Employability and next steps

    The information on this page has been developed as part of the Teaching International Students project

    International students embark on study for many reasons and have diverse career aspirations. Some hope to work in the country in which they are studying after graduation while others intend to return home (or elsewhere) to further their careers. Some people see international student graduates as a potential source of highly skilled employees with international as well as local knowledge and experience, while others see them as a potential threat to the employment prospects of local students or as a source of unwelcome immigration and there has been much public debate and government review on this area in recent times. Nevertheless, most universities are keen to ensure that the courses that international students undertake in the UK or through British degrees overseas, as for home students, prepare them well in order to live and work in the UK or overseas and view them as a source for mutual understanding and dialogue between nations and cultures. Many universities assist their international students with finding post-study employment and growing numbers provide specialist careers advice to international students. The literature on international graduates’ employability is focused around employers and decision-makers. Within university courses, much attention is given to issues of ‘employability’ and the development of professional skills and knowledge in terms of graduate attributes and skills development (see other areas of the resource bank such as Internationalisation of the Curriculum). Issues of employability for both home and international students are similar in many respects, however, there are some specific areas which are different for international students.

    Employment opportunities after study and the possibility of gaining work placements during study have been identified as vital to attracting international students (‘Putting the World into World-Class Education’, DfES, 2004). However employers can be put off employing them if the regulations are, or appear to be, burdensome or complex. A survey of employers’ attitudes to employing international students in 2007 identified the need for clearer preparation of students in ‘improving transferable skills (CVs and interview preparation); clarifying potential roles; and improving the students’ knowledge of UK/EU business environment’ (Burnapp, 2007, Survey of employers attitudes to international students and graduates, see http://nectar.northampton.ac.uk/367/1/Burnapp2007367.pdf )

    Students who are subject to immigration control will have limitations on:

    • the number of hours they can work during their studies
    • the proportion of their course which can be spent in work placements
    • the routes available to them to stay on after study (which may affect those who require post-graduation work experience in order to complete professional qualifications)

    The regulations are complex and subject to change.  Details can be found on the UKCISA website (see below).

    What is the current advice that is available to students?

    Sites for students

    1. Careers advice

    2. Work during studies

    3. UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA)

    Examples of institutional sites

    The main issues: getting started

    In an ever competitive environment, gaining a job following study at university is very important to all students, whether they are home or international students and regardless of whether they intend to work in the UK or overseas after university. Whilst students are aware of the importance of gaining employment, there can often be a mismatch between the skills students perceive employers to want and those that employers value (see Archer & Davidson, 2008, Graduate employability, What do employers think and want? Council for Industry and Higher Education, see: http://aces.shu.ac.uk/employability/resources/0802Grademployability.pdf). Students expect university education to enhance their employment chances (Glover, Law & Youngman, 2002) and this can be particularly the case with international students who have invested significantly in moving to the UK and often have great regard for UK higher education. It is not uncommon for them to expect the university to find them a job when they graduate and family expectations may play an important role for international students in the expectations that they have. [See video of international students talking about family expectations].

    Whilst employability skills are important for both home and international students, there may be differences in the skills required by prospective employers in different countries. Students studying on courses that adhere to the requirements of UK professional bodies may be learning in very UK-centric models but increasingly professional bodies are also concerned that all graduates develop cross cultural skills and knowledge to equip them to work more globally.

    Possible solutions: suggestions for action

    There are many aspects of incorporating employability skills into the curriculum which are appropriate for all students and the suggestions below could apply to home students as well.

    There is a large literature on employability skills and the ones highlighted here are not an exhaustive list. [link to Academy employability page http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/employability ]

    What can a teacher do to assist students?

    Personal development planning (PDP)

    Many international students may not be familiar with PDP. Using a virtual environment for personal development planning has some advantages as students who are worried by their language abilities may feel more comfortable asking questions online where they have more time to compose and edit their responses.

    For international students, the teaching styles of UK institutions may be different from their previous educational experience. There may be a lack of awareness of the transferable skills that they are potentially gaining during their studies and reflection and skills development may need to be explicitly taught.

    See: Meredith, C. (2010) Teaching reflective skills and PDP to international students: How effective is the use of PebblePad? E Journal of Learning and Teaching, 2(5), 293-306.

    Work Placements and Volunteering (see also ‘Life outside the Classroom’

    Some students are required to complete a professional placement as part of their course, for example in social work or education courses. Work placements and voluntary work can help international students feel integrated into their new community as well as gaining useful experience to help them in future careers. Many have reported it being a valuable way to improve their language skills.

    Listed below are some resources and references that are useful in addressing different aspects of this area:

    What’s the evidence?

    Resources for further reading

    Bagley, D. & Sewell, P. (2009) Employability and enterprise in China and the UK: Similarities and differences. Centre for Employability, University of Central Lancashire -

    Connor, H. & Brown, R. (2009). Global horizons: Recruiting international students and graduates from UK universities. London: Council for Industry and Higher Education.

    Gannon, J.  (2008) Developing intercultural skills for international industries: The Role of Industry and educators, in Enhancing the International Learning Experience in Business and Management, Hospitality, Leisure, Sport and Tourism

    Glover, D., Law, S. & Youngman, A. (2002) Graduateness and employability: Student perceptions of the personal outcomes of university education, Research in Post-Compulsory Education, 7(3), 293-306.

    Jamison, S. (2008) International Hospitality students' development of employability skills.

    Leggott, D. &Stapleford, J. (2007) Internationalisation and employability, in S. Brown &E. Jones (Eds.), Internationalising higher education: Enhancing teaching, learning and curriculum. London: Routledge.

    Martin, E. & McCabe, S. (2004) Embedding employability in postgraduate hospitality and tourism courses through work placement.

    Shiel, C., Williams, A. & Mann, S. (2005) Global perspectives and sustainable development in the curriculum: Enhanced employability, more thoughtful Society? In Enhancing Graduate Employability: The roles of learning, teaching, research and knowledge transfer, Proceedings of the Bournemouth University Learning and Teaching Conference, Bournemouth University.