Student engagement and perceptions of quality learning in Higher Education in Angola and in other international contexts (Cuba, Portugal, and the United Kingdom)
: A convergent parallel MMR approach

  • Carla Cristina Queiroz

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Inter/National students experience higher education in different forms. They may experience critical disjunctions in relation to the conditions, expectations, and opportunities with which they have to engage in effective learning. Such dislocations are often not sufficiently researched and understood and are sometimes established through assumptions that studying in settings of the Global South is less positive than studying in contexts of the Global North. Students are also recurrently blamed for their failure and strive to survive within “fragile” or very demanding education systems. Standing as if autonomous, institutions are often ineffectual in scrutinising their own practices in terms of how successfully they engage their diverse students in meaningful and effective learning.

This study explores some of these concerns through empirical research on student engagement which maps out students’ perceptions of the quality of different aspects of higher education. The study compares Angolan students’ perception of studying “at home” in Angola and “abroad” in their host countries of Cuba, Portugal, and the United Kingdom. Drawing on Bronfenbrenner’s (1979; 2005) socioecological system theory of human development, and on the central concepts, assumptions and previous research on student engagement, this study explores the complexity and multidimensionality of student engagement in these different contexts.

The study is underpinned by a pragmatic paradigm and designed with a convergent parallel mixed-methods research (MMR) approach. Data was collected through surveys (n=1010), individual interviews and focus group discussions (n=43), with the participation of students reading for the professional degree programmes of Law, Nursing, Accounting, Psychology, and Engineering.

The survey comprehensively explored nine psychometric scales on student engagement and quality learning, adapted from the 2011 version of the U.S. National Survey on Student Engagement (NSSE). Results show statistically significant differences in all nine scales, with Angolan students studying “abroad” (in Cuba, Portugal, and the United Kingdom) showing more positive assessments. These differences were predominantly in (a) perceptions of quality of institutional resources and infrastructure (Angola 32.3 mean score compared to 78 in the international context); (b) perceptions of the quality of teaching, curriculum and assessment (Angola 54.2 compared to 81.3); and (c) overall satisfaction with educational experience (Angola 53.9 compared to 73.4).

The results from qualitative data confirmed the results of the quantitative study. Insights from that data revealed that student engagement is influenced by individual, institutional and societal factors that involve psychological, behavioural, and social dimensions of learning. Alienation and disengagement were identified as alarming signals of problems in the interaction between students and their environment, and in promoting effective teaching and learning conditions. The results also confirm evidence from previous studies that international students studying overseas face different challenges in their academic and social integration at university, particularly, social isolation, discrimination, culture shock and alienation.
Date of AwardDec 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsGovernment of Angola & British Association for International and Comparative Education
SupervisorDina Belluigi (Supervisor) & Tony Gallagher (Supervisor)


  • student engagement
  • student success
  • socioecological perspectives
  • learning contexts
  • MMR approach

Cite this