Further evidence that international students are increasingly prioritising employment outcomes

Post-secondary institutions engaged in recruiting international students should be highlighting the career outcomes of graduates in their promotional materials, according to findings from a new research study conducted among more than 10,700 international alumni from eight countries: China, India, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand.

The study is entitled International Student Employment Outcomes and Satisfaction (ISEOS) and was produced jointly by the market research firm Decision Lab and the International Alumni Job Network (IAJN). Respondents had studied at Australian, American, British, Canadian, European and New Zealand universities.

Most study abroad to improve career prospects

More than eight in ten (81%) of surveyed alumni said that they chose to study abroad to improve career opportunities, and 43% decided to study abroad to pursue a specific career. The next most important driver of study abroad was the opportunity to live abroad (39%).

Despite alumni advice emerging as the most accurate source of information that students can rely on for information on work rights and employment outcomes, only 7% of alumni said they had accessed such advice. The most often-accessed source of information about international study was the institutional website and/or school representatives (32%) followed by educational counsellor/agent (27%). Alumni respondents, however, found these sources to be less accurate regarding work opportunities and outcomes than advice from alumni, pointing to a real opportunity for institutions to leverage their alumni more through testimonials and video.

Other survey highlights

Given the importance of employment outcomes to students, a notable finding from the ISEOS study was that fewer than 1 in 5 surveyed alumni said they had access to internships while studying in Australia, New Zealand, and UK.

Canada and the US came out on top regarding respondents’ satisfaction with ability to work while studying, while the UK was ranked lowest for post-study work rights. However, the UK and especially Australia scored well when it came to the ability to earn a better salary after studies. Sixty percent of alumni from Australian universities had secured a salary increase when they returned to the workforce after their studies.

When asked to assess the return on investment gained from having studied abroad, more than three-quarters of those who studied in Canada said they were satisfied with this aspect of their experience. Results were similar in Europe (74%), New Zealand (74%), and the US (73%), falling slightly among alumni who had studied in Australia (69%) and the UK (66%).

A lost opportunity

Engaging and leveraging alumni effectively is often a weak point for institutions according to several other recent research reports. A Strada-Gallup Alumni Survey conducted in mid-2018 among more than 5,100 US college graduates found low levels of satisfaction with alumni networks’ ability to help graduates in their search for jobs. An earlier Intead/Academic Assembly study among US college administrators found that a majority of college administrators said that their institutions are not doing enough to connect with international alumni. Nearly two-thirds reported having no dedicated staff time for global alumni relations.

The Intead/Academic Assembly report advised educators to do more with alumni, noting that,

“The purpose of international alumni relations is to leverage the support of this potential group of brand ambassadors. The cumulative effect of this will increase your global brand projection, boost enrolment and fundraising, and create new employment opportunities for current students and recent graduates. It’s about making good use of the powerful resources you already have.”

Students want to hear from students

Students can sometimes trust the opinions and experience of other students even more than messaging found on institutional websites or even school representatives, and so for issues as crucial as work rights, employment outcomes of graduates, and pathways to immigration it makes sense to engage current and former students to share their experiences. These students can help to balance overly formal language often used to explain such areas and to lend credibility to institutional claims of employment outcomes.

As we noted when covering the results of a global FPP/Intead survey that went out to more than 94 countries in 2015,

“The relatively wide distribution of students who trust other students to recommend study abroad destinations underlines the importance of student testimonials as a broadly effective recruiting tool.”

In that study, students from Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines were especially likely to trust the opinions of fellow students currently studying at an institution they were considering.