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An exploratory study of factors that affect the research progress of international PhD students from the Middle East

Fatemeh Khozaei (School of Housing Building and Planning, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, Malaysia)
Sivabala Naidu (School of Education, University of Nottingham, Malaysia Campus, Semenyih, Malaysia)
Zahra Khozaei (School of Humanities, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, Malaysia)
Nor Aini Salleh (Faculty of Architecture, Planning and Surveying, UiTM Perak, Perak, Malaysia)

Education + Training

ISSN: 0040-0912

Article publication date: 11 May 2015




Despite the critical issues involving Middle East countries such as war and a drop in currency exchange rates, a large number of students leave their country to pursue a higher education abroad, every year. The purpose of this paper is to understand the difficulties that these students face while conducting their research in a foreign country and in doing so hopes to enhance a greater awareness of the kind of hindrances they face to complete their studies.


The respondents of this qualitative study are PhD students from the Middle East who were studying in a public university in Southeast Asia. This university has recorded an increasing enrollment of international students, particularly from the Middle East in the last few years. Data were collected using a series of unstructured interviews that elicited information on critical incidents that characterized the kind of difficulties students had to face in their research. The data obtained was further analyzed using a qualitative software package – NVivo (QSR International, 10).


Six main themes emerged from the content analysis of the interviews, which are the role of the supervisor, student characteristics, family commitments, financial problems, psychological and research barriers which provide a holistic picture of student perspectives on the factors that affect research progress. While these students might have faced difficulties that might have been cited in existing literature, this paper argues that the respondents have indicated experiencing psychological barriers that were not described in earlier studies, such as the state of mind they were in as a result of being worried for family members due to war or violence in their home countries, drop in currency exchange rates and difficulties in acquiring money due to international sanctions imposed against their countries.


This study provides important insights on the factors that affect the progress of PhD students from the Middle East, while at the same time revealing a serious gap in supervisors’ role which can contribute to the delay in the research progress of PhD students.



Khozaei, F., Naidu, S., Khozaei, Z. and Salleh, N.A. (2015), "An exploratory study of factors that affect the research progress of international PhD students from the Middle East", Education + Training, Vol. 57 No. 4, pp. 448-460.



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