Better job prospects for foreign students

International students graduating from Australian universities face a marked improvement in their chances of finding work in their fields of study. A new report says demand by employers for international graduates last year increased close to levels not seen since the effects of the global financial crisis began to be felt in 2008.

The report by Graduate Careers Australia (GCA) was based on a survey of more than 500 graduate employers and reveals that the proportion of those who recruited international graduates almost doubled between 2005 and 2008 to a peak of 35%.

This corresponded with changes to the Australian government’s general skilled migration programme that made it easier for foreign students to remain in the country and find work. But the impact of the financial crisis saw the percentage of employers recruiting international graduates plummet by nearly 15% in 2009 and stay flat in 2010.

Last year, though, the proportion of employers recruiting foreign graduates increased by almost 12% to be just 4.5% below the 2008 level: from 35% in 2008 to 31% in 2011.

GCA Executive Director Dr Noel Edge said the results were encouraging for international students studying in Australia. “There appear to be more employment opportunities for international graduates and we hope to see this grow into the future,” Edge said.

He will not be alone in that hope: universities across Australia have been hard hit financially by the rapid and, in some cases, disastrous downturn in foreign student enrolments over the past two years, especially from the two biggest source countries of China and India.

Various reasons have been put forward to account for the decline: the increasing value of the Australian dollar making it far more expensive to travel and study in Australia, greater competition from Britain, Canada and the US, but also changes to Australia’s general skilled migration programme.

A new points-based system for the allocation of permanent residence visas was introduced by the government last July and this favours offshore applications from foreigners with skilled experience rather than onshore applications from international students graduating from Australian universities.

This is likely to have had a profound impact, given that the lure of permanent residency has been a powerful factor in the vast increase in the number of foreign students seeking to study in Australia.

The GCA report, Graduate Outlook 2011, covers six main fields of employment and notes that the largest increase in the proportion of employers hiring international graduates was from the communication, technology and utilities sector.

Employers from accounting and finance; manufacturing; and construction, mining and engineering also tended to hire more of the graduates in 2011 compared with the previous two years.

“The increase in demand for IT graduates may have influenced the employment rate for international graduates in this area,” the report states, adding that nearly half of the employers who recruited international graduates had more than 500 employees and this group is twice as likely to hire such graduates as those with fewer than 500 employees.

It says one of the main reasons given by some government employers why they did not employ foreign graduates was that it is a requirement for an employee to be a citizen or permanent resident of Australia. This was also the most common reason given by employers in the communication, mining and engineering, and accounting and finance industries.

Legal and professional services and communication, technology and utilities employers cited concerns about the retention of international graduates while others expressed fears that they would take the skills, knowledge and experience they gained from a graduate programme to other employers.