More than 800,000 international students enrolled in education in Australia in 2020, according to data from the Department of Education. Half of those enrolments were in higher education, and 28% came from China, by far the biggest international student cohort.
In 2017 Dr Jasvir Nachatar Singh, a lecturer in Management, Sport and Tourism at La Trobe University, completed a study examining the challenges faced by Chinese graduates from Australia returning to workplaces in China and their concerns and prospective plans post-graduation.
Dr Singh found that while initial intentions were to remain in Australia, by the time the student reached graduation they were eager to return to their home country. Her research received a grant from La Trobe University’s China Studies Research Centre.
“Initially the students responded with the desire to remain in Australia, the ‘land of opportunity’,” Dr Singh says. “This changed as they continued their studies. Graduates felt discriminated by Australian employers because they don’t sound Australian or don’t have work experience, and their response was to return to the country of origin.”
Dr Jasvir found that one of the main challenges these Chinese students face is the lack of work experience in Australia due to their sole focus being on studying or not being informed of the Work Integrated Learning (WIL) options offered by universities. If they do find part-time employment, it is usually unrelated to what they are studying.
The push factor for students to return home is encouraged by opportunities offered by China’s booming economy. Given that many of these Chinese students were born in the era of the one-child policy, family obligations are also a strong incentive.
“Students also talked about the challenges of not having prior related work experience in China, with employee intake not coinciding with Summer or Winter breaks in Australian studies,” says Dr Singh. “Without appropriate work experience in China they are only offered roles as interns or junior positions, which they are accepting to get their foot in the employment door. International degrees have also unfortunately lost prominence in China, as there are more graduates wanting jobs from other Western countries like the US and the UK.”
Other challenges facing returning Chinese graduates are presented by a lack of an effective ‘guan xi’, or social network.
“The majority of employment in China is gained through social networks, so who you know is pivotal,” says Dr Singh. “International students are more likely to return home and rely on assets such as work experience and their social networks to gain employment as the world deals with COVID.”
Dr Singh continues her research into employability and is currently conducting another comparative study on employability of South Asian students and graduates in Australia and the UK.