Want to attract international students?

Build employability into your curriculum, says James Pitman

By James Pitman, Managing Director of Higher Education for UK and Europe, Study Group

More than ever before, undergraduates, both domestic and international, are considering future employment prospects when deciding which university to apply to. International students, and their parents, are particularly interested in seeing an immediate return on their significant investment.

UK universities that provide a superior academic experience, and can demonstrate that they assist students on their journey to employment, will attract the best international talent.

At the University of Sussex International Study Centre (ISC) we have guided over 570 international students through our CareerAhead employability programme and can highlight three areas that will help students succeed not just in their degrees, but also in the workplace.

Soft skills

Companies looking to recruit graduates are increasingly choosing employees based on attributes such as confidence and creativity, complemented by interpersonal skills such as communication and empathy. These soft skills are so important, in fact, that large businesses such as Ernst & Young have taken steps to de-emphasise high school and university degree results as selection criteria, instead increasing focus on personal skills such as leadership, commerciality, networking and influence.

Many international students are already aware of the importance of developing these skills and believe studying abroad is an opportunity to build them, becoming more employable as a result. Interestingly, students choose their country of study accordingly, with those in China and India especially keen to improve their international communication skills, while students in the US are highly focused on forging professional connections, according to a new report from QS Intelligence Unit. It’s increasingly understood that a sterling academic record on its own is not enough to compete with peers on the global stage.

Helping students better understand the working world that awaits them, ensuring they prepare for it as soon as possible, will enhance not only their chances of getting a good job in the field of their choice, but also your reputation as a university that delivers a real return on its tuition fees

International students need to be aware of the personal skills prospective employers in their chosen field will want to see. With the right support, they can assess how their natural strengths and weaknesses compare and work on improving areas of weakness during their studies.

Employment trends

We analysed international graduate employment data to help our international students build a career plan that is informed by employment trends in their home market and the UK. Understanding what kind of job opportunities and salaries await can help students choose a degree course more suited to a future career. International students often apply for seemingly safe choices such as management or business, when actually employment trends in their home countries indicate other skill shortages. Staying up-to-date on where the gaps and opportunities are will help manage students’ career expectations and guide them to make a realistic study decision that has a better chance of leading to employment.

It’s also valuable for students to familiarise themselves with how graduate recruiters will assess them as potential candidates. This will help them identify and develop the relevant skills they need to supplement their academic results.

Personal development 

Given that international students on a pathway programme are transitioning from their home high school system to a UK university degree, it’s critical that they continue to focus on improving their English language capability and closing any academic gaps. Any initiative to improve employability must be built into the curriculum so as not to distract from students’ academic work.

At the University of Sussex International Study Centre our employability programme is built into our foundation and pre-masters courses to help guide international students along their career path from the moment they start studying.

Ultimately, helping students better understand the working world that awaits them, ensuring they prepare for it as soon as possible, will enhance not only their chances of getting a good job in the field of their choice, but also your reputation as a university that delivers a real return on its tuition fees.