Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
27th Jul 2022

Agents indicate significant international student interest in working while studying

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • Agents report that students are increasingly focused on questions around whether they can work while studying abroad
  • This rising priority coincides with many students’ greater need for affordable study options
  • There is a role to play for educators in helping prospective students to understand visa provisions around work rights and once students arrive, to connect them to jobs

At ICEF Monitor, we regularly report on research about agents’ perceptions of demand for study abroad and the factors influencing prospective international students’ choice of destination, institution, and programme.
In addition, we speak regularly with agents across the world. This gives us an ongoing and up-to-the-minute understanding of the top motivations and concerns of students considering study abroad. For example, we learn from agents about where visa processing delays are causing problems, about how currency devaluations can wreak havoc with students’ plans, and about the extent to which a new government policy in a destination country can either spark demand or dampen it.
One of the trends we’re hearing about right now is that affordability is an acute concern for a large segment of prospective international students. The global economy is teetering on the brink of recession, and local economies are in crisis in many emerging markets (e.g., Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Pakistan).
As a result, students are increasingly concerned about whether they can work during their studies to ease the cost of study abroad.
An informal survey we conducted with top agents across several markets, including Bangladesh, Nigeria, Nepal, and Pakistan, suggests that the ability to work during studies is currently even more important to many prospective students than post-study work opportunities.

Work matters

As readers are aware, government policies affecting whether, and for how long, international students can work in a country post-graduation have long affected destinations’ popularity abroad. When the UK restricted work rights under former Prime Minister Theresa May, for example, many UK educators found it more difficult to attract international students. By contrast, it was by no means coincidental that when 2-3-year work rights were restored last year, UK universities enrolled a record number of students from outside the EU.
Post-study work rights remain an essential lever for boosting international enrolments, but in 2022, many students must prioritise the ability to work while studying even above their hope of working after studies and/or immigrating. Knowing that they can generate at least some income while pursuing their degree can provide students with the confidence to say “yes” to an offer of admission.

Confusion abounds

It is often difficult for students to understand if they will be permitted to work under the conditions of their visa and even an institution’s own rules. If you look at the official guidance issued by Canadian, American, and British governments, for example, you’ll see that the rules are quite extensive and potentially confusing for students.
After researching government rules around visa permissions, students must then approach the next key question: how easy will it be for them to obtain an on-campus or off-campus job? Jobs are not typically reserved for international students, and so international students often must compete for jobs with other students or the general public.
This all amounts to a lot of uncertainty for students who might only be able to study abroad if they can work during their studies.

What to do?

With official government rules around visas and work permissions so frequently complex, educators have a role to play in helping international students to understand them better. There are ways of doing this. For example:

  1. Explain work-while-study permissions clearly, in plain English, prominently on the institutional website – ideally in the FAQs section and on a landing page specifically for international students. Include a link to the official government regulations, but don’t make the link the only reference to work opportunities on the site.
  2. Communicate clearly with agents about full-time and part-time work rules for international students so agents can accurately convey the information in students’ native language.

But that’s not all. There is a clear need for institutions’ career services department to:

  • Attend live virtual events put on by the institution, such as webinars, to answer prospective students’ questions about work opportunities.
  • Ensure that there is an adequate supply of jobs for international students who have been told that they can work under their visa permission. There is a real risk of some students being unable to continue their studies if they cannot find a job.
  • Work on expanding on-campus work positions for international students if there are too few (see our recent article on social media ambassadors).
  • Reach out to employers within the community to broaden the range of off-campus job opportunities.
  • Help international students to learn about and apply for jobs during their studies.

Competitive advantage

Not only will greater attention to students’ questions and needs around working while studying reduce some of stress that international prospects always have when choosing where to study, it will also represent a competitive advantage in some markets. Affordability is a top concern for thousands of international students, and the agents we have spoken with recently say that responding to this reality in practical, helpful ways is a real differentiator.
For additional background, please see:

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