Information seeking behaviour of humanities/arts international postgraduate students in public universities in KwaZulu-Natal province, South Africa.
The study investigated the information seeking behaviour of Humanities/Arts international postgraduate students in public universities in KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa. Three public universities participated in the study, namely the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), University of Zululand (UNIZULU) and Durban University of Technology (DUT). The study applied a survey approach which included both quantitative and qualitative methods. The data collection tools were a self-administered questionnaire for the international postgraduate students, a focus group discussion with students who were not given questionnaires, and semi-structured interviews were conducted with the Heads of International Students Office (HISOs) at the surveyed universities. Research tools were triangulated with the aim of obtaining richer data. Pre-testing of research tools, evaluation of research methods, and consideration of ethical issues were discussed to ensure validity and reliability of research findings. The quantitative data were collected through questionnaires and were analysed using SPSS, while the qualitative data were drawn from the individual interviews and focus group discussion and were analysed using thematic content analysis. The overall response rate was 91.9% (218 out of 237 sample size). The study was informed by Wilson’s (1999) model of information behaviour. The findings of the study revealed that international postgraduate students had academic and personal information needs at the host universities. Students who participated in the study were all from African countries (excluding South Africa). The study discovered the main areas of information needs for the respondents were predominantly the information services related to the registration process; learning and research purposes based on university protocols; English language competency as a medium of instruction; and information literacy and computer skills. Students had to secure compulsory documents required for registration such as a passport with a valid study permit, medical aid insurance cover, proof of payment of tuition fees and payment of an international levy before they could be registered. In addition, new international postgraduate students had to secure a South African Qualification Authority (SAQA) accreditation to register. The study noted that accommodation was a major personal need and affected academic studies for many international students staying off-campus since they were not able to access the library facilities and had limited use of the Internet services from campus. The study revealed different sources of information used by surveyed students to satisfy their academic information needs. The library resources and services were mentioned by 100% of the participants as the main source for their academic needs. The Internet was the most used source for both academic resources and social motivation to communicate with colleagues and relatives back home and helped to overcome distance. The study noted that students were involved in both active and passive information seeking behaviour depending on the nature of the need. It was indicated that students had actively consulted supervisors for guidance regarding research projects and also obtained support from subject librarians to search for information. Students had however also passively received information from their colleagues while interacting with them and obtained information from the Internet. The study revealed problems related to limited English language proficiency of international students based on their academic backgrounds. The study identified other problems experienced by international postgraduate students such as their limited information literacy and computer skills, shortage of the Internation Students Office (ISO) staff and slow service, delays in renewing study permits, poor medical aid services, high tuitions fees, regular increase in the international levy, lack of awareness of available university services, and lack of a policy document regarding international students. The study revealed that support offered by the host universities should be improved in order to promote the information services delivered to the international postgraduate students. Participation in the orientation programme for all international students must be made compulsory. The study recommends that the ISOs should improve liaison with the Home Affairs Department, Momentum (Ingwe) and CompCare. The study also recommends that the universities should increase the number of residence rooms and assign a staff member to deal directly with accommodation problems of international students. The major outcome of the study was an information behaviour model of international postgraduate students. The study concludes that a policy document regarding services for international students should be formulated and communicated to all appropriate bodies especially key service providers and international students.