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Do grades matter all that much?

Meld Magazine

Wed Apr 20 2016


WHAT’S the point of an overseas education? Drawing from her research on international postgraduate students’ attitudes towards academic success, Dr Jasvir Kaur’s findings may not only help education institutions better support international postgraduate students but also challenge undergraduate students to take a more holistic view of academic success.

Grades – does it matter to international postgraduate students?

Not so much, according to Dr Jasvir Kaur, who recently completed her PhD at La Trobe University, examining international postgraduate students’ perceptions of academic success. While her study focused on international students at a particular Malaysian university, her findings provide insight not just to what the wider international postgraduate student community are looking for when it comes to student experience, but may also challenge perhaps how undergraduate students should value their overseas education experience.

New dimensions to academic success

Research skills

The international postgraduate students that Dr Kaur studied understood the importance of research skills. They saw research skills as vital to conducting research work appropriately – and more importantly, applying their research findings to help society. They measured the impact of their work (research quality) – and by that extension, academic success, with the ability to publish their research work in high-impact journals and participate in international conferences.


Cultural competency

A successful educational outcome is about intercultural understanding as it is about grades. From Dr Kaur’s study, experiencing Malaysian life was an educational success for many female and male postgraduate international students from China, Pakistan, Nigeria, Palestine and Indonesia. For them, experiencing international life was about participating in international student activities such as cultural shows, learning the Malay language as well as socialising with local Malaysians and other international students.

A Chinese student observed that international students had the tendency to mingle only with friends from the same country, but he had a clear view that “if you just staying with your friends, you cannot connect to other cultures and then you cannot make a new friends”. He saw communication with local students and contact with the local culture and local community as very important, and made an effort to mix with other local and international students through academic and non-academic activities in order to understand different cultures and establish good friendship bonds.

Social impact

This might be surprising for some, but postgraduate international students often have a strong sense of purpose when it comes to their overseas education experience. Students Dr Kaur studied did not just perceive academic success as only their personal achievements but a social concept. It was important that they would be apply to apply their knowledge to their home countries.

Two students from Indonesia and Pakistan, who were lecturers in their respective countries, said they valued the ability to transfer their knowledge to their teaching roles back home. “Academic success from my point of view is that, once I return to my society, this knowledge is meaningful for them. So I can use this knowledge to share maybe with the students or with my society, so that encourages them to change. The knowledge is not only for me but, most important, the knowledge is valuable and important for others also,” one student said.

Another international student from China who was a tourism planner wished to use his overseas education to help him achieve his aim to develop rural areas in China and uplift the poor. His intention was to apply his knowledge in tourism planning to develop these regions as tourist destinations.

Students regarded their ability to impart valuable knowledge and research to help others and be a useful agent of change in their respective countries and societies as a measure of academic success.


These findings can help shape how education institutions support international postgraduate students to achieve a more holistic form of academic success, through new academic and non-academic activities and programs, or improve those that exist currently.


Dr Jasvir Kaur will be sharing her insights at the Melbourne International Student Conference as a panel guest at the Future Focus Forum on Friday May 6 as well as presenting a TAG workshop on Saturday May 7 focusing on postgraduate international students and academic success.

For more information about the Melbourne International Student Conference, visit