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UK industry needs 'global graduates'. But what does that mean?

‘Global Graduates’ is the new buzz phrase amongst graduate employers and higher education institutions. It is essential, says Mark Pettitt, that the UK seeks to encourage the production of ‘global graduates’ for the future of the UK economy

‘Global graduates’ is a concept with which the UK is familiar, but not one we are reportedly treating as seriously as is perhaps required. Researchers believe that the UK is not making enough efforts to produce a generation of global minded graduates, nor a generation who will be able to successfully develop our economy in an increasingly competitive and internationalised marketplace.

The Association of Graduate Recruiters found, for example, that '61 per cent of recruiters have problems recruiting' because candidates for graduate positions do not possess the soft skills, work experience and business acumen as is required by international organisations. Global businesses naturally require global talent – something in which the UK is reportedly developing a deficit.

It must be clarified that ‘global’ in this sense does not mean ‘multi-lingual’. Global graduates, as according to Sonja Stockton, director or talent at PricewaterhouseCoopers, are those who 'can take a global perspective' and 'can work in multi-disciplinary, multi-cultural and multi-locational teams'. To succeed in a global context the UK needs to seek to develop generations of young people who are culturally agile and aware of the wider world.

Employers seem to be attempting to drive the agenda, with 79 per cent stating that 'knowledge and awareness of the wider world' is more important than a degree subject and classification. Figures from the Erasmus Programme - a European Union educational exchange program for Higher Education students, teachers and institutions - suggest however that too few students are responding to such drivers. In 2010/11 the UK had the lowest participation rate with 12,833 affiliated with the programme. This is compared with 30,274 from Germany, 31,747 from France and 36,183 from Spain.

A YouGov poll claims that only 48 per cent of UK students believe that an international experience would benefit them in obtaining work. This consequently raises the question: are UK educational institutions doing enough to promote awareness of the benefits to employability brought by an international experience?

While it might seem somewhat non-committal, the answer is that we are improving.bThe number of UK students participating in Erasmus increased by approximately 25 per cent between 2007/8 to 2010/11, yet in reality that figure is 1 per cent less than the total growth in student mobility for the Erasmus Programme as a whole for the same time period.

Nevertheless, UK universities, as is required, are responding to the need of creating global graduates by exploring further avenues through which they can create more opportunities for students to develop in global settings. One such method of doing so is through establishing an overseas campus so students may study internationally as part of their degree, or in building study abroad or internship programs into degree courses either as an additional or an accredited option. Universities that are working on - and promoting the benefits of - initiatives such as these should be commended as they are helping to spearhead the UK’s drive in producing global graduates for the future.

The promotion and development of such initiatives, and the benefits to graduate employability from international experiences, seems to be rubbing off on students and graduates. For instance, increasing numbers of young people are seeking out opportunities to further their personal and professional development through internships in China. The demand for such opportunities can be seen in the increased supply of China-specific professional internship program providers which have established themselves in the UK market within the previous decade.

The increasing demand for professional internship opportunities in China is most certainly a good thing for Britain. At the China-Britain Business Council Conference 2013, David Cameron spoke of the importance of China and Britain’s relationship, and the need for Britain to strengthen that relationship. As with many countries, if Britain is to succeed in further developing meaningful links with China, it is essential that institutions seek to actively produce generations of young people who understand the country’s unique business culture.

It is imperative that we encourage, throughout all levels of education, an appreciation of other cultures and fuel an intellectual curiosity that will translate into producing global citizens amongst our younger generations. Failure to do so will force global business to cherry-pick global graduates from an alternative talent pool. Opportunities such as the Erasmus Exchange Programme and international internships must not be missed, and should be actively encouraged and promoted to students at all levels. The benefits to personal and professional development of international experiences should not be underestimated and the UK must continue to seek and promote such opportunities to young people if it wishes to remain a global leader.

Mark Pettitt works for CRCC Asia, one of the leading providers of professional internships in China for UK students and graduates