The global social network

International universities are weaving a worldwide web of opportunity for their students, Jessica Moore discovers

The benefits of international study go way beyond a high quality, internationally respected and accessible education.

They go further than the financial advantages, which can include comparatively low living costs and fees. The opportunity to build a global social and professional network can be incredibly valuable in the long term, as an increasing number of UK students are discovering.

In today’s competitive job market, who you know can be every bit as important as what you know. As international students are likely to live, work and socialise with a broad mix of people, their pool of contacts is likely to be larger and more diverse than those of their UK-based counterparts.

This can improve both the richness of their education and their employment prospects after graduation. As Marie Vivas, director of admissions at Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany, puts it: “Our students graduate with a network all over the world.”

At Jacobs, students are actively encouraged to build international networks from the first day they set foot on campus. It’s a remarkably international environment, with 75 per cent of the student body coming from outside Germany, representing more than 110 nationalities. “Networking is part of our founding mission,” says Vivas.

“The university was set up by a group of physicists who felt that scientific research really happens across borders and through collaboration, so they wanted the scientists who came from Jacobs to be able to work well with people from all over the world, and to have contacts internationally.”

The university makes an effort to ensure that this happens. New students go through a programme of ‘inter-cultural training’, where they encounter different learning styles and cultural outlooks and start to work together in teams.

This type of interaction is attractive to a number of British students and their parents. With an increasing number of international programmes being taught in English, universities throughout the world are drawing students from the UK and America. As well as an academic opportunity, these courses offer students three years of international networking.

That stands them in good stead after they graduate. “Our students go on to further study or into jobs all over the place, and wherever they go, there is likely to be someone there from Jacobs to meet up with,” says Vivas.

Technology can help, too, she points out: “On Facebook and LinkedIn, students might post that, for example, they’re going to be in Sydney for six months and they wonder if anyone can set them up with a job or some advice. That kind of thing happens all the time. Our students and alumni meet up all over the world, both physically and through social media. It’s a very strong international network.”

Networking can be key to the learning environment as well as to the social experiences at international universities. At Bocconi University in Milan, for example, the annual Bocconi & Jobs careers event enables students to meet high fliers from international organisations. At the jobs fair, companies such as Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley, Deloitte and PricewaterhouseCoopers may recruit students straight out of university.

The university also organises a variety of conferences and round-table events. For example, it has held Investment Saturdays, during which representatives from investment banks visited over a series of Saturdays and spoke to the students about the corporate culture of their organisations.

This offered not only the chance to learn more about potential employers, but also an opportunity to extend contacts. At Jacobs, students are also offered a number of opportunities to start building international professional networks. “We get people from companies all over the world to hold seminars or workshops about employment opportunities,” Vivas explains. “We’ve recently had people come from Kraft foods, Cadbury, Microsoft, and Mars.”

By extending their professional and their social networks beyond their national borders, the international students of today are likely to be best placed to become the high-flying hot shots of tomorrow.

Jacobs and Bocconi are among the universities exhibiting at the Student World Fair, at the Emirates Stadium, London, on 17 March 2012.