Resilience, skills and employability through the ‘China experience’

For anyone looking to enrich their university education and gain a unique set of skills and experiences, China is definitely a place to visit.

China’s global education and economic influence is still continuing; it dominates the list of leading universities in the developing world, and it’s strategic importance for UK companies is well illustrated with the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative; launched by the Chinese president in 2013, it sets out to improve and create new trade routes, links and business opportunities between China and over 60 countries across Europe, Asia, Middle East and Africa. As the report highlights, the ‘potential exists for powerful partnerships between British and Chinese companies.’

With a wide range of study and work experience programmes, China has become more accessible for today’s students and graduates. And the good news is that steps have been taken to provide opportunities for students who may not ordinarily consider going to the country.

One initiative has been the British Council Generation UK – China programme. Backed by the government, it aims to develop the global employability and prospects of UK students through funded internships and academic scholarships. By 2020, the hope is that 80,000 students will have benefited from the programme. The British Council have been working in partnership with a number of internship providers, one being InternChina.

Right now, the programme is being promoted across the UK, and this week, I attended a presentation where a couple of UCLan students spoke about their internships. What became apparent was how exposure to this fascinating culture, language and business world enabled students to gain some amazing skills and insights. Resilience, adaptability and cultural awareness were key themes, and all very much what graduate recruiters are looking for in today’s changing world of work.

Coral Simpson, a Business Management in China student, spent her year abroad working as a Marketing & Sales Intern in InternChina’s Zhuhai office, involved in a range of promotional and design activities. What struck me is her experience of seeing first hand the cultural differences, in particular the Chinese concept of Guanxi, which is about networking, and also the value given to the use of business cards. Knowing about these differences is vital in becoming a global graduate and working cross-culturally, whether in the UK or abroad. You can hear more about Coral’s experiences here on this video and also read on the InternChina blog.

Ross Simmons, a Law student, undertook an internship for a domestic law firm in Chengdu.

“During my two months in Chengdu, I provided research and advice on outbound transactions for a domestic Chinese law firm who had a roster of internationally focused clients. I also conducted weekly seminars for lawyers on legal issues in the UK; for example, the role of judicial review in respect of legal challenges to the recent EU referendum decision.

As a British Council Generation UK funding beneficiary, I was invited to attend a VIP meeting with Sir Martin Donnelly KCB CMG, where I was invited to give my opinion on how outward mobility benefits students like myself and the role it plays in bringing the UK and China closer together.

It took a lot for me to take the leap to China given that I had never travelled further than two time zones until now. The opportunity has tested my resilience when in a situation of adversity, and this is a quality that I can explain to prospective employers that makes me stand out from the crowd. I now have that international dimension that employers value in a time where globalisation is at its height.”

Thanks to Ross for sharing his story and photos; you can find out more on his personal blog as an aspiring lawyer.

Applications are still open for the 2017 Generation UK China programme with Intern China, and the deadline is 12th December 2016. For more information visit the website (there are also other options for anyone not eligible for the Generation UK funded programme).

Going abroad generally is a daunting experience, and there is lots to consider. My blog post on 5 common questions for going global helps to think through initial concerns and issues. But for anyone who has the chance and means to undertake an overseas experience – to China or elsewhere – then my advice is to go for it. It will be a fantastic investment in your future career whether you stay in the UK or take the leap internationally. And personally, you will learn so much more about yourself, giving you the confidence and motivation to achieve your goals and ambitions.

This is my last post for 2016 as I will be taking a little break, but I will be back in the New Year with lots more interesting articles and content. Thanks to everyone for their continued support in reading and sharing my blog, it has been amazing and I am truly grateful. In the meantime, do have a lovely Christmas break, or a well deserved general time off if you don’t celebrate, and best wishes for 2017!



Why the ‘international experience’ on our university campuses must not be sacrificed

I couldn’t leave 2016 without some reference to the events that really shook us this year – Brexit and the Trump presidency. The world was clearly taken aback by the respective decisions, and like many people, I’ve been shocked and saddened by the divisive and racist backlash that has occurred both in the UK and US following the votes. But I also take comfort from hearing and seeing millions of people stand up to promote values of tolerance, diversity, and unity within our communities and societies.

Whilst we continue to see fierce debates about the implications of the EU referendum and US elections, one area we must continue to focus on is the potential impact on universities and the global educational experience.

Here, the fallout over Brexit continues. People are angry about the threat to funding, research grants, overseas staff recruitment and collaborative projects, and the future uncertainty facing mobility programmes such as ERASMUS, which the government has been urged to protect.

But this is not just about safeguarding study and work abroad opportunities, but also ensuring the global experience for home students on university campuses is not underminedAnd this is where the future of the EU and wider international student population within UK higher education matters.

Some reassurances have been given for EU students in the short term. But is recruitment generally going to be an issue? Reports have shown that the vote to leave the European Union has sent a ‘negative message’ about the UK and how welcoming it is, with overseas students saying they would be less likely to want to come and study here. Brexit is only part of a wider problem though; the government’s policy towards international students and tightening of post study work visas has had a detrimental effect. India is one notable example, with data showing there has been a 50% drop in students from the country since 2010. Across the Atlantic, the States is also facing similar issues, with some surveys showing over 50% of international students are less inclined to study in the US under a Trump presidency.

Of course, some of this may be initial panic as can be seen immediately after a major event, and long term who knows what will happen in either countries. But it’s not a matter to be taken lightly or overlooked. In my interview with David Shindler’s Learning to Leap podcast a few months ago, I reinforced what many people have said – whilst the economic value of international students is clearly significant, we can’t just look at their contribution in financial terms alone. We need to continue to reinforce the social and cultural benefits they bring and the different ways they can enrich the home student experience.

Fortunately, many can see the benefits too; last year, a survey of UK university applicants believe studying alongside foreign students will help prepare them for work in a globalised economy. We also have some strong advocates and campaigns to champion the cause of international students. Lord Karan Bilimoria, the renowned businessman who founded Cobra Beers and, in addition to other roles, is also president of the UK Council of International Student Affairs (UKCISA), has called on the government to change it’s stance towards international students, highlighting that it will drive the students to study elsewhere. And the growing #WeAreInternational campaign, launched by Sheffield University, and with support from over 100 universities, educational institutions and organisations, is continuing to drive the message that international students add value to our UK higher education landscape, culture and wider economy.

I’ve been involved in and witnessed many fantastic examples of intercultural projects, events and forums for diverse groups to come together and learn. I’ve also led mock assessment centre workshops where UK, European and non-European students are working in teams and gaining an awareness of different leadership styles and cultural etiquettes. For students who have never been, and may not get an opportunity to go abroad, this is not just ‘a nice thing to learn,’ it’s about opening up minds and developing cross-cultural skills essential for our changing world of work.

Two decades ago, I was fortunate to study alongside globally minded, diverse students from all over the world. But I can’t help but feel that what I saw as a natural part of my university experience is now facing a grave threat. If international student recruitment continues to be further compromised, it will be a real shame for future students and their learning. This is why we need such campaigns and advocates more than ever before.

My simple call to action for current UK students – yes, make the most of opportunities to go abroad, whether that is through international exchange programmes, volunteering or internships. But take advantage of the real ‘global experience’ that is happening right now on your campus – not just in your classrooms, but through the wider university networks. Join language and cultural societies, clubs, and take part in forums with international students that will help you gain an awareness of diverse perspectives.

This is vital for your own personal development and also in shaping your future as a global graduate.





Rethinking language learning and careers

Up until the age of 18, I had the experience of learning four different foreign languages: two within the home, and two at school. When I look back, I had my challenges with each one.

Bangla is my ethnic language, but growing up, I was anything but fluent. Unlike many British-born Asians, I spoke English with my parents from an early age. My nursery teacher gave my dad the absurd advice that we shouldn’t speak Bangla in the home, as it would harm our chances of learning English properly. Naturally this worried my parents, but I don’t know of anyone whose English language learning was adversely affected by speaking their mother tongue first (my friends who learnt English later have all performed well at school and many now enjoy successful careers). So as a result, my family visits to Bangladesh meant I had to endure the humiliating ordeal of speaking to relatives with a heavy English accent and be the brunt of many jokes. Arabic was also another language we were required to learn in order to read our religious scriptures. Arabic is not an easy language, what with the grammar and extremely precise pronunciation. At school, French and German were the focus. I dropped German at GCSE, but carried on with French up to A-level. French GCSE was a walk in the park, but learning how to order an orange juice in a cafe didn’t exactly prepare me for reading and discussing entire novels and pieces of literature in French six months later.

Thankfully, my spoken Bangla and Arabic reading has massively improved (sadly I didn’t keep up the French), but back then I perhaps never truly appreciated the valuable role languages can play in our lives. Over the last 20 years of education and work, I’ve definitely developed a different outlook. I had the privilege of studying in two of the most renowned and culturally diverse universities (one of which specialises in the teaching and learning of African and Asian languages), and this gave me the opportunity to interact with multilingual students from across the globe. Some of my classmates could speak at least four languages fluently, which was really inspiring. And my work as an international careers adviser, also supporting foreign language students, has really highlighted a major point for me: the need to change our mindset when it comes to language learning and types of careers where we can use our linguistic skills. 

The state of language learning and skills in the UK has been of ongoing concern. Last year, the Guardian and British Academy launched the Living Languages report to examine the reasons behind the UK’s shortage of foreign language skills, and look at the importance and value of learning this skill. It is ironic that as generally the take up of languages in A-level and higher education has been in decline, employers and businesses are crying out for “global graduates” and people with cultural and language skills. Recent reports show that the UK loses almost £50bn a year in lost contracts due to poor language skills in the workforce (All-Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages, 2014). The latest Confederation of British Industry (CBI/Pearson) Education & Skills survey shows that almost 50% of businesses recognise foreign language skills as beneficial to them.

shareasimage.jpgIt’s been really interesting to see the range of languages sought after and in use across the job market. Whilst traditional languages such as French, German and Spanish remain at the top of the list, we are also seeing a huge increase in demand for non-European ones too. Global economic and political changes means that Mandarin and Arabic feature highly, and this is reflected in the recruitment strategies of organisations such as GCHQ. Interestingly, the Metropolitan Police announced that their eligibility criteria to become a police constable now includes the ability to speak a second language, such as African and Asian languages.

Speaking both European and non-European languages has been a huge advantage for Safia Saeed, a finance professional, who worked as an Internal Audit Manager for a global telecoms distributor across the Europe, Middle East and Africa region. Through this role, she was able to use her knowledge of German and Spanish, but also her ability to speak Urdu and Hindi was of great help in communicating with the Indian finance team in Dubai. “Languages were basically a great way to connect with people and develop good working relationships; people respected the effort to engage and communicate with them,” states Safia.

Using languages in a business context, like Safia did, is just one example of how we need to look beyond the “traditional” and obvious career options of teaching, interpreting and translating for languages students and graduates. Whilst languages is certainly important for the above areas, there are many different sectors where linguistic skills could be useful. Business services, cultural consultancy, travel and tourism, legal, public sector and education are just some examples, and you can find out more on a guide I produced for TARGETjobs called Using Your Language Skills.

I certainly believe any language is of benefit, but from an employability point of view and in terms of demonstrating a unique skills set to potential employers, you can’t go wrong with speaking diverse languages. And when it comes to considering your career options, again keep an open mind and don’t restrict yourself to traditional areas. Think outside the box; you never know what fascinating role awaits you!

If you speak or know anyone who uses a rare or unusual language in their career, please do get in touch with me.



Paving the way for international students to gain UK experience

There’s no denying that international students face enormous challenges in entering the UK graduate job market. A couple of months ago, I wrote how since the changes to the post study work rules in 2012, the number of international students who have been able to remain in the UK after their studies has declined.

It’s widely known that the Tier 2 work visa is extremely difficult to obtain, what with the relatively high salary criteria and the fact that an employer must have a licence to sponsor.

But there is an alternative which many students and businesses are not aware of. Tier 5 (Temporary Worker – Government Authorised Exchange visa) is a brilliant option for students as it allows them to work in the UK for up to 2 years and then utilise the skills and experience in their home country, or potentially progress to a more permanent position in the UK.

So what is Tier 5 (TW GAE visa) about, who’s involved and what difference is it making?

The key is the involvement of a number of government approved schemes, and one inspiring professional and her company is an example of the work being done to help international students develop their UK experience, but also allows businesses to attract the best overseas talent.

Zenia Chopra heads up Access Tier 5, a government endorsed organisation powered by AIESEC (the global youth mobility organisation), to provide sponsorship for eligible individuals looking to enhance their professional and cultural experience in the UK.

I had the privilege of meeting Zenia last week, as she has been up and down the country talking to various universities about her organisation, and spoke to her about the work she does with Access Tier 5.

Zenia, as we know Tier 2 is very difficult for students to obtain, so how does Access Tier 5 help students to gain UK experience and what is the main difference between the two visas?

Access Tier 5 allows employers to offer placements to skilled non-EEA candidates without having to worry about sponsorship responsibilities. My employer, AIESEC UK Ltd. are an overarching body of the Tier 5 GAE Visa category and have an A rated sponsorship license from the UK Home Office which allows us to sponsor international students who wish to undertake work placements post their education. This in turn allows the individuals to seek employment freely with any employer irrespective of whether the employer has a Tier 2 license to sponsor or not.

The main differences between Tier 2 and Tier 5 GAE are:

  1. Tier 2 is used for permanent positions whereas Tier 5 GAE is used for temporary positions only.
  2. There is a minimum salary threshold of £20,800 for Tier 2 sponsorships; however NMW suffices under Tier 5 GAE.
  3. There is no upper limit applied to salaries offered to candidates under Tier 5 GAE unlike Tier 2.
  4. The candidate can undertake an internship or placement with any employer irrespective of whether they hold a sponsorship license or not as the overarching body would be the candidate’s sponsor, however, to be sponsored under Tier 2, the employer must hold a Tier 2 sponsorship license.

What motivated you to set up the company?

I came to the UK in Sep 2006 as an international student and have since been here under different visa categories. Being an immigrant myself, I have always felt very strongly about immigration, so, when the opportunity came through my current employer, AIESEC UK Ltd. to set up a Tier 5 GAE sponsorship scheme, I jumped at it and set up Access Tier 5 in July 2012. The biggest motivation for me to take up this opportunity was that I wanted to be able to help individuals like me who dream of coming to the UK to gain the ever so valuable UK work experience.

How many students have you been able to help?

Since inception of Access Tier 5 in 2012, we have sponsored over 500 students.

Can you tell us about the types of businesses and companies you work with?

We work with a multitude of clients ranging from Corporates to SME’s to Sole Traders. One of our recent accomplishments has been partnering up with Infinti & Red Bull Performance Engineering Academy to sponsor their candidates who have come to the UK to undertake a 12-month work placement with them.

How can students use an organisation like Access Tier 5 to their advantage when approaching companies and applying for jobs?

Students should direct their potential employers to our website so they can understand the process of sponsorship in detail. Also, we can represent the students to their potential employers, so if the students require us to speak on their behalf and liaise with their employer we are happy to do so. An important thing to bear in mind is that our services are absolutely free for the students, so whether it’s advice on sponsorship or questions regarding eligibility, we are here for the students to help them in any way possible.

What has been your greatest achievement with Access Tier 5?

Every day is an achievement for us at Access Tier 5 because every single day, we get to see a happy candidate whose Visa has been approved and dream fulfilled. The numerous emails/calls of gratitude I get from the students are one of the best and most satisfying things about my job. We are also very proud of the fact that we have a 99.99% success rate with Home Office, which means every single candidate barring 1 has been successful in getting his or her Visa.

 Finally, what tips and advice do you have for international students looking to work in the UK?

  • Start the placement hunt process at least 3 months before their Visa expires.
  • Get in touch with us as soon as they have a potential employer interested, so we can initiate the assessment process.
  • If students in UK want to switch from Tier 4 to Tier 5, they must find a role that is directly relevant to their last education in UK.
  • Don’t be shy in contacting us, we are here to help the students for FREE, so facebook us, tweet us, call us or email us!

(Information on this post is accurate at time of publishing, but please visit UK Visas and Immigration for updates and as always students should seek advice from authorised individuals and bodies).


5 common questions for going global

In my role as an international careers professional, I’ve been on a fascinating journey (so to speak) to explore the different benefits, opportunities and often challenges facing students and graduates looking for a global experience.

When we talk about enriching the student experience, it’s widely accepted that going abroad – whether through study or work – is an integral part of this. British students are exposed to some of the most amazing cultural and international influences and opportunities. There is the obvious chance to interact with the diverse overseas student population. And this is seen positively; a survey of UK university applicants believe studying alongside foreign students will help prepare them for work in a globalised economy. Plus we have the strong partnerships between UK and international educational institutes, companies and organisations, which means that students have ample avenues to become globally mobile. It’s hard to get an exact number, but figures suggest nearly 15,000 students went abroad as part of their degree in 2012-13.

Getting an international experience can be a very daunting process and there are a lot of things to consider.

So, I’ve come up with 5 common questions that many students have about going to another country with some practical tips and advice.

  1. Will going abroad make a difference to my future career prospects?

Well, evidence shows that a global experience does have a positive impact on employability and career prospects. Just this week, Go International published a report showing how internationally experienced graduates fared better in terms of employment outcomes and salary.

Employers want to see ‘Global Graduates’ with a blend of competencies such as cross – cultural interpersonal skills, global mindset and outlook, high resilience and drive, excellent communication and multilingual abilities and so on. So working and studying abroad is definitely a step forward to develop these attributes.

And if you want to boost your job prospects by becoming an expert in another language and culture, there is nothing like spending time in the country itself!

  1. Am I suited to going abroad and living in another country?

This is an interesting question, and I guess you can never really tell until you’ve actually made the step. Having said that, it’s worth reflecting on how you might cope with different scenarios and situations. I came across a helpful article by Stacie Berdan, a renowned international expert and author, who has a very useful thought exercise which you should (honestly of course!) use to assess your own views and feelings.

Also, take the opportunity to speak to people who have lived and worked in other countries, and get their honest feedback.

  1. I want to work abroad, but have no idea what I want to do or where I want to go!

Ok so first things first. Visiting your careers service is a must. Seek advice on your career options and potential job opportunities. Taking a step back and clarifying your ideas will probably be more helpful than randomly searching for jobs in any country. After all, the world is a big place! Take time to develop your own self – awareness and find out what is of interest to you, and where you can go.

To help you get started on what international opportunities there are, here is list of some resources and organisations:

  • TARGETjobs Working Abroad pages: there’s a guide for students looking to work abroad, and profiles for 40 countries. Each country profile looks at the job market, application process, vacancy sources for both work experience and graduate jobs, and visa requirements.
  • GoinGlobal is another commonly used resource, and again has country profiles, labour market and employment trends info and global CVs advice.
  • Organisations such as BUNACAIESEC and Year Out Group can help you explore a range of international placements and work experience programmes.
  • Generation UK – India programme: British Council have launched this exciting scheme for students and graduates to work in a range of diverse placements across India. I just attended the webinar this week and it looks set to be a great opportunity!
  • Summer Camps in America: many organisations provide fun packed opportunities to work in camps across the States, Camp America, CCUSA, Camp Leaders are just a few.
  • ERASMUS and other exchange programmes: your university may have partnerships with these schemes so check this out.
  1. I want to go to a really exciting new place, but am worried about ending up in a troubled zone!

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office Know Before You Go website is a useful reference point to check the travel and political situation for any country. It’s updated regularly and has information on local laws, customs, security and terrorism threats. So do make sure you know about any travel alerts and restrictions before you go. Your university may also have guidance and information so get in touch with international or other relevant departments.

  1. How can I ensure I get the most out of my global experience?

My top tips are:

  • Plan and identify what you want to achieve from your time abroad. Think about what skills and knowledge you want to develop. That way you can ensure you have a productive time and also you will be better prepared to showcase your experience to prospective employers.
  • Consider finances and any funding opportunities. Speak to your careers service and university about any travel bursaries, scholarships and grants that may be available.
  • Research your chosen country, cultural issues and the language. Maybe enrol in some local classes as learning a few words and key phrases might help in establishing rapport with locals. Knowing about cultural etiquettes is critical if you don’t want to cause offence to anyone! Obviously monitor the security and political situation if travelling to potentially risky locations.
  • Research the role and organisation. Find out about any volunteering projects you’re looking to do, is it well planned with specific objectives, do you have a defined role, how many participants are involved? Will there be training and support provided? Are you getting value for money? Also check out the organisation to see if they have any reputable endorsements, do they have a successful track record and what have been experiences of other participants? Do your homework so you can ensure you have a positive, valuable and safe experience.

So I hope these are some useful tips for going global, if you have any other thoughts you want to share, would be happy to hear from you.


5 questions for international students looking to work in the UK

International students were in the spotlight recently with the final publication of a report on how changes to the government policy on post – study work have had a significant impact on students, UK higher education and businesses, with implications for the economy as a whole.

The report by the All – Party Parliamentary Group on Migration looks at the impact of the closure of Tier 1 (Post Study Work) route in 2012, with a review of the system since then.

There have been several findings, the 2 most significant being:

  • Drop in international students coming to study in the UK since the changes, with notable declines from India, Pakistan and Nigeria. Evidence suggests that the UK is losing out to other competitor countries who offer better  PSW opportunities and so this has major implications for the UK’s global appeal as a choice for international study. More than £10 billion a year is pumped into our economy as a result of international student migration. But it’s not just about the finances; it has been rightly acknowledged that there are enormous social and cultural benefits for our education institutes, businesses and the community.
  • Decline in numbers of skilled international graduates able to remain in the UK, there has been an 88% drop, significantly higher than what the government expected. Furthermore, the report highlights restrictions employers face, consequences for regional economies outside of London and South – East, as well as important sectors such as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) and Creative Arts who are facing difficulties to attract talent from a wider pool of graduates.

It will be interesting to see future developments, but in these challenging times, what can international students do to maximise their chances of working in the UK?

Career planning from the first year is critical, and students must seek relevant careers advice and information as early on as possible. Being proactive but also flexible remains key. Due consideration needs to be given to time scales especially surrounding visas.

There are 5 key questions students should ask themselves if they are keen to get ahead in the UK job market:

  1. Do I have a strong understanding of how the UK job market works and opportunities that exist?
  2. Do I have the skills and competencies UK employers are looking for?
  3. Do I know what my USP is as an international graduate?
  4. Do I know how to effectively market myself in CVs, applications and interviews?
  5. Do I have relevant information on the post study work routes?

Particular resources and organisations that are worth checking out are the TARGETjobs Careers Advice for International Students website and also UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) where there are some links and information on post study work routes (I should add that students should refer to immigration experts and specialist organisations for visa advice).

I’ll be posting some more articles on the international theme, including some tips and advice for UK students looking to launch a global career so watch this space!