Foreign students left to ‘figure out’ employment scene

As Australia pins workforce hopes on generous post-study work rights, research suggests universities must improve careers services

March 23, 2023
Source: istock

Career offices at Australian universities are not doing enough to shepherd international graduates into a workforce that is “screaming out” for their skills, research suggests.

A La Trobe University study has found that South Asian students are turning to LinkedIn for careers advice because institutional services are “too generic” and tailored for domestic students.

Meanwhile, university-run careers fairs cater almost exclusively to Australian citizens and permanent residents, with foreign graduates considered eligible for perhaps one in 10 of the jobs and internships on offer.

The study, published in the Higher Education Quarterly, is based on interviews conducted before the Covid-19 pandemic. Author Jasvir Kaur Nachatar Singh said her subsequent research indicated that things had deteriorated since then, as universities pulled resources from careers services that had never been particularly well funded to begin with.

Their efforts were often limited to “resumé writing and interview tips” and lacked networking sessions or advice on how to plan and manage careers – things foreign students need because they have few local contacts and little understanding of Australia’s work culture.

Dr Singh, a senior lecturer in human resources development who arrived in Australia as an international student from Malaysia, said South Asian students in particular needed better employment advice “from the get go”.

Many relied on part-time earnings to fund their studies in Australia, but universities left them to “figure out” where to seek help in cracking the labour market, she said. By the time they made their way to career offices, some were “in very bad shape”.

Indians are streaming into Australia again amid unprecedented efforts to convince students from the subcontinent to stay after graduating. Post-study work rights for overseas graduates have been extended to six years as policymakers struggle to “fill some of the chronic skills gaps in our economy”, according to federal education minister Jason Clare, who said other countries were “eating our lunch” by retaining foreign students as workers.

In early March Mr Clare led a delegation of two dozen Australian vice-chancellors and university representatives to India to promote educational ties between the two countries. It followed several record months for the issuing of higher education student visas, fuelled largely by surging interest from the subcontinent.

By December, Australia was hosting almost as many students from India as from longstanding top market China. Since then, substantially more higher education visa applications have been submitted from India than China.

Dr Singh said universities would need to lift their game to help these people find satisfying work Down Under. Instead of offering a “one-size-fits-all” service, universities needed to fund their career offices to provide more practical guidance in career-planning and development.

Universities also needed to help employers understand Australia’s post-study work rights regime and strike partnerships with those willing to offer foreign graduates placements, internships, volunteering opportunities and jobs.

Dr Singh said that while Indian graduates tended not to be hampered by the English language shortcomings that prevented some nationalities from finding work, they suffered equally from widespread ignorance of post-study work rules. “There are two types of employers here – one is informed and the other is not.”

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