE providers to support their use of survey and focus group data to inform service and curricula developments for international students
  • Produce and disseminate a set of briefing papers on dedicated themes, potentially including:
    • How to run focus groups with international students to better understand their needs and experiences
    • Considerations for institutional strategy
    • Considerations for future curriculum design
    • The relationship between global civil digital infrastructure and individual digital experience

Get involved

We have established a sector working group with over 50 members, which aims to build community around this work with membership comprising representation from our partner institutions, as well as sector bodies whose remits support international students in higher education. If you'd like to join this working group please contact Elizabeth Newall (elizabeth.newall@jisc.ac.uk).

Meet the project team

  • Sarah Knight

    Sarah Knight

    Head of learning and teaching transformation
  • Headshot of Elizabeth Newall

    Elizabeth Newall

    Senior sector specialist (digital transformation)
  • Tabetha Newman

    Dr Tabetha Newman

    Senior research consultant and CEO, Timmus Limited
  • Headshot of Mike Gulliver

    Dr Mike Gulliver

    Senior researcher consultant, Timmus Research Ltd

Project outputs

  1. Digital country profiles: international students’ digital experiences in relation to their home country’s civil digital infrastructureDownload the paper (pdf)
  2. Comparing international and UK-domiciled student responses in Jisc’s digital experience insights (DEI) surveyDownload the paper (pdf)
  3. Supporting international students’ digital experience: a checklist for providing an equitable and inclusive experienceDownload the checklist (pdf)
  4. Facilitating holistic conversations about the student experience with international studentsDownload the guide (pdf)
  5. International students’ digital experience phase two: experiences and expectationsRead the phase 2 report
  6. International students’ digital experience phase one: a review of policy, academic literature and views from UK higher educationRead the phase 1 report