Studying abroad appears to give graduates an edge in the job market, particularly if overseas graduates have acquired soft skills, English proficiency and in-demand technical skills, says new research by the British Council.
‘Exploring employer perceptions of overseas graduates returning to China’ surveyed 350 employers who recruit overseas-educated graduates in China. The findings suggest they have strong advantages in several areas where employers are facing skills gaps – in particular, being more creative, having better interpersonal and communication skills and being stronger at problem-solving and analytical thinking. Employers also saw overseas graduates as better than their local counterparts across a wide range of hard skills, with the strongest advantages in IT skills and digital marketing.
However, employers did report some disadvantages of overseas-educated employees. Some said that local graduates were easier to manage and had better knowledge of the local market. Overseas-educated employees also have a better range of job opportunities, which could cause their current employers to see them as less loyal.
Other negative effects included being out of China for an extended period of time; lower knowledge of the local market environment; weaker social networks in China and less experience in the Chinese workplace. Also, 61 per cent of respondents reported that new hires with local degrees had better knowledge of the local market, while just 16 per cent favoured overseas graduates. A lack of social networks at home can also make it harder to secure jobs in an increasingly competitive market.
Although most employers said they would pay more for an overseas-educated candidate, the salary premium is fairly modest. The median salary boost for overseas-educated returnees was only 10 to 20 per cent, and just three per cent of employers said they would pay these candidates more than 40 per cent over what a locally-educated employee would earn. Although returnees may not earn much more than local graduates in the same company, they are more likely to be employed at large multinational companies who tend to pay higher salaries overall. Nevertheless, the survey confirms that a returning graduate is unlikely to receive a high salary immediately after returning to China, and universities should do more to prepare their students for this reality.
Matt Durnin, report author says: ‘This new research shows that employers’ attitudes towards UK universities are very positive overall, especially towards postgraduate programmes. Nonetheless, there is room for universities to do more to prepare returnees for the Chinese employment environment.’
Work experience is also seen as a very important factor by employers – almost half of employers identified candidates’ lack of work experience as a difficulty even when filling entry-level roles – so greater opportunities for internships or other work placements during the course would also help returning Chinese graduates to find a suitable job.