It’s time the UK starts talking about graduate outcomes for international students

To meet the country’s ambitious student recruitment targets, UK institutions should make better use of data showing the return on investment of their degrees, writes Louise Nicol 

June 22, 2019

Putting a value on a higher education degree, many would broadly agree, is no longer accurate based purely on earnings potential.

However it is that return on investment that international students, particularly from Asia, are seeking.   

Anyone who has been to an international student recruitment event in China, India or Malaysia – the UK’s major international student markets – will know that what potential students want to know is the kind of job they will secure after graduation.  

This information does not presently exist because historically it has been too difficult to collect. So instead, UK Institutions tend to roll out historic Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) data, which are neither up to date nor accurate when it comes to graduate employability in Asia.

But are data on international graduate outcomes really too difficult to compile? For the past three years Asia Careers Group, where I am director, has collected graduate outcomes and career progression data for more than 40,000 graduates returning to Asia.  

ACG’s proprietary data collection technique takes data from a variety of recruitment websites and business and social networks to provide in-depth graduate outcomes and careers progression analysis to UK institutions.

Our results point to the conclusion that the return on investment of a UK degree is positive. By making some broad assumptions that the cost of a UK post-graduate taught degree is between £15,000 and £30,000, and if on their return to the region graduates are spending 60 per cent of their income on living costs, and use the remaining 40 per cent repaying the cost of their degree, most international students would repay the cost of their degree in less than four years. 

The reality is that many students are funded by their parents so being able to pay back their own loan is perhaps less important than for other cohorts of students, but the exercise is useful in putting a value on the ROI of a UK education. 

The data also tell us there is a UK graduate salary premium in Asia and that, increasingly, graduates are entering tech careers. There is also a growing trend for graduates to work for regional and national companies in Asia.

The skills shortages in Asia and the graduate premium for UK degrees mean that there are significant opportunities for UK institutions to create “talent pipelines” where, for instance, UK institutions form close collaborations with employers in Asia to develop course portfolios, and those employers specifically recruit from those institutions.

This is just one example of how international graduate outcomes data can help universities not only recruit more international students but provide insight into how to improve their employability. 

Not only that, within Asia a significant number of business and political leaders are UK-educated. This presents a huge soft power advantage to UK graduates seeking employment and to UK business leaders seeking investments, but there is only a short window to maximise on this edge. 

To meet the target set out in the UK’s international education strategy of recruiting 600,000 students by 2030, UK institutions need to fundamentally differentiate their offer. Traditional competitors such as Australia and Canada remain strong while new ones emerge in Europe and Asia. Only by focusing first on their international graduate outcomes will UK institutions be able to recruit top talent and show these students what they want to know: that a UK degree delivers a market leading ROI. 

Louise Nicol is director of the Malaysia-based Asia Careers Group. 

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