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International South Asian student and graduate employability during the COVID-19 crisis: Stories and lived experiences

This research was conducted in 2020 by two La Trobe academics


Introduction

International students seek study abroad experiences especially in Australia to enhance their employability, either in host, home or even third country. Although many international students come from China, there are students from South Asian countries as well such as India, Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh in Australia. Given the high number of temporary graduate visas also provided to graduates from this region in Australia, very little is known about their employability experiences.  Exacerbated by COVID-19, it was vital to investigate South Asian international students and graduates' employability perceptions and experiences in COVID-19.

This research was conducted in 2020 by two La Trobe academics - Dr Jasvir Kaur Nachatar Singh and Dr Sabrina Gupta. They conducted in depth interviews with: 

15 international (South Asian) postgrad students enrolled at La Trobe University 

20 international (South Asian) graduates graduated from La Trobe who are currently working in Australia

The purpose of this research is to understand South Asian international students and graduates employability perceptions and experiences in Australia. This research is funded by La Trobe-Manchester Metropolitan University Collaborative Grant Scheme.   

Findings: 

What are the employability experiences of students and graduates in general?

There is a spectrum from gloomy experiences (unsuccessful in obtaining jobs related to studies – done Management or Accounting courses but working as security or at Big W as a store assistant) to Great employability outcomes (successful in gaining jobs in the field of studies – studied in IT and gained a job in their respective fields). And because of COVID -19 one graduate gained employment at Telstra.

For international students, pre-covid time some had part-time positions such as in retail and hospitality. For PhD students, they had tutoring during the semester and some did occasional research assistant work. But those who did not have employment is due to: 

  • Arrival date – Semester 1 2020 – right before lockdown
  • Others not successful in obtaining any positions – perceived racism, lack of knowledge on how to navigate the job market 

How is the crisis impacting students and graduates’ career plans for the future?

For international students, difficulties in finding part-time work, obtaining placements or internships as well as finding out about any opportunities. They are also fearful that there will not be many opportunities upon graduation (e.g. academia, research). Some perceive that Covid-19 is a temporary disruption to future career plans and hope to find work in their relevant fields. Due to difficulties faced by families back home, some have mentioned taking loans to support their education therefore an added burden.

International graduates mentioned that plans are definitely disrupted. Due to COVID-19 – harder to network, harder to meet face to face for coffee with future employers or mentors, harder to get internships (face to face), contracts might not be renewed due to financial cuts, harder to get scholarship to pursue PhD in the regions (one of the graduates want to go for further studies as TR visa expiring soon)

How are international students and graduates navigating the job market in these unprecedented times?

International students are: 

Updating their LinkedIn profile, attending any relevant online webinars/ symposiums

Perseverance and resilience – still applying for related jobs to studies 

Keeping a look out for any internship/ placement/ volunteer opportunities to upskill

International graduates are: 

Updating CV, LinkedIn profile – learning from YouTube how to do that 

Upskilling via LinkedIn Learning 

Perseverance and resilience – still applying for related jobs to studies 

Doing Professional Year to get degree assessed and to obtain related internship experiences

Conclusion 

This research is one of the first steps in understanding and providing voice to the South Asian students and graduates in navigating their employability while studying and working in Australia.  

About the author

Dr Jasvir Kaur Nachatar Singh is an award-winning Lecturer at the Department of Management, Sport and Tourism, La Trobe Business School, La Trobe University, Australia. In 2020, Dr Singh received an international teaching recognition from Advance HE, UK as a Fellow (FHEA). In 2018, Dr Singh received two La Trobe University Teaching Awards and Best Presenter Award at the Global Higher Education Forum, Malaysia. Dr Singh’s research expertise is in higher education discipline with a particular interest exploring international students’ current issues such as their academic success, lived experiences, employability, career aspirations as well as learning experiences in a blended learning environment.

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