Could alumni be the key to ‘making good on the promise’ of international graduate employability?

10 February 2020

The start of a new decade brings with it a new optimism for the internationalisation of the UK’s higher education. After much campaigning, 2019 saw the announcement of the post-study work visa and with it a more consistent demonstration of the value of international students - not only to our universities but to our labour market too. 

Anecdotally, many universities are already seeing an increase in international student applications, no doubt sparked by the opportunity to gain global work experience after graduation. The topic was thrown into focus at a Universities UK (UUK) and Universities UK International (UUKi) conference held last month, which set out to explore how we can ‘make good on the promise’ and support international graduates to secure good jobs, whether that’s in the UK or elsewhere.

Among the sessions, delegates gathered to consider how alumni could play a role in expanding the career opportunities of students and recent graduates. These highly engaged ambassadors are increasingly used to support recruitment efforts. In fact a recent report by Cturtle suggests that alumni are already seen as the most reliable source of accurate information for international students looking to study in the UK. And while that report focuses on what more can be done to utilise graduates in recruitment, we should also be asking how alumni can play an active role at the other end of the student journey.

At Bournemouth University, we have been developing an alumni mentoring scheme focused on helping final year students make the transition from study into employment.

The scheme matches students with graduates working in a sector they aspire to enter, and invites them to work through areas such as preparing for interviews, building networks and developing the soft skills required for success. While there is no expectation that the mentoring should lead to a job offer, in the first 18 months of the scheme students have taken up internships and interviews as a result of the natural networks they are building. In collaboration with colleagues in international student recruitment and careers, we have now translated the scheme to our first international cohorts – with pilots in Taiwan, Nigeria and Turkey.

Our focus here has been on helping current students to make connections with graduates who have also studied at Bournemouth University, returned to the home country they share and who have now built a career in their sector of choice. It’s early days, but we are hearing feedback that these connections are helping to overcome anxiety about making the reverse transition and getting that important first step on the career ladder.

As graduates begin to take up the offer of a post study work visa, we expect that mentoring can play a further role in connecting alumni who have built successful careers in the UK and who have valuable experience and insights to share. At the same UUK and UUKi conference Charlotte Richards, Alumni Networks Manager at University of Oxford, shared how they were calling on alumni groups around the world to increase the number and range of internships available to students. This is another approach which utilises alumni to enhance the employment outcomes of graduates. The experiences from Oxford show that by undertaking internships, students can feel more confident, gain knowledge and develop transferable skills, as well as make friends and work with strangers. Alumni hosting the interns can deepen their connection to the institution, which is of further benefit. The placements organised in collaboration with alumni groups have yielded some impressive results.

We know that international student satisfaction with UK higher education is already high. According to the first International Graduate Outcomes study (i-GO), conducted last year, 82% of graduates said their degree was worth the investment and 83% said their degree helped them to get a job. Satisfaction with the learning experience and the support provided was even higher at 90%.

Regardless of the positive feedback, the employability outcomes of our international graduates will be increasingly important if we are to maintain a competitive advantage. Putting time and effort into building and maintaining relationships with alumni around the world could pay dividends for the institution and its students alike.

The report published at the conference, 'Supporting international graduate employability: making good on the promise' can be found here. 

Jonathan Goode is Head of Alumni Relations at Bournemouth University 

With contributions from Charlotte Richards, Alumni Networks Manager, University of Oxford.


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