Perceptions of international students on the challenges of diversity management at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
Background: Between the years 2009 and 2010, an average of approximately 5 400 applications were received at the University of KwaZulu-Natal from international students (Division of Management Information, 2010). Knowledge of international students is essential to higher education institutions. It can be said that international students have become a vibrant part of the diversity in South Africa’s education sector and provide immense benefits to our economy, educational institutions, local students and educators. However, there exists a paucity of research on the post-choice perceptions of international students. Purpose and Methods: The purpose of the study was to assess the post-choice perceptions of international students (undergraduate and postgraduate) at UKZN, with special references to diversity challenges. A cross-sectional/survey design using questionnaires, with both descriptive and analytical components was employed. Ethical clearance was obtained from the Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) of the University of KwaZulu-Natal. The researcher randomly chose 300 students from an updated listing of the registered international students chosen by the generation of random numbers to achieve the objectives of the study. The researcher surveyed the 300 students which were easiest to get a hold of who were contacted via email and invited to participate in the study. The responses of 280 international students were analysed. All data was processed and analysed using the SPSS version 15.0 (SPSS Inc., Chicago, Illinois, USA). For all statistical comparisons, the 5% significance level was used; correspondingly, 95% confidence intervals were used to describe effect size. Results and Conclusion: The identified diversity challenges experienced by international students at higher education institutions were found to be: language and communication; social interaction across race/ethnicity; discrimination; pedagogical approaches; finances; interracial conflict/tension; curriculum; assessment methods; lifestyle adjustment; campus services and facilities; classroom diversity; staff and, lastly, campus administration and policies. The results established that financial issues (insufficient financial aid and part-time/casual jobs); a lack of platforms for social and interracial mixing; campus residency (insufficient space and an inconducive learning environment); and a lack of hosts on arrival are the predominant diversity challenges experienced by international students at UKZN. At the 95% level, where p<0.05, the results indicated significant differences in the perception of language and communication (p= .009) and assessment methods (p= .006) between undergraduate and postgraduate respondents. The undergraduate students have a higher score than the postgraduate students. This finding signifies that postgraduate respondents displayed a slightly stronger level of agreement for language and communication and assessment methods being a challenge compared to the undergraduate respondents. Therefore, the writer attempted to provide recommendations from the results and findings to ensure a truly diverse and united university.