International students ‘gain less’ from internships

Paper finds that UK sandwich course students ‘outshine’ their overseas counterparts in the final year of university

April 22, 2016
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International undergraduates gain less from work placements than their UK counterparts, a recent study has found.

A paper investigating the effect of one-year placements on the academic performance of 268 accounting and finance students found that both UK and international students “statistically and significantly increase their final-year marks” and their chance to obtain a first or 2:1 after placements.

However, while there is “no significant performance differences” between international and UK sandwich students in the first and second years of university, UK students “outshine” their overseas colleagues after their placement year.

The sample comprised 114 sandwich students and 154 full-time students enrolled between 2006 and 2009 at the University of Bath.

The paper – “The impact of placements on the academic performance of UK and international students in higher education” – co-authored by Ian Crawford, teaching fellow at the University of Bath School of Management, and Zhiqi Wang, senior lecturer in accounting and finance at Bath Spa University, suggests that UK universities must “consider how to improve the knowledge transfer between workplace and university among international students”.

Dr Wang added that “a number of foreign students go back to their own country to complete work placements”, which she said reinforces cultural and language barriers.

“If they stay in their own country, after one year their English writing and speaking will probably have deteriorated,” she told Times Higher Education. “It’s a very big leap compared to British students doing placements at UK companies.

“UK universities could encourage international students to try local companies, which are less competitive and will probably help them a lot in terms of academic performance, understanding local culture and gaining employment following graduation.”

The study also found little difference between the academic performance of full-time and sandwich international students in the first and second years of study. In contrast, UK sandwich students were found to be “academically better” than UK full-time students “prior to the placement year”.

Dr Wang said that this may be because there is “self-selection” among UK sandwich students, meaning that UK students with the lowest grades tend not to opt for the placement year, while this is not evident among the international cohort. She added that in general international students are less interested in work placements than their UK counterparts.

“I suspect some international students don’t want to spend another year in the UK,” she said. “Maybe they think it’s good enough for them to have a degree from the UK and then go back to their own country to find a job.”

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