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Internships for international students are a chance at greater opportunities for career advancement and global networking.

Impact of international internships

The thrust of globalization and internationalization has greatly impacted the international education community in the last 40 years. As higher education institutions (HEIs) around the world joined this growing trend also found in other industries, consequently, the definitions of both globalization and internationalization have been mingled. A previous Insights article discussed that mistaking one for another may present adverse outcomes—like falling into the trap of running a vanity race for the sake of global expansion.

Internationalized students

Through the years, both became key themes in research. A 2015 study titled “Internationalisation of Higher Education: A Study for the European Parliament” presents its revision to the original definition of University of Toronto professor Jane Knight, stating that internationalization is “the intentional process of integrating an international, intercultural or global dimension into the purpose, functions and delivery of post-secondary education, in order to enhance the quality of education and research for all students and staff and to make a meaningful contribution to society.”

Internationalization is so much more than opening schools around the world. Simply put, in the context of higher education, globalization seeks expansion while internationalization encourages immersion. The former seeks an institution’s interests, the latter prepares students to have a greater world perspective and appreciation for various cultural contributions, traditions and practices.

Source: Graphics (Ivy Panda) / Statistics (Iesabroad.org)

Students seek international experience

There are plenty of reasons why a student wants to study abroad and these range from having a desire for personal development or an aspiration to experience other world cultures, to completing a degree from a renowned institution or searching for better career opportunities. According to an Institute for the International Education of Students (IES) Abroad survey among students in U.S. universities, over 90 percent of students with overseas learning experience found employment within a year of graduation. Comparing the results with students who didn’t have study abroad experience, only 49 percent of them were able to find employment within 12 months.

An *Erasmus impact summary also revealed the following with regard to employers’ feedback regarding students with study abroad experience: Ninety two percent of employers seek transversal skills such as confidence and problem-solving from these graduates, 64 percent think experiencing international studies is important for recruitment, and 64 percent of employers are confident in giving graduates with international study experience bigger responsibilities at work. (*Erasmus, which stands for European Region Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students—an EU funded program that organizes student exchanges—is currently replaced with the Turing scheme, established as a Brexit replacement.)

Source: Graphics (Ivy Panda) / Statistics (Europa.eu)

Role of internships in international education

Internships in education are a modern practice, evolving from its roots of apprenticeship in the guild system of the 11th and 12th centuries. It was only at the turn of the 20th century, when the field of medicine adapted the practice, turning it into a more scientific, lecture-based training. Internships then evolved to become more formal, and it was only until the 1960s when internships were professionalized and incorporated into the education system.

In this day and age of international education, taking into context HEIs and their international students, a solid internship program with the right enforcers, partners, and environment is a key component to not only furthering the goal of delivering internationalized education but also calling it a successful one. 

According to its standards for internship programs, the Council for Advancement of Standards in Higher Education stated that internships are “an integral part of a college education.” It understands that students and parents have a demand “for a more career-oriented curriculum.” It also highlights the role of internships in “solving societal problems.” 

From this, we can draw the following assumptions: internships are vital for a higher education curriculum and these benefit the institutions, the students, and society.

Internship concerns

On paper, an institution may have an excellent internship program in place for its students. However, several “outside factors” may come as challenges to an effective internship. These include but are not limited to the following scenarios:

  • Some students feel unmotivated and just proceed with the internship for the sake of completing it.
  • Some mentors may be uncooperative and assign interns with trivial tasks that do not lead to greater learning. 
  • Interns enrolled in Open Distance Learning may face problems in balancing studies and work. 
  • Some companies that serve as internship program partners treat the students as laborers but are exempted from compensation.

An HEI must be able to responsibly anticipate such concerns and, if there are any that arise, must be able to swiftly rectify the situation. Lest it be forgotten, an internship is that sole event of intersection when a student is both bound by the rules within an institution’s walls and by the regulations of a company that is bound by the laws governing the land. 

Benefits of international internships

Internships bring several benefits for international students, HEIs, and the companies serving as internship program partners.

For a student, having one’s internship abroad allows him to advance his professional career, travel the world and explore a different culture, expand his professional network while meeting new people, and immerse himself in a highly competitive working environment. This would set him apart from other students in terms of breadth of experience and future opportunities. In fact, even during the midst of this pandemic, virtual internships have risen to prominence. It is possible for a student to have his internship remotely, similar to the work-from-home set-up most companies have utilized these days. 

Meanwhile, internship is a way for an institution to send its school ambassadors out to the professional world. It can also be one way for the institution to give back to the community, while the students are able to learn from it as well. As it evaluates and sets up its capacity and support systems for its internship program and students, the institution is able to enhance its academic offerings by incorporating experiential and problem-based learning into its programs and courses.  

For a company, it can be productive with tasks without hiring commitments, while also having the chance to evaluate young and fresh talents which they can hopefully invite to be a part of their workforce. If that is the case, then the internship would have already saved the company time and resources in onboarding the graduate to their company. Lastly, newcomers are expected to bring a zest of life and innovation with them, which the company can benefit from greatly.

A company can benefit from internships as well.

In conclusion, the impact of effective international internships cannot be stressed enough. Institutions who are able to provide their international students with proper internship programs have a hand in educating, training, and preparing a global workforce for the future. 

Needless to say, coming back to the core of education, these international students have the chance to complete their programs or degrees abroad while learning from the great teacher himself—experience.

Data Sources:

Naidoo, V. (2006, December 1) International education: A tertiary-level industry update. Journal of Research in International Education. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1475240906069455.

Ponniah, K. (2021, February 11) Internationalization of education: Past practices and future possibilities.MSM Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://msmhighered.com/insights_posts/internationalization-of-education-past-practices-and-future-possibilities/.

Enders, J. (2004, April) Higher education, internationalisation, and the nation-state: Recent developments and challenges to governance theory. Springer Link. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/B:HIGH.0000016461.98676.30.

De Wit, H. (2015, July) Internationalisation of Higher Education. European Parliament. Retrieved from https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2015/540370/IPOL_STU(2015)540370_EN.pdf.

10 Benefits to Studying Abroad | Study Abroad Guide (n.d.). International Student. Retrieved from https://www.internationalstudent.com/study-abroad/guide/ten-benefits-to-studying-abroad/.

Alumni Survey Results | IES Abroad | Study Abroad (n.d.). IES Abroad. Retrieved from https://www.iesabroad.org/study-abroad/benefits/alumni-survey-results.

55 Study Abroad Statistics: Facts and Figures (2020, December 26). Ivy Panda. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/blog/46-study-abroad-statistics-convincing-facts-and-figures/.

Spradlin, J. (2009, April 27) The Evolution Of Interns. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/2009/04/27/intern-history-apprenticeship-leadership-careers-jobs.

CAS Standards | Internship Programs (n.d.). CAS. Retrieved from https://www.cas.edu/standards.

Achilles, V. (2013) The role of internships in a higher education institute. Congress on Engineering Education 2013 at DOHA/ResearchGate. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/283498115_The_role_of_internships_in_a_higher_education_institute.

Yeasmin, S. (2018, August 6) 8 Common Internship Challenges You May Face and Their Solutions. Letsintern. Retrieved from https://www.letsintern.com/blog/8-common-internship-challenges-you-may-face-and-their-solutions/

Bukaliya, R. (n.d.) The potential benefits and challenges of internship programmes in an ODL institution: A case for the Zimbabwe Open University. Retrieved from http://ijonte.org/FileUpload/ks63207/File/13.bukaliya.pdf

McMunn, R. (2016, January 20) 4 Lifelong Benefits You Get From an Internship Abroad. Retrieved from https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/254484.

Lane, C. (2021, February 11) Everything Students Need To Know About Virtual Internships. Retrieved from https://www.topuniversities.com/student-info/careers-advice/everything-students-need-know-about-virtual-internships.

Hora, M. (2019, September 23) Internships as a High-Impact Practice? Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2019/09/23/campuses-should-proceed-caution-when-it-comes-student-internships-opinion.

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