International Students’ Study-to-Work Transitions

Thursday, 19 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Rolle ALHO, University of Helsinki, Finland
International student migration has increased rapidly in the last two decades. As a consequence, there is a growing scholarly interest in international students’ migration decisions and experiences of higher education in the receiving countries. However, the study-to-work transitions of the international students have received less scholarly attention. My presentation is based on a one-year study financed by the Finnish Work Environment Fund that looked at international students’ study-to-work transition experiences in Finland. Finland has, as a consequence of its good reputation in education, a wide array of English language programmes, and (until 2017) tuition-free studies for all nationalities received a rapidly growing number of international students. This qualitative study builds on 30 semi-structured interviews with international students from several disciplines and countries. The international students are in a disadvantageous position in relation to the natives due to lack of Finnish language skills and lack of 'right type' of social networks that facilitate finding employment. As a consequence, a large share of the international students leaves Finland after their graduation because they do not manage to find employment. The article argues that despite the aforementioned difficulties, the interviewees successfully managed to find meaningful employment in Finland by strategically highlighting their 'international skills' and by making use of 'weak ties' as a job searching strategy. In addition, four higher education experts from Finnish HE institutions were interviewed on their views on the international students’ situation. While the findings presented here stem from a single country, it is hypothesised that similar patterns can be identified in other countries.