Better careers support vital to international student recruitment, report finds

One of the report’s authors warns universities that international students “rightly” demand good careers support because they pay high fees

A report has warned universities to improve careers support and employability skills training to attract international students and satisfy their expectations of UK higher education.

The report identifies how significant careers support is to international students currently studying in the UK – and warns that failure to improve the somewhat mixed standard of provision its survey identifies could threaten the position of the UK as a popular study destination.

More than eight in 10 international students surveyed said careers support was a “big” consideration when choosing where to study – and nine in 10 said employability skills training was “important” to them – but only 52% think their institution meets the careers needs of their cohort.

The Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) and Kaplan International Pathways wrote the report that uses research commissioned from the Careers Research and Advisory Centre (CRAC) and polling company Cibyl.

CRAC undertook three focus group sessions with international undergraduate and postgraduate students to discuss their expectations and experience. Cibyl surveyed over 1,000 students enrolled at 118 UK universities in August.

Effective support is not cheap, but it is clearly an appropriate use of the higher fees that international students pay
– Nick Hillman, Hepi

The survey found that four in ten had undertaken no work experience during their studies. While not necessarily a problem, the focus groups revealed that many international students had unsuccessfully sought work experience. Some suggested fierce competition had blocked their attempts, others that UK companies were nervous about recruiting international students because of the complexity of the immigration system. Seventy-one per cent plan to stay in the UK after graduation – but 77% said they were unsure if they could earn enough to support themselves.

Students that feel their course did not include employability skills training were twice as likely to say they would pick a different institution (18% versus 8%). Of those surveyed that reported their course provided good employability training, 75% said they were satisfied. This figure fell to 43% among those that reported their qualification did not embed this type of education.

Nick Hillman, director of Hepi, said universities could not take the hitherto strong enrolment figures of the UK sector for granted. “Brexit has meant a halving in the number of EU students arriving here to study and because other countries also want to recruit more international students,” he warned vice-chancellors and ministers.

Competition is, he said, “fierce” and a rewarding career a “primary reason” most students pursue HE. “The quality of the careers and employability support is critical in attracting more students”, Hillman said, adding: “Yet some international students feel they are paying more but getting less because some support is seemingly targeted more at home students.”

“Effective support is not cheap, but it is clearly an appropriate use of the higher fees that international students pay,” said Hillman.

International education specialists IDP Connect surveyed over 3,600 respondents from over 20 countries this summer, discovering only 17% of international students consider the UK their first-choice destination – level with the US and one percentage point ahead of Australia.

Linda Cowan, from Kaplan, said international students are “right to expect effective and comprehensive employability skills and careers support” because of the high fees they pay.

A report compiled by Hepi estimates that each yearly intake of international students is worth £28.8 billion to the UK economy.

Read more: Urgent action needed to ‘recover’ UK appeal to international students

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