By Dr Matt Sutherland, Director for Enterprise and Engagement at Newcastle Business School, part of Northumbria University

Often through the process of spending time travelling to different universities and working with various university colleagues and colleges, we are reminded about the significant role universities have on our landscape.

It goes without saying that the presence of universities are extremely important. They provide a more fair and equal society, they supply our economy with highly trained and skilled workers and they improve the nation’s overall competitiveness. But as we know, universities are expensive and since 1998 home (domestic) students have been asked to contribute towards the cost of their tuition fees.

Indeed, this took another turn in 2009 when English universities were given permission to charge up to £9,000, per year for their undergraduate programmes, which saw the largest shift and increase in university pricing within the English HE sector. What is evident from this shift is that many English universities have since then looked to keep this momentum going and exploring other avenues where they can secure additional income.

As we have seen across other HE markets, many English universities have therefore looked to proactively attract and retain the number of international students on their degree programmes. With internationalisation and globalisation dramatically transforming the HE landscape over the past couple of decades, attracting international students has become a strategic priority for English universities. However, evidence suggests emerging tensions that contradict internationalisation pursuits of English universities and has raised questions about strategies that are in position to facilitate international student experience and mobility. In fact, in pursuing this internationalisation agenda, English universities are under increasing pressure to better support and equip their international student provision. One key Performance Indicator for measuring this pursuit surrounds student employability, and one catalyst that has been identified to improve student employability, especially in business schools, is providing students’ access to short-term internships. An approach advocated within the Wilson Review.

Yet, despite this, international students remain frustrated. They increasingly report that there are a number of intercultural barriers hindering their career aspirations that are restricting their ability to secure employment alongside their studies and once graduating. Despite the significance of this problem, there remains little guidance on how to overcome and confront this challenge.

Interestingly what we have seen at my own institution is that as we expand our network and presence within the local business community, (through initiatives such as the Business Clinic and drawing upon a broader networks through the NCUB), there is an increasing appetite from businesses to access interns and secure international student expertise. Consequently, as English universities are vying to position themselves as attractive destinations for international students, here at Newcastle Business School we have been piloting a new initiative to give international students greater access and knowledge about securing first-hand work experience alongside their studies, as well as giving our SMEs the opportunity to bring new talent and knowhow into their businesses practices.

The programme was constructed as part of a 10-month research project emerging ourselves within the North-East business community to better understand the barriers impacting international student mobility, particularly from an employer’s perspective. Key takeaways from this research include:

  • Giving students the opportunity to apply their skills and culture expertise to business. Encouraging them to apply and better explaining the opportunities available when they first enrol at the university.
  • To provide clear and precise guidance on social-cultural and-legal information to international student that may normally deter their application. Ensuring students have the correct information and allowing them to work within their visas encourages uptake.
  • The programme also looks to develop stronger working relationships between university staff and businesses so there is a greater awareness for supporting international students and exposing them to new opportunities.

We are proud to report that over the last four years we have placed over 140 student interns with over 120 SMEs. Knowledge of such scheme is now well known amongst prospective and current international student cohorts and offers them the chance to put theory into practice. It has also provided a tighter partnership amongst Newcastle Business School and the regions business community.