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Why the universities who win international students will be those with provable graduate outcomes

“81% of international students see buying an international education as an investment”

This article was originally published in The PIE News in September 2020.

This year has been an incredible year of disruption for international education, writes Shane Dillon, found of Cturtle and UniAdvisor. It has rapidly brought to the forefront conversations around education delivery and the value of tertiary education in general in the 21st century.

As of March 2020, the global movement of international students has vanished and the future of the sector, the countries and university brands involved are in a state of flux.

Now more then ever before it is critical for the sector to embrace data on international graduate employment outcomes to illustrate clearly to consumers the value and return on investment an international education delivers. Numerous studies from UNICEFQS and Cturtle show clearly that employability is the most important consideration impacting student choice across Asia.

In 2019, an international student graduate successfully sued her university in the UK claiming that her degree was “fraudulently misrepresented” in the prospectus. It said that it was a “renowned centre of excellence” that offered a “high quality of teaching.” The student, who graduated with a first-class degree, said “I think they often make promises which they know will never materialise or are simply not true”.

How much bigger an issue is this when we look at the promises made of international graduate employment outcomes across the sector?

This got me thinking about what international students and their families believe they are purchasing when they pay for an international education. In other words, from an economic point of view, “what kind of good is international education?”

Since 2016, the team at Cturtle has collected education and employment data on over 1.5 million international graduates of Australian, UK and US universities who have returned to their home countries in ASEAN, Greater China, South Asia, Latin America and MENA, and surveyed over 33,000 international graduates in ASEAN and Greater China through our International Graduate Employment and Satisfaction (IGEOS) research project.

From this research we believe there is several ways students (and parents) look at this purchase.

  • Insurance (buying protection for the future)
  • Consumption (buying an experience)
  • Membership (joining an elite club or buying points to immigrate)
  • Investment (looking for a return on investment)


Are students buying an international education to mitigate the risk of falling through the cracks in society, so even if it is not a great investment it is still an important type of insurance for their future? Around 6% of international students go abroad because their parents think they should.


Are students buying a four year education-themed holiday during which they can see the world, practice English and have fun? Almost 40% of international students see the purchase as an opportunity to live abroad.


Are students buying membership into an elite club where the value is in who is excluded from the experience and the personal connections they can make along the way? Did someone say Ivy League? A total of 8% of international students choose their university based on the alumni engagement.


Finally, 81% of international students see buying an international education as an investment to “improve career opportunities” or “pursue a specific career”.

They are looking for a return on investment through employment outcomes and therefore are justified in their expectation that pre-departure information is transparent and accurate. Like any investment, the more the investor knows about the product the better investment decision they can make.

As the competition (and reliance) on international student revenue increases in the post Covid-19 world, we believe it will be universities who can prove – with data – the employment support and graduate job outcomes of their international students who will win the competition for future international student enrolments.

About the author: Shane Dillon is the founder of Cturtle, the data company and employment network for international graduates globally. Since 2016 they have connected over 250,000 international graduates with over 20,000 global hiring managers and tracked the education and employment outcomes of 1.5M international graduates globally.