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New report maps foreign graduate outcomes in New Zealand

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • Roughly seven in ten international students who complete an academic qualification in New Zealand remain in the country in the period immediately following graduation to pursue employment or further study
  • Five years after graduation, roughly 30% of foreign graduates are still employed in New Zealand, whereas half had returned home, and just over 10% are still engaged in further study
  • In contrast, nearly nine in ten students who do not complete a qualification within five years of their first study visa returned overseas within five years of obtaining their initial study visa

For most international students, employment-related goals – the chance for new career opportunities or for advancement in their current career path – are the primary motivations for study abroad. This is why international educators and students alike pay such keen attention to shifts in employment policy and opportunity in major destinations. And time and time again, we see that when post-study work rights are expanded, or visa processes streamlined in some meaningful way, such measures provide a powerful boost to the attractiveness of a given study destination.

But what about employment outcomes for international graduates? How many stay to pursue international work experience? How many return home and when do they do so? The answers to these questions are not always clear cut – indeed, as in the UK, they can be the subject of considerable debate and political tension.

This is partly what makes a recent study in New Zealand so interesting. Commissioned by the Ministry of Education and published in January 2017, Moving places: Destinations and earnings of international graduates is a first-of-its-kind effort to map the stay rates and employment outcomes of international graduates in New Zealand.

“The number of international students who complete a qualification in New Zealand has been increasing at most qualification levels in recent years,” says the report. “Knowing what these students do after they complete a qualification is important. It tells us whether they return overseas or continue on to do further study once they have finished their first qualification, and which graduates enter our labour market and contribute to New Zealand’s economy once they have completed their studies. Students who return overseas after they complete their studies still make an important contribution to New Zealand, culturally, academically, and economically. Their economic contribution is both direct (for example, through fees they pay to providers to study in New Zealand and other expenditure they make while in New Zealand) and indirect (for example, links formed between international students and New Zealanders that may create business opportunities in the future).”

The study examines graduate outcomes as of the 2012 and 2013 tax years for up to eight years post-study – that is, it reaches back to students who began their studies in New Zealand as early as 2003. It finds that two-thirds (66%) of all first-time visa holders have returned overseas five years after obtaining their first student visa (FSV). But it notes as well that there are significant differences in return rates between those who complete a qualification in New Zealand and those who do not.

Nearly nine in ten students (87%) who do not complete a qualification within five years of their FSV return overseas five years after their first visa. In contrast, the return rate for all international graduates is 49% at the five-year mark from graduation and 59% after eight years.

The study notes varying percentages of retention and return for graduates in different age groups and for those completing different levels of qualification in New Zealand (i.e., below-degree, degree, and advanced degrees). And the report maps a number of outcomes for those various levels of qualifications for up to eight years after graduation. As reflected in the charts below, these post-graduation paths include further study, employment, or returned overseas.

International graduate outcomes, all ages, for various levels of qualification in years one-to-eight following graduation. Source: New Zealand Ministry of Education

As the right-most chart above reflects, a majority of students remain in New Zealand in the period immediately following graduation. Roughly 40% of all graduates were employed in New Zealand one year after graduation. Nearly three in ten (about 28%) had returned home at that point, and another 22% had gone on to further study. By five years after graduation, those values had shifted so that roughly 30% of foreign graduates are employed, half had returned home, and just over 10% are still engaged in further study. At the eight-year mark, we see a further shift where roughly six in ten have returned home, about 25% remain employed in New Zealand, and only about 5% are continuing in further study.

Broadly speaking, employment rates in the first year after study were highest for foreign students completing graduate certificates, graduate diplomas, or PhD programmes (at 63%, 51%, and 45% respectively). However, younger students, including those completing pre-degree qualifications, bachelors degrees, and advanced credentials, were somewhat less likely to stay and work New Zealand. “This is expected,” observes the report, “as many international students come to New Zealand principally to study and do not plan to work in New Zealand after they complete their studies.”

The Moving places study offers a great deal of nuance on these broad findings, including graduate outcomes by age, level of study, country of origin, and field of study. In this respect, the report is remarkable in both its scope and level of analysis and is bound to be closely read by international educators in New Zealand and beyond.

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