International Undergraduate Business Students' Perceptions of Employability

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Singh, Parlo
Barker, Michelle
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This study seeks responses to the following research questions: How do international business students understand employability skills? How do they perceive their employability? How do they perceive the university’s role in enhancing their employability? Graduate employability is a highly contested topic amongst the stakeholders of higher education involved in educating international students including education providers, international students, employers and the government (Gribble, 2015). The responsibility of universities to support students in adapting to employment is also debated. The Australian Government’s strategy to enhance graduate employability is based on three pillars: strengthening Australia’s education system, creating transformative relationships between people, institutions and governments, and competing globally for a solid reputation (Department of Education and Training, 2016). International students, however, need to overcome a number of barriers to be deemed employable. These barriers include lack of workplace skills and experience in an Australian workplace context, shortage of work-integrated learning (WIL) opportunities, and industry reluctance to employ international students. Universities have increasingly introduced WIL opportunities as part of degree programs to more optimally integrate theory with practice. In applied programs such as education, engineering and medicine, practicums are a crucial part of the degree. Increasingly, WIL placements are also being incorporated into business degrees. The literature review of this thesis presents the changing context of higher education in Australia, challenges in business education, and a discussion of employability skills. The Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT), with its core concepts of self-efficacy and career efficacy, constitutes the theoretical framework of this study. SCCT considers how academic and career interests are developed, how academic and career choices are formed, and how academic and career successes are achieved. The qualitative, exploratory methodology of the study focusses on international undergraduate business students’ perceptions of their employability and universities’ perceived role in enhancing employability. Using a phenomenographic approach, and purposive sampling, focus group discussions were conducted with all the students in the last of the three year levels of the undergraduate business degree offered at a small urban campus of an Australian university. The business degree program run by the case university caters almost entirely for international students. A survey was designed to collect participants’ demographic data. The key findings of the study included: (1) participants were unable to differentiate between employability skills, personality traits and job-specific skills; (2) Chinese participants raised the importance of social skills and networking; (3) students who had previous work experience reported higher perceived levels of work-readiness; (4) curriculum review was needed to ensure inclusion of more practical WIL components in the degree program; and (5) the provision of opportunities where knowledge gained in courses could be applied in professional contexts was considered to be highly desirable. A major limitation of this study was the small sample size. Other limitations are that the data collection took place in a single university and with students in the same year level – the final year of the Bachelor of Business program. The cross-sectional study provided the basis for future longitudinal research on the factors that impact on and promote international students’ perceptions of their employability. The current study aimed to contribute to development of SCCT and the concept of career self-efficacy. The research also made an applied contribution in terms of recommendations for curriculum change within business degrees offered by Australian universities.

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Thesis (Masters)
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Master of Education and Professional Studies Research (MEdProfStRes)
School Educ & Professional St
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Business education
Employability skills
International students
Social cognitive career theory
Work integrated learning
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