The international student experience
: A qualitative study of intergroup relations in an Irish Institute of Technology

  • David Coggans

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Education


There is a general acceptance that increased student mobility, the most visible impact of the internationalisation of HE, has the ability to create and enhance cultural vibrancy and foster an appreciation of inclusion and diversity amongst the entire student body. However, in order for internationalisation’s socially transformative potential to be realised, the formation of positive intergroup relations is a prerequisite; yet much of the existing research into intergroup relations tends to take a quantitative perspective and accordingly has been widely critiqued for failing to elucidate the true nature of the relationships between international and local students.

Through a review of policy documentation, in-depth interviews with staff and small group interviews with students, this thesis provided an understanding of how intergroup relations were constructed and maintained in an Irish HE institute. Ireland is an interesting and novel setting in which to explore internationalisation largely due to its relatively recent experience of hosting non-native Irish student groups, coupled with its relatively limited (and recent) experience of multiculturalism. Furthermore, the site of the research, an Irish Institute of Technology, where often the enrolment catchment area is the immediate locality, has only limited and recent experience with diverse student groups, particularly newcomer students.

Findings reveal only limited evidence of positive intergroup contact. Indeed, throughout the interviews there were many examples of negative contact with an expectation that international students should assimilate to the dominant culture. In this light, the importance of a supportive environment for groups engaging in contact is emphasised. The research takes place at an interesting time as societies endeavour to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic. Although the data was collected prior to the onset of the pandemic, Covid-19 nevertheless presents an opportunity for a reorientation in thinking towards a position which affords equitable treatment to all student groups.

Thesis embargoed until 31 July 2027.
Date of AwardJul 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorCaitlin Donnelly (Supervisor) & Cathal McManus (Supervisor)


  • Internationalisation of HE
  • intergroup relations
  • contact theory
  • social identity theory
  • international students
  • qualitative study
  • thematic analysis

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