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Help students better articulate benefits of study abroad, HE urged

While study abroad can be a huge asset in the graduate job market, many graduates are unable to articulate the benefits of these experiences to potential employers, stakeholders warned at a symposium on student mobility in the Asia Pacific region in Melbourne this month.

A panel of experts discusses the challenges in encouraging to study abroad at the Universities Australia symposium. Photo: The PIE News.A panel of experts discusses the challenges in encouraging to study abroad at the Universities Australia symposium. Photo: The PIE News.

“Who are those at the table to help your students articulate what that experience was?"

Speaking at the symposium, hosted by Universities Australia on the fringes of the 2016 APAIE conference, a panel of study abroad experts agreed that careers staff, senior leadership and faculty all have a pivotal role to play in outbound mobility, not just international office staff.

“There’s a critical role, long-term mobility and careers offices connecting so that students really understand how to sell those experiences”

“The concept of helping a student better articulate their experience, so how they sell themselves and sell that experience, is really critical now, because as practitioners in mobility, we believe in what they’re doing, but [students] have actually got to go out and sell it,” urged Brad Dorahy, founder of CISAustralia, a third-party provider of overseas study and internship opportunities.

He described how in a recent round of hiring, a surprising number of graduates who had spent time overseas “undersold themselves on their study abroad placements”.

“That’s they key selling point and they didn’t sell it,” he said. “I think there’s a critical role, long-term mobility and careers offices connecting so that students really understand how to sell those experiences, all those soft skills they’ve gained.”

Jessica Loh, director of outreach and marketing at IIE’s Bangkok office, also underlined the need to help students “go beyond ‘awesome’” when describing their study abroad experiences.

“That’s not going to cut it in an interview,” she said.

“Who are those at the table to help your students articulate what that experience was? How do your institutions help students to make meaning of these experiences?” she challenged.

“And how can we as global international educators share best practices so that students are able to articulate those?”

The need to demonstrate employability skills clearly is even more critical in markets like Japan, where short-term study abroad – the most popular option among Japanese students – is not highly valued by employers, added Hiroshi Ota, a researcher at Hitotsubashi University.

“Japanese employers, still the perception is that less that one year, they don’t appreciate it,” he said, citing his own research with the Global Jinzai 5000 project on the outcomes of study abroad in Japan.

Addressing the link between mobility and career readiness, a question from the floor raised the point that of around 100 attendees present, only one worked within a careers office, highlighting the need for better integration of careers and international staff in this space.

“You need it coming from senior leadership around the university if you’re really going to make a change”

Getting faculty onside should also be a key part of universities’ international strategies, the panel agreed,

Lynda Worthaisong, assistant secretary of the secretariat of the New Colombo Plan, Australia’s flagship outbound mobility programme to Asia, noted that one of the key advantages of the NCP is its efficacy in engaging academics.

“As academics, when they’re leading the programme they then realise the benefits of it and you get it being built into curriculum,” she explained.

This building of student mobility into curricula can also help to eliminate some of the key barriers to study abroad, she said, noting that students often say they feel held back by a lack of faculty support and credit-bearing courses.

In order to address these issues, it is critical for universities to hone their international strategies and set clear goals, Doherty said.

“When I ask ‘what is your goal for mobility for the year?’ I get a bit of a vague response,” he said. “It tells me there could be some more focus in that area in terms of long-term strategic planning in the mobility space.”

In order to do this, Worthaisong stressed that leadership must come from the top.

“You need it coming from senior leadership around the university if you’re really going to make a change, because I think if we listened to our study abroad advisors, they’ll be able to tell us about incredible programme opportunities that they’re aware of, but they haven’t managed to convince an academic that it should be in the programme, or that students should get credit for it,” she said.

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