[gallery ids="3153,2387,2373"] John Ross' short article "Overseas Study Brings 'Little Career Benefit'" (The Australian, April 22, 2015) discusses the findings of a recent study from the US. This study looked at how a selection of 'high impact' activities undertaken by some US students during their studies (one such activity being studying abroad) affected selected attributes of the jobs those students obtained post-study. Whilst the work from the US is a good piece of research, unfortunately it is unlikely to live up to the journalist's hyperbole of 'sending ripples through the Government's New Colombo Plan'. This is because what the article neglected to do, before blaring that overseas study has 'little career benefit', was consider a decade worth of research on the topic (a summary of which can be found below). Nor did it take the time to consult with any of Australia's leading student mobility experts, such as Dr Davina Potts from the Australian National University who last year completed her doctoral studies having studied this exact subject. To quote from Potts' own research on Australian students, published just this month in the Journal of Studies in International Education, "Participants reported a high level of benefit from their learning abroad experience in relation to the early stages of their career. Although employability skills such as interpersonal and communication skills, teamwork skills, and problem solving and analytical skills were rated as the greatest perceived benefits, career-related benefits such as future career prospects and increased motivation and passion for their chosen career direction were also identified."14 Another Australian piece of research conducted by the highly respected Rob Lawrence of Prospect Marketing and Research stated that "81% of employers agreed that graduates who had studied overseas return to Australia with enhanced skills that are applicable to the workplace" and that "61% of graduate employers agreed that an overseas study experience is a positive on a resume."6 There are literally dozens of pieces of research that support these findings, the existence of which would have been helpful to at least point out in The Australian's article. Ross' article states that  "Students are better off finding courses that fit tightly with their career aspirations than spending time on educational add-ons like overseas study, internships and community engagement." However, this neglects well-established research that shows that overseas study has the effect of clarifying future career directions for students and that they are more engaged with their learning upon return. So, unless you're one of those students that is fortunate enough to commence university with a solid idea of your future vocation, overseas study is an excellent way to crystalise ideas about future career paths. It is overseas study that can spark deeper interest in learning and greater focus on career paths (and thus better career outcomes). Presumably what Ross is referring to in his article is a statement by the authors of the US study that "The results do...highlight the modest influence that any one experience [...such as an internship, study abroad or capstone project...] has on career trajectories, and that such influence is overshadowed by field of study and securing jobs closely related to majors [studied]." What this statement seems to suggest is that if you're working as an engineer, the fact you studied engineering is more important to your career trajectory than the fact you studied abroad. Well, who would have guessed? All of this aside, the Australian Government has been very clear that the New Colombo Plan is about more than just individual students undertaking experiences for their own benefit. It is the Government's 'signature foreign policy' that is 'intended to be transformational, deepening Australia's relationships in the region, both at the individual level and through expanding university, business and other stakeholder links'. Fortunately for the good folk at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the existing research also strongly supports the career benefits of overseas study programs for Australian university students.  

What the Existing Research Says

Studying overseas produces exceptional outcomes for graduates. This is in terms of both the international skills they acquire and the way that employers perceive their experiences. The experience helps to clarify future directions for participants (such as career choice) and also leads to significant improvements in many aspects of their career. This has been demonstrated in European, American and Australian research. More than half the graduates surveyed in one study perceived that their international study experience had made a positive impact upon their long-term career prospects and obtaining their first job.1 This is reflected in the findings of other studies:
  • 95% of students reported the exchange experience as useful with regard to their future career plans2
  • 60% reported that their overseas study experience changed their plans for the future2
  • Studying overseas can help better understanding of international career options and clarify career choices 3
  • 10-15 years after graduation, 87% of students still reported that their overseas study experience 'has enhanced my overall employability'4
  • A major European study asked students if their overseas study experience had had a positive impact on the following areas of their careers:1
Area

Students reporting positive impact

Type of work task

39%

Long-term career prospects

53%

Obtaining your first job

54%

        16% of respondents in this study also believed that their overseas experience had led to a higher salary.1

Job Search and Work Impacts

Overseas study has the effect of clarifying future career directions for students/graduates. Graduates with an international study experience in most industries have a shorter job-search time than other graduates. Graduates with an international study experience are paid a premium in the early career stage of employment (in some national contexts).5 Graduates who have studied overseas are also more likely to be promoted and advance faster in their careers.6, 7 Studies have found:
  • Overseas study can help students find their future career direction. Of previous participants in international programs, one study found that 74% of graduates who are pursuing a global career direction attribute that decision to interests ignited during their time abroad 8
  • Graduates with international study experience are "better able to build relationships and conduct business interculturally given their knowledge and capacity for cultural sensitivity"9
  • Students who study overseas are highly likely to espouse voluntary simplicity, be civically engaged in international issues, participate in social entrepreneurship and undertake further education beyond their bachelor degree10
  • Participating on student exchange has a significant effect on the likelihood of having an international job, including when other variables are controlled for.5 This is by up to 15-20%11

Employers' Perceptions

It is fair to say that a majority of employers value highly an overseas study experience on a graduate's resume. Globally, a majority of employers look for graduates with international study experience when recruiting new employees.12 A major study of more than ten thousand employers worldwide found that 62% of employers worldwide answered 'yes' to the question "do you seek or attribute value to an international study experience when recruiting?"12 Especially in the case of small companies, employers are very impressed with the competencies of internationally experienced graduates.1 International study experiences are associated by employers with the development of key employability characteristics such as tolerance, open-mindedness, creativity, initiative, and the ability to take on responsibility, empathy and respect.7 Employer ratings of graduate competencies extend beyond the obvious, international-related competencies that one would expect to be superior. They include general knowledge and generic skills.1   Professional competencies of graduates, as rated by employers (n=312) European students11
Competency

With international experience

Without international experience

Foreign Language proficiency

88%

48%

Knowledge/understanding of differences in culture and society

76%

28%

Ability to work with people from different cultural backgrounds

76%

40%

Professional knowledge of other countries (economy, social, legal)

59%

16%

Field-specific knowledge of methods

64%

54%

Adaptability

81%

57%

Initiative

79%

67%

Getting personally involved

79%

67%

Assertiveness, persistence, decisiveness

75%

57%

Analytical competences

70%

59%

Problem-solving ability

70%

58%

Written communication skills

70%

58%

Planning, coordinating, organising

67%

50%

Looking at this table, it is unequivocal that employers value the skills that students gain by undertaking an international study experience. Other research findings include:
  • Asian language skills are very highly regarded amongst employers because of current trends in Asian trade opportunities7
  • Graduates that have studied abroad have a high propensity to adapt to new and unfamiliar situations, making them ideal employees for companies wishing to expand into new geographic markets13
  • 81% of employers agreed that graduates who had studied overseas return to Australia with enhanced skills that are applicable to the workplace6
  • 72% of employers agree that knowing a second language adds to the appeal of a prospective employee6
  • 61% of graduate employers agreed that an overseas study experience is a positive on a resume.6
  References (Just a Few to Get You Started) 1. Janson, K., Schomburg, H., & Teichler, U. (2009). The professional value of ERASMUS mobility. 2. Clyne, F., & Rizvi, F. (1998). Outcomes of student exchange 3. Ingraham, E. C., & Peterson, D. L. (2004). Assessing the impact of study abroad on student learning at Michigan State University. 4. Nunan, P. (2006). An exploration of the long term effects of student exchange experiences. 5. Wiers-Jenssen, J. (2008). Does higher education attained abroad lead to international jobs? 6. Prospect Marketing. (2006). The attitudes and perceptions of Australian employers towards an overseas study experience. 7. Crossman, J. E., & Clarke, M. (2009). International experience and graduate employability: Stakeholder perceptions on the connection. 8. Norris, E. M., & Gillespie, J. (2009). How study abroad shapes global careers: Evidence from the United States. 9. McKeown, J. S. (2009). The first time effect: The impact of study abroad on college student intellectual development. 10. Paige, R. M., Fry, G. W., Stallman, E. M., Josi, J., & Jon, J. E. (2009). Study abroad for global engagement: The long-term impact of mobility experiences. 11. Parey, M., & Waldinger, F. (2007). Studying abroad and the effect on international labor market mobility 12. Molony, J., Sowter, B., & Potts, D. (2011). QS global employer survey. 13. Orahood, T., Kruze, L., & Pearson, D. E. (2004). The impact of study abroad on business students. 14. Potts, D. (2015) Understanding the Early Career Benefits of Learning Abroad Programs, Journal of Studies in International Education