Addressing gender blindness in research on international education: an analysis of the education experience and career outcomes of Malaysian graduates from Monash University Australia

2017-05-17T02:01:56Z (GMT) by Boey, Janice Yean Mei
Since the late 1980s, when Australian universities witnessed unprecedented growth in the levels of international student enrolments, there has been extensive scholarship and research examining the international student experience in its various dimensions. The more recent research by educators and policy makers reflects a growing recognition of the diversity in the international student population. The cultural, social, ethnic and linguistic backgrounds of international students have been recognised as influencing the motivations, expectations, experiences and outcomes of international students studying abroad. However, a review of this significant body of literature on international students reveals a ‘blind spot’ on gender in relation to the international student experience and consequently a significant gap in our understanding of this cohort of students. This thesis investigates how female (and male) international students experience overseas education from the time they leave their home country to the time they return home to provide a holistic view of the international education journey. The aim is to bring a gender sensitive analysis to bear on the data to produce a richer and more nuanced understanding of the experiences of international students than that which has been provided in other studies to date. The empirical study is based on data from a social survey of 440 Malaysian alumni from Monash University Australia and supplemented with 30 qualitative interviews with Malaysian graduates of Monash University Australia. The interviews were conducted in Malaysia in 2009. The key findings show that while both male and female respondents have equitable opportunities to pursue higher education overseas, there were significant differences in the way male and female respondents viewed their overseas educational opportunities. Female participants described wider goals which extend beyond academic and career success when reflecting on their ambitions to study abroad and were more likely to view the Australian study experience as an opportunity to get away from home than their male counterparts. In Australia, female participants were found to be less likely to participate and be actively involved in student representative councils or university clubs as compared to male participants. Female participants also appeared to have poorer interaction with local students and the Australian community. This research suggests that the women in this study had a less positive overseas experience, especially given that the desire to gain cross-cultural experience in Australia forms an important part of the women’s pre-Australian study experience. Nevertheless, the women were more likely to describe the benefits of the Australian education experience in terms of transformative changes to their personalities and attitudes than the men once they returned home to Malaysia. Finally, while the study also shows similar career and professional outcomes for female and male Australian-educated graduates in the Malaysian workforce, the female participants in this study were less optimistic about the role of women in the workplace, in particular for working mothers. On the other hand, the male participants were less likely to view gender issues as a concern for women in the workplace. While the study reports several significant gender differences during the various phases of the international education journey, the analysis of the data also reveals many common and shared experiences between men and women. To be quite clear, the analysis confirms the many commonalities and shared experiences between male and female international students. At the same time, it identifies the ways gender impacts and structures the social processes of everyday life of international students in all stages of the international education journey. The thesis demonstrates that employing gender as a category of analysis can deepen and provide a more nuanced understanding of the aspirations, experiences and outcomes of international students.