Return on investment: enhancing the Australian study experience

An Austrade careers fair held in Shanghai in April has been heralded as a long overdue step in securing Australia’s long-term viability as a destination for a quality international education, writes Sophie Loras.

Australia’s international education sector was worth around A$16.3 billion in the 2010-2011 financial year and supported an estimated 125,000 jobs. But while China remains Australia’s biggest source of international students, the country faces an uphill battle to retain its grip on this lucrative market with a high Australian dollar, increased competition from countries such as the UK and the US and China’s own investment into its domestic universities.
Australia has undertaken significant research into the Chinese student market with aims of maintaining the allure that it can provide an all round education experience.
Eliza Chui, Austrade’s Shanghai-based Education Commissioner for North Asia, said Australia’s new branding for the international education sector – Future Unlimited – was based on extensive market research, looking at the key reasons why Chinese families invest so heavily into their one child’s education.
“And there is one word for that… Future.”
In April, Ms Chui was the key organiser behind Austrade’s first Australian Alumni Careers Fair in Shanghai, working with Australian universities and China-based employers, to help Australian alumni in China understand the benefits and opportunities for returning graduates holding an Australian qualification.
“We are demonstrating the outcomes of Australian education to inspire future students to consider Australia as a study option and their job prospects,” said Ms Chui of the inaugural event.
Ms Chui said many students came to Australia to study finance and business, but the recent careers fair included businesses from the auto, hospitality and other sectors, showing students what other options were out there.melbourne_uni_orientation_week_web

*Pictured right: The Australian study experience is a more attractive option when international students can be guaranteed Australian work experience and better jobs upon their return to China. (Courtesy The University of Melbourne.)
Fifteen of Australia’s 40 universities and 43 companies participated in the event.
Businesses participating in the fair included six anchoring Australian enterprises – ANZ, BlueScope Steel, CPA Australia, NAB, Rio Tinto and Worley Parsons – and Chinese companies – many from Fortune 500 companies and well-known SOEs.
In addition to allowing graduates the opportunity to present CVs to potential employers on the day, the event also included seminars with talks from former Australian university graduates and advice on how to sell oneself to employers. Universities used the day to engage with alumni to discuss their needs beyond graduation as well as valuable networking with employers. For companies, it was an opportunity to promote themselves and for students a chance to open their eyes to what sorts of companies are employing graduates in China.
The lynchpin of the event was a partnership with Chinese online HR giant, Zhaopin, (whose stakeholders include Macquarie Bank).
Through the Zhaopin portal, 455 job vacancies were opened specifically for Australian alumni participating in the fair, and nearly 2500 applications received online. Austrade says over 1200 alumni participated in the event enjoying the opportunity to explore their employment prospects with representatives of 43 Australian and Chinese companies.
The main drivers for the event came from career managers in Australia, said Ms Chui.
“The focus has always been on the students before they go, and this event provided a full circle,” said Ms Chui.
Michelle Zhi, Head of HR ANZ China, said around 300 students visited the ANZ booth at the careers fair.
She said the bank had participated in the event to promote ANZ China’s profile to the public and introduce ANZ hiring processes to the new graduate students. It was also a valuable networking opportunity to connect with more Australian universities, and build up long-term relationships.
Ms Zhi said the quality of graduates was fairly good.
“Their bi-lingual skills and knowledge of both Western and Chinese culture will definitely help them in growing themselves in foreign owned enterprises in a Chinese environment,” she said.
Ross Gleeson, a consultant and recruiter for experts in education with HAYS Recruiting in Shanghai, said the Australian recruitment group used the event to promote itself in China.
“We are currently expanding our operations in Mainland China,” said Mr Gleeson.
“We jumped at the opportunity to be involved with Austrade in this event, and saw it as a fantastic opportunity to get our name out in the returning skilled graduates market,” he said.
Hays collected between 40 and 50 resumes from skilled Australian alumni applicants, for positions within its firm, with some alumni having flown from as far away as Dalian, Qingdao and even Melbourne for the event.
Mr Gleeson said the main challenges for Chinese graduates returning from Australia to China and seeking employment, included a lack of local market knowledge and experience, as well as sometimes higher than market average salary expectations (from their time in Australia), as well as a strong sense of reverse culture shock.
“In this way candidates find some difficulty in gaining satisfactory employment,” he said.
Rio Tinto, whose booth was inundated with between 400 and 500 of patiently queuing graduates, was pleased with the running of the event.
Linda Gu, Rio Tinto’s HR Officer in Shanghai, said it had been the first time the mining giant had attended such a job fair in Shanghai.
“What was out of our expectations, was that so many overseas students from Australian universities showed such a great interest in Rio Tinto,” Ms Gu said.
“In China, Rio Tinto is not so famous among graduates.”
Ms Gu said the firm spoke to a number of good candidates, some of them boasting a few years related overseas study and work experience, matching Rio Tinto’s talent needs.

“This will help us to create a bigger talent pool to meet with our future talent strategic development,” she said.
But, she said, the biggest problem for the graduates was that most of the disciplines were in Financial Accounting and Business. “For us, although these candidates are quite qualified and matched, we still need to find more candidates with science and technology backgrounds to fill our first-line technical positions in the future.”
Nicole Graham, Manager, International Career Development with Griffith University and a key player in pushing for a China-based careers fair said the event had come together “in a way we couldn’t have imagined.”
“We’ve known for a while that there is a market for this kind of event. Our students come to us when they are really young without knowing about job employers – and especially coming back to China – you miss out on the recruitment – so this is a way to provide them with some of that access,” Ms Graham said.
Long-term, Ms Graham is pushing for an e-mentoring programme between returning graduates and employers – to connect international students within their own countries – “our students envision their careers in global terms.”
“One of the things we really need to know is what happens to students when they leave us – what is important to them? What do employers see as impediments for the students? And how can we overcome that to make things easier for our graduates to access?”
Ms Graham says there is a need to have a collective Australian approach when assisting international students seek employment overseas.
It was a sentiment echoed by other universities on the ground in Shanghai.
Rob Greig, Director, UniSA International said his university had brought three University of South Australia staff to the event in Shanghai from Adelaide, and expressed disappointment that not all Australian universities had taken part.
“This event has started with a bang, and it’s now important that the university sector gets behind Eliza (Chui) and Austrade to make sure it happens again,” Mr Greig said.
Ellen Gibson, Manager, International Careers, Careers and Employment with Queensland University of Technology said the event had been “a resounding success.”
“It brought together all parties who are interested in assisting international students into employment, it enabled the employers to see a cross section of students who are available and also enabled the universities to understand the energy behind the international students who return home and the need for future events,” Ms Gibson said.
“I believe that it also showed China that Australian universities are not about simply filling seats with international students but that they provide ongoing support to all students which includes the students who are returning home,” she said.
Ms Gibson said the next step for Australia’s international education sector was working with employers in Australia to assist international students gain valuable Australian work experience.
In response to the Knight Review, the Australian government recently introduced a two-year post-graduate work visa for international students – acknowledging that overseas work experience was a key requirement of Chinese students considering international study options.
However Australian universities expressed a need for Australian business to come on board if the two-year work visa was to have an impact.
“You can come out the other end of your degree with a really impressive grade average, however if you haven’t had any real employment experience in your field you will be a step behind the others,” said Deanna Coleman, Director, Government and Strategy, with Macquarie University,
She said the big challenge for returning Chinese graduates remained a lack of work experience.
“It is really important for Chinese students to gain some work experience, especially in organisations with offices back in China. There are literally hundreds of Chinese organisations with offices in Australia and visa-versa, and it is about these organisations recognising the value of developing students whilst they are studying so they are really ready to be an asset to them the day they graduate.”
Christine Enker, the Manager for The University of Melbourne’s International Careers and Employment department, said engaging Australian business with the benefits of international student employment was the next step for government and universities.
“Career opportunities are one of the key drivers in students coming to Australia to study and to gain a return on their investment in their education,” Ms Enker said.
“However, it can be very challenging for students to secure professional graduate jobs with limited or no work experience without having Permanent Residence in Australia. Employers lack awareness of the benefits of recruiting these talented graduates who are bilingual or multi lingual and who offer diversity to their business and excellent links to the Asia region and particularly China – which is one of Australia’s most important trading partners,” she said.
China remains Australia’s largest source of students and a very important market, says Shanghai-based Austrade China Country Manager, Michael Clifton.
“We talk up the sun and sea and the surf, but in China the students are not going to English courses on the Gold Coast – they are going to top end research institutes,” he said.
Mr Clifton said the benefits of offering a full package for international students resulted in a win-win for all through the Brand Australia initiative for education.
“Future Unlimited is aimed at encouraging Chinese students to study beyond business and marketing and building on a “go early” trend – sending them to high school because then they will go on to universities and broaden their range of disciplines,” he said.
Finding employment at the end of that study experience will remain the big draw card for Australia if it can position itself to better guarantee that return on investment to Chinese parents.
Hays’ Ross Gleeson agrees.
“If we can see more candidates returning to China from Australia with not only excellent standard qualifications received abroad, but also working experience in an overseas market, the candidates chances of finding suitable, long-term employment is increased dramatically.” 

austrade_careers_fair_riotinto_webAdvice from the top:


Michelle Zhi, HR Head, ANZ China:
–  Demonstrate a “can do” attitude
–  Be passionate to the role
–  Open-minded and ready to take challenge

Linda Gu, HR Officer, Rio Tinto:
“Nowadays, more and more overseas students choose to come to work back in China after they finish their overseas study. We pay more attention to the potential of the candidates rather than their academic background and thus, their values, personalities, communication skills and related working and intern experience will be the first priority for our selection.”
“They should have a clear idea in their mind about what their future career path is when choosing a company, beyond a good company name.”
“Overseas experience is a good plus but not the main attraction for the company’s talent selection.  Students should be more practical in their job selection and try to accept some basic jobs at the start.”
*Pictured above: Graduates line up at the Rio Tinto booth. (Courtesy Austrade)
To read more about the challenges alumni face when returning to China, click here.


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