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“Significant” employability gap remains in UK

More action is required to bridge the “significant” gap still remaining for international students and UK graduate employability, according to international education stakeholders.

International students still face a "significant gap" when it comes to employability. Photo: pexels

“Being an international student is still seen, or at least felt by international students, as somewhat of a drawback rather than being an asset”

University career services need to be “completely accessible and representative”, while institutions should do more to ensure international students receive the right information about available support before they arrive in the UK, according to Noleen Hammond Jones, international career manager at Lancaster University.

“Evaluation, collaboration and really hearing the student voice” are crucial if students are to feel supported, according to Jones, with the journey being “massively overwhelming for students”.

“Many have been told that good grades equal good jobs, so even though employability is the top reason they choose their institution, many of them aren’t thinking about it at that stage,” she continued.

Claire Cairns, senior director of recruitment at Kaplan International Pathways, further warned how institutions should not view international students a singular group, with employment support needing to be tailored. Many do not always see the value of their unique experiences due to not being “directly” relevant to career goals, she suggested.

“Even though employability is the top reason they choose their institution, many of them aren’t thinking about it at that stage”

“A lot of students put undue pressure on themselves to get top jobs after university when instead these early careers help students work out where they want to be or what they want,” Cairns said.

“Being an international student is still seen, or at least felt by international students, as somewhat of a drawback rather than being an asset,” Sanam Arora, founder and chairperson at National Indian Students and Alumni Union UK said.

Students frequently experience a catch twenty two in pursuit of work experience and employment, with company’s asking to see experience, but few open to providing it, she indicated.

“Why is it still the case that universities are not mandating or facilitating [work experience] as an intrinsic part of their education?” she asked.

“I don’t think they see that they are fully supported, holistically, through that journey, because for the vast majority of students, they see education as a means to an end, and that end is a brilliant career and a great life… but I think instead of employability being centred around education, I think it has to be the other way round now. Education has to centred around employability,” she said.

A recent UPP Foundation report described employment support as an area for “huge opportunity”, and advised providers to place employability as the UK’s top priority for international students.

In 2021, Louise Nicol, founder of Asia Careers Group SDN BHD, warned that there were only “pockets of best practice”, with Birmingham and Warwick offering a “more Asia-centric careers fair”.

“It’s really important that we start to tailor the advice we give to international students by country, by what their labour markets are doing, by how their graduate recruiters recruit. The rest of the world doesn’t necessarily have the milk round,” she said at the time.

Many employers in the UK show reluctance to hire international students over confusion and implications surrounding immigration, working visas and graduate routes, with stakeholders calling for “visa-blind” graduate roles and closer working relationships with employers to address “real diversity in the workplace”.

Rajay Maik, chief executive officer at Skilled Education, is quick to support the value of international students, who “come from an education system where they’ve had a really didactic experience”, with potential to transform the “global position and success” of sectors.

The stakeholders were speaking at The PIE’s recent PIE Live 2022 event in London.

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