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Support international graduate employability: build effective partnerships with employers

A recent British Council report on international student recruitment trends, particularly in East Asia, suggested UK universities “must compete to survive and thrive”.

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"Employer partnerships and Graduate Outcomes Survey scores can be used as important tools to attract international students"

However, Teaching Excellence Framework and National Student Survey are not the only determining metrics affecting UK universities’ reputations. There is now an increasing focus on graduate outcomes.

The Graduate Outcomes Survey is used by Office for Students to measure universities’ performances and The Times uses the metric to rank institutions, potentially helping international students choose the university that may improve their employability the most.

The OfS’s recently commissioned independent research on international student experience suggested further employment is one of the most frequent concerns for international students. HESA is now also considering ways to engage with international graduates to improve response rates.

One would assume with skills shortages as a hot topic throughout 2022 and into 2023, UK universities are ideally placed to help employers fill the vacancies with many international students currently obtaining Graduate Route visas.

Yet, according to CBI’s latest Education and Skills Survey, engagement between education providers and employers is still below the pre-pandemic level and falling, and only 3% of UK employers use the Graduate Route.

“Universities are doing a great deal of work to help employers tackle skills shortage issues”

I attended many business conferences and networking events in 2022, namely London Tech Week and techUK’s Tech Policy Leadership Conference, and I advocated a bigger presence from HEIs in events like this. Universities are doing a great deal of work to help employers tackle skills shortage issues, and to help create EDI cultures in the workplace with international students.

CBI also reported that “time constraints are the top barrier for employers to engage with education providers”.

There is a need for HEIs to build effective partnerships with employers and raise their awareness on how they can engage with universities, especially for post-92 non-Russell Group universities that are facing fierce competition. From my experience, many employers, particularly SMEs, were unfamiliar with a.) how the recruitment process with a university works, and b.) international students’ rights to work.

UK HEIs should have a clear systematic approach and guidance available for employers.

I have worked with two well-known central London hotels to recruit our students for placements, the relatively smaller brand had the exact queries above. I spent considerable time understanding their business needs and familiarising them with the process. Supporting them and freeing their time allowed them to identify skills needed in their business. The hotel recruited two of our Computer Science students rather than just one initially intended to help them analyse guest data and improve digital operation.

Building effective industry engagement also helps HEIs to shape curriculum design and career services. I had my colleague who is a Career Coach sitting in interviews with employers to witness firsthand how international students were performing. The feedback she had was extremely insightful and valuable, we could see students’ cross-cultural awareness, their understanding of the UK labour market, business etiquette, and the way they demonstrate their soft and technical skills.

For professionals in global engagement/international recruitment, employer partnerships that their institutions have and their GOS scores can be used as important tools to attract international students.

While GOS-based data evidence allows students to see their prospective university’s performance, Longitudinal Employment Outcomes dataset gives students a flavour of the average median salary of the chosen university’s graduates.

Employability was my strong focus when I was working to improve the conversion rate for a transnational education program. At one seminar, it was clear students were very intrigued and eager to find out more when I mentioned a top London law firm’s training contract salary. This demonstrates that, apart from teaching quality and student experience, students are interested in improving their employability and boosting earning potential.

While international graduate outcomes are not included in the regulator’s metrics, international students are valuable fee-paying customers and high-skilled ones are sought after by employers. HEIs ought to build effective partnerships with employers and address their needs with the wide national and international talent pool. HE Staff in international recruitment should also develop a good knowledge of the labour market, and what employer partnerships and services are available within their institutions.

About the author: Eric Huang is a Strategic Planning Manager at the University of East London. He leads on Graduate Outcomes Survey analysis and the team’s lead support for the university’s Careers & Enterprise Portfolio. Eric has worked for various organisations in the public, private, and HE sectors. He has extensive experience in industry engagement, academic partnerships, and in supporting both inward and outward student mobility. Eric is also a member of the British Council’s Study UK HEI Advisory Group.



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