The UK can do better than “the land of fish and chips”

“Far from portraying the UK as a “lifestyle” destination, we should promote our world-leading graduate outcomes”

A radio advert carried by a number of leading Malaysian radio stations for the previous British Council Education Exhibition – promoted the UK as “the land of fish and chips” with universities that “provide scholarships & discounts.”

Is this really how we want to be portraying UK higher education, in any market especially what is a mature and established market, the third largest sender of full-time international students to the UK?

Far from portraying the UK as a “lifestyle” destination and cutting the cost of our world-leading degree programmes, we should change direction and promote our world-leading graduate outcomes.

We know that over 90% of International students return home following their studies, and whilst it will be a great advantage if the student work visa is extended to two years post-study, we must not forget that by far the majority of the UK’s international cohort will return home to Asia and will need to find a job.

The good news is that for the last three years, Asia Careers Group has tracked the graduate outcomes of over 40,000 Asian students returning to the region following their studies.

This provides a great insight into their outcomes, income and career progression, unlike DHEL and the new Graduate Outcomes survey, Asia Careers Group continues to track individuals following their first job.

So what does the data tell us? and how should we be portraying our education offer in Asia?

Prospective Asian students and their influencers are obsessed with graduate outcomes, any UK University International Officer that has sat with an Asian student and their parents will know the most important question in their minds is:

“Will my son or daughter get a good job if they study with you?” and  “What companies do your graduates work for in this country?”

Unfortunately, until recently data has not existed to answer these two questions.  Religiously DLHE data is trotted out, which is now not only out of date but also not an accurate picture of the employability landscape for students returning to Asia.

“Prospective Asian students and their influencers are obsessed with graduate outcomes”

The great news is that now data is available and we can make the following statements regarding UK graduates:

  • The majority secure employment 15 months after they return home.
  • Invariably secure graduate-level jobs following their overseas studies.
  • Work for the World and Asia’s leading employers.
  • Have higher than national average incomes, in-fact in some countries, there is a UK graduate salary premium.
  • Not only do they secure good jobs, but their future career prospects are good, and their incomes grow significantly over time.

So if the picture is so positive, why is international graduate outcomes data not being utilised by UK Universities to help it recruit more international students?

  • It is difficult to collect data on International Graduate outcomes.
  • Until recently no “Benchmarking data” has been available.
  • Asian students invariably do not reveal their salaries in graduate surveys.
  • Links between the International Office and Careers Service are not fully established.
  • There has not been a history of employer engagement and careers activity overseas.

The great news now is that following the government’s International Education Strategy, international graduate outcomes are gaining more importance and one hopes with that more resource within institutions to address both the lack of available data and using what data does exist.

If the UK is to increase International students to 600,000 by 2030, I would suggest “the land of fish and chips” is not the way to achieve this aim.

A world leading UK degree delivers a world-leading career!

About the author: Louise Nicol is Director of the Asia Careers Group – an education start-up, which works to improve international graduate outcomes in Asia. She is an active commentator on international education, having worked twenty years in education market research and consultancy