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International internships: an evolving sector
December 14, 2014, 2:37 pm

An internship abroad is a costly investment, financially, socially and time-wise. But with the importance of international work placements growing, many students are turning to commercial companies offering to set up an internship, or looking for help from universities and governments keen to enable such an opportunity.

Businesses, educational institutions and governments around the world are now fostering a more controlled, open and incentivized internship landscape that, in many cases, are backed by a national desire to internationalize.

For example, the Australian government recently committed AUS$10 million of funding towards the next phase of the New Colombo Plan (NCP), which has already dispatched over 1,300 Australian students from 38 of the country’s universities to Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Japan for work and study placements.

With the increasing need for cultural competencies, international internships give students personal growth as they become more independent, flexible and open to alternative perspectives, while increasing their confidence. Also, with increasing demand for being ‘Asia literate’, interning in Asia helps students build their careers.

Universities in the UK too are increasing their outbound student mobility through internships prioritizing overseas placements to acquire global competencies and intercultural awareness which are being demanded by all employers, whether large or small. Inbound students visiting the UK are also gaining short-term mobility experience by now applying for internships through various programs, including Tier 4 summer placements, Tier 5 placements, university one-year sandwich placements and working holiday visas.


Overseas Student Service Centre (OSSC) in the UK, that mainly deals with Middle-Eastern, Chinese and Southeast-Asian students in the UK, is enabling onshore opportunities: convincing UK businesses of the value of international students taking an internship.

On the other hand, in Canada, businesses are definitely taking advantage of the talented pool of 1,300 Brazilian students entering the country on four-month internships through the Science without Borders scheme.

Historically, hospitality, tourism, agriculture and forestry have been popular sectors, but with a surge in interest around STEM subjects, universities and businesses need to collaborate more to accommodate this demand and make internships a credit-forming part of higher education.

Also, regulations in various countries need to become clearer. Grey areas such as payment and visas need to be replaced with clearly understood guidelines that can be agreed upon by all universities, students and host companies.

As well as regulation, clarification around the expectations of internships, seen from the student’s point of view, can also be beneficial for those considering placements. One website that has put students back in the driving seat is US-based Go Overseas. It incentivizes students to leave reviews to help other students through competitions such as its third annual ‘Leave-A-Review’ contest, with prizes such as travel vouchers, backpacks and other travel-related accessories. Another portal incentivizing students is Swedish-based Sqore running competitions with internship prizes for recruits from all types of backgrounds.

While the international internship market is fast-growing, it is still a relatively new concept. High-quality operators will have to validate the industry and push through to raise performance standards.

Millennials who want to travel often feel the need to justify their time doing so professionally. For those who want to improve their employability in increasingly competitive job markets, interning abroad is the ideal way to travel while developing critical professional experience.

As a new wave of commercialization of international internships takes hold, education providers, businesses and governments will need to move quickly to cater for this burgeoning market. Collaboration will be key, and quality and transparency will hold together the mutual benefits for businesses and students alike.



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