Most Asian students who study abroad come from higher-income families and are more likely to find work after graduation, thanks to those family and social connections, a new study reports.
And while most of those students may think study abroad helped to launch their career path, researchers for the Centre for Global Higher Education found that family connections counted for more.
Because career opportunities are tightly linked to family connections and privileged students are more likely to study abroad, the researchers suggested that overseas study may perpetuate social inequality.
“The young people from these families were able to capture the opportunity to study in overseas or transnational higher education institutions,” the study said, “and the majority of them obtained their first job through their family’s social networks.”
The students polled reported a different perception.
They said hard skills, such as classroom instruction, and soft skills, such as mastering English and sharing cultural experiences, were key lessons for international students and employment.
Xufei Geng, a Chinese student at Northwestern University, said she felt studying abroad exposed her to diverse groups and experiences.
“Studying at Northwestern University was a very diverse platform for every student, especially international students, because we are encouraged to have a voice and to express ourselves and our culture,” Geng said. “Also, I think we have more opportunities to learn about different cultures.”
Geng said that these social connections, although important, aren’t the only thing that matters during the job search process.
“It really depends on how you define social connections and whether you define them as good or bad,” she said. “I think in any country we need to value the relationships we have with people.
“In the past, maybe some people paid more attention to social connections, but now I think the country is changing and people value how capable you are.”
So what does this mean for students who don’t study abroad?
Because these students are usually from families with fewer financial resources, they do not have the same social connections and often struggle to compete for the same jobs as a more privileged student.
“We must realize that students and families who cannot afford to pay for studying abroad or enrolling [in these] programs will encounter far more difficulty in job searches and graduate employment,” the study said.
The study authors came from Lingnan University in Hong Kong and Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University in China. The Centre for Global Higher Education is headquartered in London with offices worldwide.