International student perceptions on studying abroad and developing employability during a UK Masters
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date05/07/2020
Fakunle, Omolabake Arinola
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Student mobility is the most visible aspect of the internationalisation of higher education. Congruent with global trends, Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data shows that for over a decade, international students have been the largest group of students studying for a full-time Masters degree in the UK (70% in 2015/16). Large-scale surveys suggest that developing employability is one of the main motivations for studying abroad. However, internationalisation and employability are largely regarded as unrelated in higher education policies and discourses. As a result, the literature on internationalisation is mainly framed around the recruitment of international students and associated economic benefits to host countries and institutions, whereas employability related discourses are predominantly oriented towards national policies focused on the development of human capital through domestic students. Consequently, there is a dearth of research exploring international student employability. This thesis aims to contribute to understanding the connections between internationalisation and employability. The research examined Masters-level students’ rationales for studying abroad and how these relate to their perceptions of developing their employability. The research was qualitative and involved conducting 36 semi-structured interviews at two points in time (at the end of the first and second semesters) with a targeted sample of 19 international Master students from 11 non-EU countries who were studying on four different programmes (located in four Schools) at a Scottish university: Social and Political Science; Literatures, Languages and Cultures; Education; and Business. The findings of the research are discussed using the international student lifecycle (ISL) model which adopts a holistic approach towards understanding students’ rationales for studying abroad. The focus lies in the relatedness of their lived experience and expected outcomes including their employability. The thematic analysis of the interview data resulted in a proposed conceptual framework which identified different rationales or motivations international students have for studying abroad: educational rationale (studying abroad for a quality education); experiential rationale (seeking to experience living and studying in a different and multicultural environment); aspirational rationale (aspiring to contribute to society during their study and in their home country); and the economic rationale (aiming to develop skills and competencies in preparation for work in a globally interconnected world). In line with the focus of the study, the economic rationale was explored in greater depth to understand students’ perceptions of employability-related support available at the programme level and within the wider university (Careers Service). The findings showed variations in the support provided across the four schools. There was a degree of unanimity regarding the student perceptions of the support made available by the Careers Service. Both levels of support influenced students’ perceptions of developing their employability during their Masters studies. Further analysis of the findings led to the development of four employability-related constructs including the knowledge, skills, attitudes and relationships the students perceived they developed during their study abroad. The employability-related constructs framework that emanated from the research aligns with and extends frameworks which have originated from recent large-scale studies that have linked studying abroad to developing employability. The findings have important implications for policy development and educational practices. The policy implications relate to the relevance of the framework proposed for institutions to take account of students’ rationales in the development of internationalisation strategies. In terms of educational practices, the proposed employability-related constructs framework can be integrated into the institutional curriculum and extra-curricular activities to enhance the student experience.