The conference, themed The Impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on Higher Education in the Asia Pacific, highlighted the increasing need for ‘soft skills’, such as cultural understanding, in preparing students as automation reshapes the jobs market.
“There’s always been talk about students needing to be equipped with some sort of cultural knowledge, and increasingly that’s been replaced with global knowledge,” APAIE president Sarah Todd said.
“Study abroad has always had its own generic benefit”
“[Course] content is still obviously important, but it’s more their ability to adapt and change in the future… what is it about a person that makes a person different to a robot or a machine?”
Todd added that as technology creates “an increasingly borderless world” overseas study experiences offered a unique opportunity for students to increase their resilience to new ideas and prepare for work.
“It’s no longer possible to block content coming in from other countries, and so whether a student leaves the country or not, they’re going to be exposed to ideas from around the world,” she said.
“[Students] need to be equipped to deal with those ideas and different perspectives as well as go and seek them out.”
Ian Goldin, director of the Oxford Martin Programme on Technology and Employment, agreed with Todd, saying international education “will become a bigger and bigger part of the picture”.
“The role of higher education in all of this is to help those, particularly those that are vulnerable, from becoming irreplaceable in the new world,” he said.
“[There needs to be] much more emphasis on creativity, much more emphasis on mobility, how do you get a job in a dynamic city, how do you change countries if you need to or want to?”
The benefits of study abroad on employability are already being felt, according to the IIE’s regional director for East Asia, Paul Turner.
“You need to be equipped to deal with those ideas and different perspectives as well as go and seek them out”
A recent longitudinal study conducted by IIE found more than half of graduates felt their study abroad experience had helped them find a job, while those who were unsure still said they saw benefits to their career.
“Study abroad has always had its own generic benefits,” Turner said.
“[But] in having to settle into a new country, getting used to new ways of studying or working or living, then people are either developing or growing on skills in terms of adaptability, in terms of being able to take initiative, being able to understand more complex situations.”
But while there were benefits to both short and long-term study abroad experiences, Turner warned that students only experienced them if challenged to leave their comfort zone.
“The actual nature of the study abroad experience would be pretty important, because there are some study abroad programs that are really people in cotton wool from start to finish, and they’re not really challenged that much,” he said.
The 2018 APAIE conference attracted a record 2,200 delegates from throughout the Asia Pacific region, as well as North America and Europe. The 2019 event will take place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
In the latest edition of The PIE Review, we cover how higher education is preparing international students for the jobs of the future.