Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
27th Jan 2016

Is employability data an untapped resource for student recruiters?

In many of the world’s key sending markets for international students, employability is both a major concern and a key motivator for study abroad. The situation is particularly acute in markets such as India, where the government faces a major new quality challenge as it attempts to greatly expand the number of higher education seats available by 2020. Even without this ambitious target in place, the Indian system already has a major employability issue in that as many as 75% of its graduates are not considered employable. This type of structural education-employer gap looms especially large when we consider that issues of employability - and the desire for improved career prospects - have been shown time and time again to be major factors in student decision-making for study abroad. A 2015 study of how students interpret international university rankings found that students often look beyond the ranking tables for additional indicators to guide their school selection, and that employability and employment outcomes were the dominant considerations among the study respondents. In another survey of 45,000 prospective international students, 90% cited employment outcomes as a primary driver of their interest in study abroad. Equally telling, that study found a direct link between students’ expected employment outcomes, immigration policy, and the competitiveness of host countries, and underscores the significant impact of more restrictive immigration policies on the attractiveness of international study destinations.

Data you need to know

Against that clear demand for better employment outcomes, there is a growing field of large-scale national studies that map the outcomes for higher education graduates. In the US, for example, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) publishes an annual "First-Destination Survey" that provides a detailed view of the outcomes for graduates of US higher education institutions. The next edition of the survey (based on data for the 2015 graduating class) will be published in June 2016. The most recent survey, released in May 2015, provides rich detail on the outcomes for graduates six months after graduation, including employment rates, types of employment, and income levels. It also parses graduate status based on region of the US, institutional ranking, and field of study. The UK’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills also has extensive data on employment trends and employer recruiting practices in Britain, and the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) publishes extensive information on a wide range of performance indicators for UK higher education, including detailed tables on employment outcomes. Similar data can be found in the Australian Graduate Survey (AGS), an annual census of new graduates that has been gathering data since the early 1970s. Findings are presented in detailed annual reports and data tables, as well as in easily digestible summaries. Indeed, comparable data is increasingly available for many study destinations and can be complemented with additional findings for individual institutions or schools. In some cases, these macro (entire system) and micro (institutional) data may be more actively blended, such we now see in New Zealand where, as of 2017, universities will be required to publish summary data on employment outcomes and income levels for their graduates.

Strategic implications

There is ample research to indicate that higher education leads to better employment outcomes for graduates. Writing recently for University World News, The Observatory on Borderless Higher Education’s Richard Garrett adds, "Within six months of graduation, surveys such as the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education in the UK or the Australian Graduate Survey, confirm that most graduates are employed full-time or are engaged in further study. Generally speaking, employment rates and starting salaries have held up well, despite an ever-larger number of graduates." Given the clear importance of employment incomes to prospective international students, the increasing availability of such data represents a significant resource for agents and educators alike. These rich resources provide high-level statistics and trends with respect to employment rates and earnings, but they also allow recruiters to make some clear, data-supported observations as to the fields of study, regions, or institution types that offer improved employment prospects for graduates. Any such findings can be applied to the context of an individual institution or school, but also on a national level to make comparative observations as to how employment or earnings in one country equate to those in competing study destinations. As such, these data sources can play an important role in addressing key return on investment questions for prospective students but also in strengthening or reinforcing the relative attractiveness of different international study destinations. Prospective international students are clearly saying that employability is a key question for them. The expanding field of data on graduate outcomes now provides recruiters with the means to provide a better answer.

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