Universities must create connections to work life for international students

Blog post

It is absolutely evident that Finland is in a dire need of international technology experts.

How do we turn the employment trend upwards in Finland? Recruitment of highly-skilled international labour, and especially the employment of international students into Finland, have been seen as crucial factors in this respect.

Based on statistics from the Finnish National Agency for Education, in 2018 only 33 % of university graduates with international backgrounds and a degree in ICT (i.e., exactly the kind of persons Finland is in dire need of!) had found employment as a specialist in Finland within three years of graduation. There is no trick that can paint this share as adequate.

Some 50 % of these professionals had left Finland entirely within three years of their graduation. The fact that these people find high-quality employment outside of Finland is a testament to the fact that our education system produces expertise that is in demand on the global labour market. Finnish companies must learn to better utilise this expertise.

We must tackle the reasons behind the phenomenon and solve the problem. The most significant factor keeping international students in Finland is finding a job before graduation. This is the conclusion of an article by Charles Mathies and Hannu Karhunen (Kotoutumisen kokonaiskatsaus [Overall Review of Integration], 2019). TEK’s own studies clearly demonstrate how work experience and contacts acquired during one’s studies explain good employment prospects at the point of graduation. In practice, careers in the Finnish technology and ICT sectors begin long before graduation.

Clearly, it is difficult to accumulate as much work experience during a two-year international master’s programme than when you complete both your bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Finland, which takes six years on average. A graduating Finnish academic engineer has, on average, two more years of work experience than a graduating international specialist. A Finnish academic engineer also often completes their master’s thesis for a company that will employ them after graduation.

Separating the master’s programmes taught in English from other teaching rarely promotes the dissemination of work life and sector-related information. Gaining access to this information would be significant for the integration of international students. The “Finnish work life” module is not enough to pass on all that meta information that a Finnish tech student learns from their academic engineer parents, for example. The student associations and guilds at universities have a vital and challenging role to play in the integration of international students and the expanding of their networks. The international master’s programmes of universities need structures that better integrate international students into working life already during their studies.

This work requires both universities and employers. International students must be able to find enough contacts in work life and opportunities to demonstrate their expertise to potential employers. Here the companies are in a key position. We need employers who understand the potential of this group of people. It is absolutely evident that Finland is in a dire need of international technology experts.