Learning abroad programs linked to career-related benefits, says ANU International Director Dr Davina Potts [fr]
A recently-published article entitled ‘Understanding the Early Career Benefits of Learning Abroad Programs’ by Dr Davina Potts, that was issued in the prestigious Journal of Studies in International Education, demonstrates links between learning abroad programs and perceived career-related benefits ranging from enhanced employability skills to improved career prospects and opportunities.
In the current context of increased internationalisation of higher education, with over 4 million international students around the world, the benefits of international student mobility and learning abroad programs are one of the main debates consistently raised by politicians, scholars, corporations, as well as the primary stakeholders: students and parents. This study adds to the discussion in the Australian context.
Australia has a long history of internationalisation of student learning: already in the 1950s, the Colombo Plan encouraged international students – mainly from Asia – to enrol in Australian universities. This policy for internationalisation in higher education has intensified in recent years, with a greater focus on Australian students’ increased participation in learning abroad. The Government’s aim has notably been translated into the New Colombo Plan, launched in 2014, under which 100 million AUD over 5 years was allocated to support learning abroad in Asia with “the goal of creating an Asia-literate future workforce.”
Employability has thus become a central argument in the promotion of student mobility, with universities claiming that it can “give you the competitive edge you need in landing that dream job.” Learning abroad programs – including academic study and internships – are said to ensure that students are work ready – meaning that they are equipped with the required employability skills; that they have a professional network; and that they are able to draw from their experience overseas to make the most of career opportunities.
Yet studies demonstrating the value of a learning abroad experience, notably its impact on career development and prospects, remain scarce, particularly in the Australian context.
This innovative study’s main findings demonstrate that:
- Students and alumni perceive learning abroad as particularly beneficial to personal development, notably in terms of maturity and gaining interpersonal and communication skills.
- Among the perceived career benefits, learning abroad was thought to have had a positive or very positive impact on the graduate recruitment process. International experiences are seen by employers to be a potential additional asset, in that they suggest the candidates have acquired a desirable skill set of international competencies – a skill set that may prove decisive in the job interview.
- Both employers and employees report cultural intelligence and intercultural communication to be more important than specific country-knowledge or foreign language proficiency.
- Study abroad programs were also said to assist with determining career direction by increasing motivation and passion for the respondents’ chosen career directions.
- They may also have a positive or very positive impact on long-term career prospects due to increased career progression opportunities, though this study cannot demonstrate this as the respondents are only at the start of their professional career.
- Multiples learning experiences abroad is a positive predictor of working for an organisation with an international scope after graduation.
In conclusion, the study demonstrates that study abroad programs facilitate the enhancement of human capital – including employability skills, an essential element in career progression.
Dr Davina Potts is the Director of Global Engagement at Australian National University. Her research interests include international higher education with a particular focus on the intersection of international experiences and employment.