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We must recognise difference to best support international students

The findings of this year’s Prospects Early Careers Survey paint a picture of career plans, choices and experiences of overseas students and graduates currently residing in the UK as well as their UK-domiciled counterparts.

Keeping motivated and concerns about money rose are among the biggest challenges for international students, the survey found. Photo: pexels

"International students in particular benefit from the opportunity to interact and make social connections in person"

The survey’s findings (compiled by responses from close to 4,500 Prospects users) threw up some learning opportunities for those who educate, support or employ international students, principally that it’s important that we recognise differences in their expectations, needs and wants.

Course transparency

The benefits of online learning such as flexibility and convenience for students are still very much relevant post-lockdown. For example, we found that for disabled students in particular this is a preferred option.

That said, it’s important that educators are transparent about the ways that courses will be taught and that there is a certain degree of flexibility.

International students in particular benefit from the opportunity to interact and make social connections in person. They have a strong preference for face-to-face learning (75%) with just 2% studying online compared to 18% of UK-domiciled students.

When it comes to satisfaction, in-person/face-to-face teaching received the highest score with hybrid learning scoring the lowest. Understandably, the survey found that generally, students who weren’t expecting hybrid study were less satisfied than those who had anticipated this mode of learning.

The preference for face-to-face learning could be explained somewhat by findings from a four-stage research project by Jisc about the digital experience of international students studying in the UK.

The study found that international students often experience ‘digital shock’ as they face a range of unfamiliar systems and processes. There were sometimes problems engaging with online learning, with unsupported software and hardware, and using technology to keep in touch with friends and family back home. There was also evidence of digital inequity relating to wifi, access to devices, data costs or working spaces.

Recommendations in the report include offering digital inductions and training, providing ‘digital champions’ as support and creating online communities to foster a sense of belonging.

Course information

Almost a quarter of international students said that the next step in their career will be full-time or part-time education. We asked whether when researching courses there was any information they had struggled to find.

“Almost half of international students (46%) struggled to find visa information”

Almost half of international students (46%) struggled to find visa information, and they were more likely to say that they had difficulties finding courses that match their skills and qualifications (40%) than UK-domiciled students (27%).

This highlights how important detailed and up-to-date course content on websites and in prospectuses are as it’s the most important factor when choosing where to study. The subjects offered and the reputation of the institution and courses are also a key influence in people’s decision-making process.

International students were more likely to say that the reputation of the institution and course are important compared to UK-domiciled students.

Careers support

It’s vital that students are encouraged to seek professional careers advice when they are making important decisions so early in their careers. This is particularly relevant at the moment as the cost-of-living crisis is having a major impact on career choices and decisions.

This year our survey found that keeping motivated in either study or work and concerns about money have risen to the top of the list of things international students say they find challenging.

As a result, more than a third have switched careers plans, with 43% putting this down to the cost-of-living crisis.

We heard from students looking at careers that pay more money, graduates quitting jobs to earn a higher wage or starting up ‘side hustles’ to boost their income, and students who were considering further study being deterred due to the cost.

Inclusive opportunities

It’s vital that employers review their application processes regularly to ensure that their job opportunities are inclusive and accessible to everyone.

We found that respondents felt some degree of disadvantage in the job application process due to age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, social class, disability/health condition or neurodivergence.

Ethnicity was cited as a disadvantage by half of international students. A significant proportion (37%) of respondents felt disadvantaged by their age whilst gender identity and social class were cited as barriers by 10% and 14% of respondents respectively.

Support for work experience

Work experience is a critical component in the development of vital employability skills that graduates need to ‘hit the ground running’ in the workplace. It’s encouraging that this is a priority among international students with the majority having completed some form of work experience.

Part-time work was the most common form of work experience undertaken, followed by volunteering. However, just 14% said they had done an internship or work placement (5% as part of their course). These figures are comparable to UK-domiciled students.

That said, 55% of international students said that having the right experience was an issue when looking for a job. However, many of these individuals had actually done some form of work experience in the last 12 months, so it’s possible that they picked up a number of transferable skills, even if their experience wasn’t directly related to the opportunities they were searching for.

Students may benefit from advice on how to demonstrate their transferable skills in job applications to open up the number of positions they can apply for.

There are some distinct differences between the experiences and expectations of international students compared to their UK-domiciled counterparts. It’s important we don’t consider them as a homogenous group in terms of support or the offering of student or work opportunities.

About the author: Chris Rea is a careers expert for Prospects at Jisc.

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One Response to We must recognise difference to best support international students

  1. Understanding the challenges and opportunities that international students encounter during their education and career journey can help institutions and policymakers in providing better support and resources to enhance their overall experience. By recognizing the differences between international and domestic students, we can work towards creating a more inclusive and diverse environment that fosters intercultural understanding and collaboration.

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