Monday, October 22, 2012

Developing Scotland’s Global Graduates: From Here to Where?

Scotland (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn_BE_BACK_on_10th_OCT)
by Robin Parker, President NUS Scotland, The Observatory:

More information on the project, and a copy of the report, can be found at:
Helen O’Shea, International Education Officer: Helen.O'


The National Union of Students (NUS) in Scotland starts from the premise that international mobility creates a huge advantage for students, for our society and for Scotland’s economy.

Where institutions have internationalisation strategies, they must look at internationalisation in both directions, not just focussing on welcoming international students to Scotland - as important as that is - but  in promoting international mobility among home students too. These documents must place international mobility at their centre and match rhetoric with reality.

Our overriding belief is that if we can get international mobility we can improve the quality of the student experience, of graduates, and enhance Scotland’s ability to compete globally. Given the current level of Scottish graduate unemployment and underemployment, it has never been more pressing for students to enhance their employability.

As graduates need to differentiate themselves in competitive labour markets, the potential benefits of engaging in study-abroad opportunities to aid personal growth and development, build CVs and obtain greater competitive advantage in the jobs market, appear increasingly attractive.

Indeed, in a recent British Council/Think Global survey, 79% of surveyed chief executives and directors of businesses in the UK said that in recruiting new employees, knowledge and awareness of the wider world is more important than degree classification.

Within the UK, there are clear signs that employers are keen to recruit graduates with study-abroad experience: a report from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) in 2010 found that 55% of employers warned of ‘shortfalls’ in UK students’ international cultural awareness.

In the British Council/Think Global survey, 75% of chief executives and directors of businesses felt we are in danger of being left behind by emerging countries unless young people learn to think more globally, and 74% were worried that many young people's horizons are not broad enough to operate in a globalised and multicultural economy.

This is symptomatic of the fact that, despite attracting very high numbers of international students to Scotland, the process is far from reciprocal.

Students increasingly see value and benefit in the notion of employability and how it helps to distinguish them in the graduate labour market. Some argue that we are seeing the emergence of an 'economy of experience', with students increasingly attempting to make themselves stand out in an expanding field of graduates with similar degrees and results.

Widening Participation

In this economy of experience, there will be winners and losers. One of the most recent, and interesting, studies to date came from HEFCE which carried out a survey of students who had undertaken a placement and/or study abroad period. It showed that students who had undertaken neither could expect to receive a lower median salary than those who had.

Moreover, it pointed to a slightly enhanced potential for being either in further study or employed six months after graduation for those who had been abroad.

Although Scotland has played a significant role in the Bologna Process and the creation of the EHEA, there is much work to be done if Scotland is to reach the 20% target for student outward mobility numbers. Through its previous work on student mobility, NUS Scotland has identified key barriers to the outward mobility of Scottish students and the meeting of the Bologna targets.

These barriers are explicitly addressed through the Developing Scotland’s Global Citizens project. They include: lack of short-term mobility windows, low provision of mobility opportunities in key subject areas, lack of institutional knowledge of such opportunities, low student knowledge of mobility options, a decline in young people learning languages and limited employer recognition of mobility skills and attributes.

To address this the Scottish Government funded the Developing Scotland’s Global Citizens project, led by NUS Scotland. In the recently published report, NUS Scotland explored the link between study abroad activity and subsequent impacts on graduate employability as viewed by FE and HE students, institutional staff and employers in Scotland.

Student mobility in context

Last year witnessed an 8% increase in Scottish Erasmus study abroad students at Scottish HEIs (1,243 in 2010-11 compared to 1,148 in 2009-10).  The biggest number of outgoing students in Europe originated from Spain (27,448) followed by France (24,426) and Germany (24,029).

The annual growth rate was highest in Cyprus (39%), followed by Estonia (32%) and Turkey (16%). The annual growth rate of outgoing students was above 10% in nine countries: Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Spain, Ireland, Latvia, Sweden, Iceland and Turkey. While this increase is welcome it still means that fewer than 1% of students in Scotland undertake Erasmus study.

The actual number of Scottish students that study abroad (as opposed to students in Scotland) may well be fewer still. While last year’s figures are not yet available from the University of Edinburgh, between 2005-6 and 2007-8 non-Scottish students made up 82% of their Erasmus student figures.

At the University of St Andrews, non-Scottish students made up 69% of all outgoing Erasmus students in 2010-11 and 67% in the previous academic year. At Heriot-Watt University, non-Scottish students made up 40% of outgoing Erasmus students in 2010-11 and 43% in 2009-10.

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