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Work, research key to attracting STEM students, survey finds

STEM students are driven to study overseas by employability, access to better quality education and the promise of adventure, according to a study of mobile students in the world’s top four study destination countries.

According to the study, students in the US feel it offers the best well-rounded value proposition for innovation, career prospects and research opportunities. Photo: GeorgiaSouthern

"They want the highest quality education that will allow them access to careers globally"

Presented by the British Council, the report released this week includes a survey of STEM undergraduate and postgraduate students in the US, the UK, Australia, and Canada on their motivations to study internationally alongside analysis of each country’s policy on post-study work.

The report points out the global trends in STEM enrolments: UK undergraduate numbers have risen while postgraduate enrolments have fallen; the US has seen growth driven by Saudi Arabia, China, Brazil and India; Canada is growing as well thanks to a skilled workers programme and Australia is still recovering after a low point in enrolments in 2006.

“They are keen to maintain their link with and transfer their knowledge to their home countries in the long-term”

According to a survey of 1,348 responses from undergraduate and postgraduate students, the motivating factor for studying a STEM degree overseas was to access better quality education than what students could find in their home country.

Accessing job opportunities in the country where they are studying was the second biggest driver for both groups and looking for adventure was the third.

“STEM students know – and are driven by the fact – that the skills they are obtaining are globally transferable and are invaluable in an increasing knowledge-based economy,” the report says.

Interest in these subjects is not waning it adds and says that students are becoming more discerning their decision making.

“They want the highest quality education that will allow them access to careers globally,” it says.  “Those destinations with policies in place that positively affect STEM students’ ability to research and practice during and beyond their degree will benefit the most.”

Not suprisingly, more than a third of the survey respondents from both groups said they intended to look for a job in their country of study after graduation.

However a smaller proportion (15% UG, 14% PG) said they wanted to move abroad permanently.

“International STEM students seek high-quality education and enhanced career prospects, therefore the most attractive education systems will be those who are best integrated with the innovation economy,” said Zainab Malik, research director of the British Council’s Education Intelligence service and author of the report.

She added, “Our research shows that while many international students want to work overseas, either where they study or in other countries, in the beginning of their careers they are keen to maintain their link with and transfer their knowledge to their home countries in the long-term.”

By far, STEM students say the UK has the the best reputation for a high-quality education that offers the best career prospects in their field

By far, STEM students say the UK has the the best reputation for a high-quality education that offers the best career prospects in their field. The US was also favoured for its career prospects while Canada and Australia were attractive because students had friends or relatives there.

Looking at student perceptions on innovation, career prospects and research opportunities, the study reveals that students in the US feel it offers the best well-rounded value proposition for all three.

Meanwhile students in the UK rate the country’s research opportunities but only 42% of postgraduates say it has the best career prospects for STEM students compared to 71% in the US, 72% in Australia and 61% in Canada.

“The historic draw of a destination continues to permeate student perceptions, STEM students notwithstanding,” the report states. “However, these impressions only go so far as students become savvier to their options, academic and professional.”

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