Employability is an important outcome for all students, but international students’ support needs are different
To better understand international students’ career support needs and to explore whether they differ from those of home students, we recently surveyed 600 pathway, undergraduate and postgraduate students to ask them about their employment aspirations and their use of university careers services. Our research found that, when compared to home (UK) students, international students are more likely to have clear career plans.
They are also more likely to know about, and have used, their university careers services. However, we uncovered that they are less satisfied with their experience of those services and feel less confident or prepared for the world of work.
A need for tailored Careers Services
In a 2020 report by UK Universities International (UUKi) et al. careers and employability professionals from 43 universities overwhelming reported high demand for their services from international students that most feel unable to meet. Just under half also said they don’t offer any specific services for international students – considering international students’ greater clarity of ambition, coupled with their sense of being less prepared for employment, perhaps they should be.
The insights gathered through our research further emphasises the need for tailored careers services. Naturally there are many groups of students with unique needs in this area; international students are no different. However, with the added complexities of work visas or their desire to gain a role in their home country, international students require very specific support and expert advice.
Future Skills – they’re already here
The skills needed for the jobs of tomorrow are changing rapidly (see WEF Future of Skills report) but capabilities like problem solving, critical thinking, leadership and resilience will remain crucial. Today’s students need to be equipped with as many of these skills as possible before graduation, to have the best chance of career success. Education providers clearly play a key role in developing and enabling the future workforce. Therefore, enhancing their careers support services offering and building these skills into the academic curriculum must be part of their offer.
Considering the ambitious nature of many international students, who have clear career aspirations, we suppose that they could be even more aware of the need to develop these types of skills during their studies.
Overall, it seems like universities could and should be developing their careers services to deliver more for their students, with a particular focus on international students’ needs.
Employability at the top of the agenda
We note in the government’s recent update to their International Education Strategy their aim of “Enhancing the international student experience from application to employment“ and their plan to work with various organisations on graduate outcomes and employability. Following this announcement, UKCISA made employability one of its top themes for 2021. With policy makers and international student organisations calling this out as a key area for research, development and hopefully therefore investment, there’s really no excuse for universities to not put it at the top of their agendas too.
Universities excelled at supporting their international students during the darkest days of the pandemic, but Andy Howells, Assistant Director for External Affairs at Universities UK International, thinks they didn’t promote what they did loudly enough. Universities have shown that they can react quickly and effectively to help their students. To grow their competitive position in the market, UK universities must use that impetus to build better services for international students to help strengthen their employability, but they must also shout about what they’re doing.