International Education The Perfect Platform To Promote Workplace Diversity

23 April 2020

As Western Australia’s second-largest services sector, generating about $1.9 billion in course fees and spending in 2017 – 2018, international education as an industry has undeniable benefits for the state’s economy. But what about the potential for workplace diversity and inclusiveness?

A frequently asked question in the international education sector is around the employability of international students, and the associated benefits for business.

StudyPerth Executive Director Phil Payne said Perth was a vibrant city with a diverse multicultural community, making it an ideal city in which to promote workplace diversity through the employment of international students.

“At the time of the 2016 Census, the most common countries of birth for Perth’s population were England at 5.4 per cent, China at 4.0 per cent, India at 2.6 per cent, New Zealand at 2.5 per cent and Malaysia at 2.3 per cent,” he said.

“As for Western Australia’s international student commencements, the top five source countries, as of December 2018, were India, China, Malaysia, Brazil and Taiwan.

“Given this diverse population, it is important for organisations, business and communities to promote an inclusive community for all – the potential for which is significantly increased through the employment of international students.”

A recent report prepared for Multicultural Affairs Queensland by Deloitte Access Economics - Seizing the opportunity: Making the most of the skills and experience of migrants and refugees - highlights the economic and social impact of underutilisation of migrant and refugee skills. This has clear implications for the employment of international students and graduates.

Anecdotal evidence suggested that for a variety of reasons, international students either take lower-level jobs or find employment in fields which do not utilise their qualifications.

In the report, analysis of economic and social impacts demonstrated how skill underutilisation comes at a cost to all levels of government, industry and to the economy.

Further, the social impacts from skill underutilisation could lead to increased mental health issues, impacts on families and dependents, and a sense of community cohesion being fractured.

While migrants may sometimes have difficulty having their international qualifications recognised, the report stated that it should not pose a problem for international students.

However, there are were a range of other barriers outlined in the report that could prevent both groups from achieving their maximum potential, including:

  • A lack of access to local networks, leading to difficulty in identifying job opportunities or peers who can act as a local referee.
  • Employers favouring work histories that have a local content and with which they are familiar, or prior work histories not being recognised by some Australian employers.
  • Overseas references and overseas qualifications being difficult to verify due to time and language differences between other countries and Australia.
  • A lack of understanding of Australian recruitment practices and what needs to be included in a résumé or presented at interview to get the job.
  • Perceived communication barriers from real language difficulties or perceived due to difficulties in adequately articulate their views in English.

Mr Payne admitted that getting a foot in the door towards employment could be difficult without local networks, experiences or references, but that the Australian community understood the contribution that international students make to national prosperity.

“New data produced by JWS Research found that 81 per cent of Australians polled said they benefited from personal, cultural, diplomatic and trade ties when international students spent their formative years in our country,” he said.

“While many students return home after graduating, those who do stay are highly-skilled – therefore we must harness this significant social and economic potential, and encourage more international students to remain here once they complete their studies.

“Facilitating links between international students and local professional and industry networks is a critical step to overcoming skill underutilisation barriers and, most importantly, greater engagement of international students’ skills will lead to better community cohesion and a sense of belonging.

“By employing more international students and migrants, and utilising the skills and knowledge they bring to the workplace, the opportunities are endless in terms of economic and societal benefits for Western Australia, and the country as a whole.”

Read recent data supporting the economic and social value of international students:

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In collaboration with governments, educational institutions and stakeholders, StudyPerth provides a leadership role in building the profile of international education in WA and overseas.