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Japan: study abroad boosts quality of life, career skills, survey suggests

Japanese graduates who have studied abroad report gaining skills beneficial to their careers and having a higher quality of life than those who have not, new research has shown.

The report's authors, Hiroshi Ota (above), Shingo Ashizawa and Kazuo Kuroda, presented the research findings at the recent APAIE conference in Melbourne. Photo: The PIE News.The report's authors, Hiroshi Ota (above), Shingo Ashizawa and Kazuo Kuroda, presented the research findings at the recent APAIE conference in Melbourne. Photo: The PIE News.

69% of graduates who had studied abroad agreed with the phrase ‘I am satisfied with my life’, compared with 56% who had not

In a survey of around 5,600 Japanese citizens, mobile graduates said they are more satisfied with their lives outside of work and their friendships. They also report feeling more confident in a foreign language and stronger in communication and perseverance competencies.

88% of graduates who had studied abroad felt their communication skills had improved as a result, compared with 50% of non-mobile graduates

An additional survey of Japanese employers shows that few value short-term stints overseas, however  graduate career progression and salary levels suggests that study abroad does indeed give them an advantage in the labour market.

Presenting the preliminary research findings at the recent APAIE conference in Melbourne, Hiroshi Ota, a professor at Hitotsubashi University’s Center for Global Education and one of the authors of the report, said that mobile students gain soft skills that they could then “put to use at work and underpin future career progression”.

Most notably, 88% of graduates who had studied abroad for three months or more during higher education felt their communication skills had improved as a result of studying abroad, compared with 50% of non-mobile graduates who felt they had improved as a result of their study at a Japanese university.

In addition, 86% of mobile graduates said they had gained a more positive and proactive attitude through their studies, compared with 49% of non-mobile; and 79% said they believed they were more resilient to stress, compared with 48% of their non-mobile counterparts.

However, the Global Jinzai 5000 project report also revealed that few Japanese employers place a high premium on study abroad.

Less than 5% of employers surveyed said they consider international experience to be ‘very important’ when hiring, and just under a quarter said it was ‘quite important’.

And employers only appear to value longer-term study abroad experiences. More than a third of employers – 38% – said they only considered study abroad of a year or more to be of value. Less than 4% said they considered study abroad lasting between three and six months to be of any value.

“It can be interpreted that the effects of study abroad as manifested in qualities, motivations and attitude are valued more highly than study abroad in itself,” the report notes.

Aside from the career-related outcomes of study abroad, another notable finding was the impact on graduates’ overall quality of life – 69% of those who had studied abroad said they were in either strong or relative agreement with the phrase ‘I am satisfied with my life’, compared with 56% who had not.

“It can be interpreted that the effects of study abroad as manifested in qualities, motivations and attitude are valued more highly than study abroad in itself”

Interestingly, the survey showed little difference in job satisfaction based on mobility during studies; but a higher proportion (71%) of those who had studied abroad said they were satisfied with their lives outside work than those who had not (63%).

And 73% of mobile graduates said they were satisfied with the friendships in their life, compared to 60% of non-mobile.

Further analysis will enable the researchers to use the data to better communicate the impact of study abroad to universities, business and government, Shingo Ashizawa a professor at Toyo University and another of the report’s authors, told The PIE News.

Noting that correlation is not necessarily causation, he aims to determine the extent to which the qualities mentioned in the survey are actually generated by study abroad, and recognises the survey results might be skewed as students who are keen to share their experiences of study abroad may be predisposed to develop the competencies mentioned.

The survey included responses from 4,498 graduates who had studied abroad and 1,298 who had not. Responses were gathered online between January and September 2015 both through a call for submissions and using a research firm.

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