Purpose: Whilst research on the impact of Covid-19 on education has been on the increase, the ‘voice’ of international students in the UK is largely absent from this literature. The present study seeks to explore the experiences of final-year international undergraduate students who have had access to E-learning from their home countries during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Design/Methodology/Approach: The study draws on qualitative interviews with 13 international students from India, Nigeria and Pakistan. All the participants were in their final year at three University of London member institutions, Birkbeck, SOAS and UCL. Using Interpretive Interactionism analysis, the study explored students’ E-learning experiences during Covid-19, and its impact on their academic performance, particularly on their final grades. There was also an exploration of how the students’ experiences differ along existing socioeconomic divides, and whether the pandemic has aggravated existing inequalities.
Findings: Five master themes were identified in the analysis: feelings of disconnection and anxiety; issues with comprehension; impact on academic performance; technical and socioeconomic issues. Participants’ own words or expressions (‘thick descriptions’) have been maintained in these analyses as expected with interpretive interactionism approach (Denzin, 2011; 2019). ‘Thick Description’ is used here to avoid overly reductionist treatment of participants’ interpretations of their experiences.
Social implications: The qualitative data are based on a small sample of international students. Therefore, its findings cannot be assumed to be generalisable and further research needs to be done if many issues are to be clarified. However, one of the strengths of the present study lies in its detailed qualitative analyses of the perspectives of the international students. This study aimed to take seriously the experiences of each international student as presented in their accounts rather than dismissing them as simply being inaccurate. Students pre and post covid results were also used to critically analyse participants’ accounts – such combination can be argued to provide rich data, particularly since accounts were not treated as the simple ‘truth’ but were accepted as social constructions that provided insights into lived experiences. As with some interpretive studies, findings from the present study are considered to be transferable.
Keywords: UK-HEIs, Inequalities, Home-schooling, E-learning, Student-experience