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Under 4% of US grad program participants go overseas – IIE report

A mere 3.4% of students in US graduate programs participated in overseas learning activities with their institution in 2016/17, with 87% joining programs running for less than eight weeks, an Institute of International Education report has revealed.

IIENew research show few US graduate students have the opportunity to study abroad Photo: Jan Vašek via PIxabay

"[Universities] have not embraced opportunities for students to gain the global skills"

Published with the support of the US Department of Education’s Office of International Foreign Language Education, the Graduate Learning Overseas research paper looked at study abroad opportunities for graduate students at 205 institutions representing almost 800,000 graduate students.

Most students included in the survey took part in coursework or traditional study abroad opportunities, although others went abroad for research and fieldwork, travel seminars, study tours, co-ops and internships, volunteering and service learning.

Business-related programs garnered 34% of the total number of graduates engaged in study abroad despite representing only 17% of national graduate enrolment. In terms of the graduates’ fields of study, business-related programs garnered the represented the highest percent of students going abroad, along with legal studies, public administration and social service professions.

Louisa Blenman, associate director of international programs at Florida State University, noted that the “overwhelming majority” of study abroad students were undergraduates, although FSU does offer some programs for its graduate students.

“There tends to be fewer opportunities that work for [graduate students]”

“The curriculum for graduate students is so much more focused that there tends to be fewer opportunities that work for them,” she told The PIE News.

China hosted the largest number of these students, followed by the UK, Germany, Mexico, France, Italy, South Africa, Spain and Peru.

While China was top in the GLO Survey, it was the sixth most popular destination in IIE Open Doors 2016/17 data showing overall US-based students studying abroad for academic credit. In contrast, Ireland, Australia, Costa Rica and Japan were less favoured among graduate students.

However, demand among graduate students for study abroad experiences remains. In cases where universities cannot provide this, students are reaching out to other providers.

“The vast majority of students – 70% – are having to find these experiences outside their degree programs,” Emily Merson, co-founder and CEO of Global Experiences, told The PIE News.

“For the past 18 years we have found a general rigidity in graduate programs”

“In our experience working with universities across the US for the past 18 years we have found a general rigidity in graduate programs, both in terms of openness to creating dynamic international opportunities and willingness to introduce global experiential opportunities,” she said.

“It is unfortunate that while masters level degrees are largely intended to be linked to professional advancement they have not embraced opportunities for students to gain the global skills that will ultimately make them more employable.”

The IIE report also highlighted the need for institutions to collect more comprehensive data on graduate learning overseas, especially for activities that were not for-credit.

“Less than half of responding institutions felt they had most or all of the data on students engaged in research or field work, volunteering or service learning, and work, co-op, or internship activity types,” the report said.

The report noted that institutions were “more confident” in the completeness of their data when it came to activities directly organised by the institutions such as coursework, travel seminars and study tours.

“Institutions can adapt to better prepare and support their students, many of whom may be travelling alone or in small groups, away from organised programs,” Leah Mason, research lead at IIE, told The PIE News.

“Leveraging existing reporting systems and building cross-campus relationships with other offices and leadership can help manage risks and provide students with a positive experience.”

IIE will be presenting information on the study via webinar during International Education Week next month, as well as during sessions next year.

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