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International Students’ Satisfaction & Employability – Strategies for Success
Written by Sterling Content
January 12, 2024
Past Event Round Ups
As Japan continues its Covid-19 recovery, the Japanese government is hoping to see the return of international students, in greater numbers than ever before.
Attracting foreign undergraduate and postgraduate students to Japanese institutions not only supports the economy but also enriches the cultural experience of all students and encourages the arrival of international students in the future.
What’s more, the Japanese government is recognising the potential for equipping international students to work in Japan after graduation in a bid to ease the country’s labour shortages. So how can international students’ employability be supported?
The British Chamber of Commerce in Japan held a webinar in early December to discuss this question, with speakers Guy Perring, regional director of education insights provider i-graduate Asia.; Dr Yuriko Sato, researcher at Japan Student Services Organization; and Brett Berquist, assistant vice-chancellor of engagement at University of Canterbury, New Zealand.
Perring began by outlining data from the 2022/2023 International Student Barometer, which shows on how students decide their study destination. Key factors include recommendations, learning environment including online learning, support services, student wellbeing, inclusivity and career planning.
Over 2018–2022, the cost of living and studying has become more important to international students, but the most decisive factor, future career impact, remained constant at 96%.
Satisfaction with online learning was initially low but there have been considerable improvements in the provision of online learning, which has impacted students’ preferences, he explained. Only 24% of international students worldwide claim they would not like any of their lectures delivered online, while 30% said they would not like online tutorials.
Students today tend to prefer a hybrid learning model due to its flexibility. For example, students can balance their studies with other commitments, such as work, family or personal pursuits, while non-native students can access online recordings of lectures to aid understanding.
Based on the correlation of students’ satisfaction and likelihood to recommend their institution, it is possible to conclude what institutions most need to get right, he said. These necessities include the campus environment, social facilities, activities and students’ ability to make contacts for the future. In terms of the learning elements, students care about course organisation and content, the quality of lectures and teachers, and employability.
Sato explained that the Japanese government aims to welcome 400,000 international students annually by 2033, up from 318,000 pre-pandemic. The bulk (380,000) of them would attend universities, vocational schools and Japanese language schools, with 5% earning an undergraduate degree, 20% earning a Master’s degree and 33% earning a Doctorate. The remaining 20,000 students would attend high schools.
The government also aims to increase the post-graduate employment rate of international students from 48% pre-pandemic, to 60% by 2033.
The internationalisation of education is also a priority. The number of English-only programmes at universities will be increased from 86 to 200 at the undergraduate level, and from 276 to 400 at the graduate level. The ratio of universities with exchange programmes with overseas universities will also be increased from 48% to 80%.
English-taught degree programmes have been rising in Japan, up from eight at undergraduate level in 2009 to 43 in 2021. For graduate programmes, there was an increase from 81 in 2009 to 118 in 2021.
Sato said the proliferation of English-taught degree programmes has lowered the Japanese language barrier to enter Japanese universities, especially graduate schools, but graduates will still need to learn Japanese to find a job in Japan.
She outlined three steps to make international students satisfied and employable in Japan: understanding the expectations of Japan’s labour market, understanding the students’ backgrounds and career intentions, and tailoring international education/recruitment accordingly based on available resources.
Of most importance to Japanese companies when considering hiring international graduates is their Japanese ability and communication skill followed by basic academic ability and cooperativeness, according to a 2022 survey of 453 companies in Japan. Additionally, companies in STEM fields expected specialised knowledge.
An increasing number of international students hope to find employment in Japan, according to recent data. In 2019, the ratio was 71% of undergraduates and 62% of graduates, but only 42% and 32%, respectively, were successful.
Sato said there is a need to “brush up the Japanese language skills” of students from South and Southeast Asia, who have higher aspirations for employment in Japan. Other steps include expanding career education in collaboration with companies and local governments through study tours, lectures by company staff and internships.
“Such efforts will help students obtain communication skills and tacit knowledge, including on working culture and human relations, which is necessary to find a job and work successfully in Japan,” she said.
Japan also plans to construct a consortium consisting of universities, local government and economic organisations, which would offer support for career education, job seeking, internships and the study of business-level Japanese.
Equipping students for work
Berquist pointed out that international work rights are a key consideration for international students when choosing their study destination. New Zealand, for example, ranks top, with masters and doctoral graduates able to work for three years after graduation following two semesters of study in-country.
Some of the key challenges for international students seeking employment in their host country include language skills and know-how on gaining work experience and professional networks without advice or introductions from family and friends.
The University of Canterbury can offer some examples of good practice in overcoming these barriers, he explained, pointing to its employability-focused curriculum and strong rate of student success. The university prioritises “learning through work” or “work-integrated learning,” and 90% of recent graduates took a course with an employability unit.
In addition to such courses, students need dedicated sessions on employability to guide them through the cultural component of work, he said.
Students can also benefit from the diversity of options now available to gain employability experience. Rather than one course to prepare students for a long internship, institutions like Canterbury offer a step-by-step process of skill development culminating in micro- or long-term internships, either in-person or online.
Such steps will better prepare students to engage with the world of work, he said.
i-Graduate’s International Student Barometer is designed to enable students to make informed decisions to enhance the international experience and drive successful recruitment and marketing strategies. For more information, check out https://www.i-graduate.org/international-student-barometer
Dr Yuriko Sato referenced the following studies during the event:
Sato, Y. (2023), “Dilemma Between Internationalization of Higher Education and Japanese Language Education: Outcomes and Issues of the Plan to Accept 300,000 International Students”, Wiseman, A.W. (Ed.)
Annual Review of Comparative and International Education 2022 (International Perspectives on Education and Society, Vol. 46A), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 57-67.
Sato, Y. (2021) “What influences the direction and magnitude of Asian student mobility? Macro data analysis focusing on restricting factors and lifelong planning”. Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, published online
Sato, Y. (2019.10) “Asian Students’ Brain Circulation and Japanese Companies: An empirical study to explore the relationship”, Asian Education and Development Studies, Vol. 9, No.1, pp. 333-352