Deciding a career option is one of the most daunting and challenging tasks for you if you are planning your university education. Students in the developing world often dream of studying abroad after finishing the school. Particularly challenging is when you are trying to choose the right subjects to study in the right University. A large number of students rely on education agents or consultants and simply follow the advice of these agents.
Not all education agents are as good as they are thought to be. You could be a nightmare if you end up with a university that is not suitable for you, as you will be compelled to study the subjects that are not of interests to you.
Here are some tips for you to avoid this nightmare and to enable you to command your study on your own. 10 tips presented below with some real stories (anonymized) that might help you to think and act as you step forward in advancing your education.
Tip 1: The low-cost option does not always work.
Often the education agents advise low-cost options in relation to the choice of University and subjects. This is a common mistake made by agents resulting in heavy consequences for the students.
You should keep in mind that the cheapest option is not always the best; you should remain open to options irrespective of the price. High-priced courses and the University may be a better fit for you as you may be able to find a better job in that subject area. Paying a little more at the beginning could make a big difference on the quality of your education and enhance your employability after you finish your study.
One international student, I met in Sydney ended up with a wrong choice of the university and the course. After landing in Sydney, he realized that the university he attends does not have a good reputation and the subject suggested by the education agent also did not match his future aspirations to migrate to Australia.
|Story 1: A couple of thousand dollars more would not have been a problem for me finding the right courses and the right university will make all the differences but I did not get proper advice from my agent at the time of my university enrolment. Now I am paying the cost of it.|
Tip 2: Don’t choose a University location simply because the agent recommended you!
The location of your university town may have a significant impact on your study and your student life. If you let others decide, it may not always in your favour. Not all the education agents are bad but their strategy to suggest the right courses and the right University location may not always match with your requirements. Here is an example of how a student had to enroll in a remotely located University when an agent wanted to maximize his revenue (Universities offer differential rates of commission to education agents). The higher commission rate offered by the University motivated this agent to do so. It was the student who suffered most:
|Story 2: It’s been a nightmare for me to figure out the location of my University which is quite far from Sydney, although I had been advised that it is in Sydney. I had made a plan to come to Sydney where I can do part-time work and my spouse can do full time. However, as my agent put me in a different city where it is almost impossible to find a job. It’s been a challenge for me to manage my cost of living and tuition fees.|
In addition, if you are a female student with small kid (s), the location with easy access to the kindergarten is important for you.
Tip 3: Don’t choose your course of studies in haste!
Like the choice of University and its location, selecting the right courses is a vital thing to think through in advance. You have enormous options to choose your course of studies from around 12,000 courses that Australian Universities offer every year. Be aware of the great choices well in advance before you jump into some particular courses. Be aware it is you (not your education agent) to suffer if you are not been able to find a good fit between your career interests and the course of studies.
Tip 4: Accepting your agent’s wrong advice can force you into sleepless nights
Often international students are told, “The most important part is to have your feet on Australian soil. After that, everything will just flow smoothly and click into place.” This is the most saleable statement drilled into the heads of all students who plan to study in Australia.
A student who was incorrectly enrolled in a subject that was not of his interest disclosed:
|Story 3: My first semester went well but I realised the harsh reality when I completed my first semester with very bad marks and even failed some subjects, which was a too bad experience for me. Now, I regret but it’s already too late. I just relied too heavily on my agent and did nothing on my side. If I was exposed to all this information this site offers, I would choose my subjects more wisely.|
Tip 5: Don’t assume an Australian degree always brings cross-cultural learning
Choosing the right subjects does not always work if your University environment is not good to optimize your learning.
|Story 4: I was enrolled in subjects that I was interested in but the University was not good in terms of the mixture of the students. The University is modest in terms of tuition fees that is what my agent took care more than any other things. As an international student, I wanted to maximize my cultural learning and English language competency as I am interested in staying in Australia after I finish my study. But, I ended up in a class with more than 60% of the students coming from the same country who speaks the same language but other than English. When I am in the class, I barely feel, I am in one of the Australian University where I can practice speaking English apart from the lecture.|
Tip 6: Avoid undesirable situations
You can do a lot to make your student life better. You need to be careful and smart enough to choose the right University and the right subjects in the right location.
To get most out of your study abroad mission, your first step is to carry out massive research on your own about the University, their locations, and the course of studies. Remember, you and your family are investing a big amount of money in your education. Every cent count!
You will have plenty of educational agents to choose from but spend a little bit more of your time to find the right one. You can also visit the websites other than mainstream education agents to get alternatives views/ideas that help you scrutinize the information that you have gathered from these agents.
Tip 7: Make the most out of information available on the websites and don’t rely on one agent
Remember, we are in the era of the digital world- you can find a large chunk of useful information on the internet itself. I guess most of you have some access to the internet and have some basic skills of web searching. Web sites of the Universities are the great source of information freely available to you. You can also verify your choice from word of mouth from your relatives and friends lived and studied abroad. The reviews of the former students posted in the prospective University site are also helpful for you to decide.
While searching, you need to think about the amount of tuition fee you need to pay. Generally, higher the reputation of the University, higher the amount of tuition fee they charge.
Tip 8: Remember – Universities’ reputation makes a significant difference
Having enrolled in a reputed University is always several steps ahead of your future career. One can see the difference in your quality based on the reputation of the University you studied either in the job market or in your own business. Your investment in high-quality education will be paid off.
Tip 9: Make sure your subjects of study are in the Australian Skilled Occupation List if you intend to migrate
If you are planning to settle abroad or want to get a suitable job in the country you studied, you need to think about the job prospects of the subjects you will be studying. Remember, Australian government regularly revise the list of jobs that shows the scarcity of subject matter specialists in the jobs market. The larger the number of the scarcity of the subject matter specialists, the better is the chance of getting permanent residency in Australia.
For detail, you can visit Australian Government’s Skilled Occupations List (SOL). Remember, the Australian Government updates this list regularly.
Tip 10: Not all the degrees are eligible for subsequence work visa
Be aware of the worst scenarios! Studying a good subject that has job prospect is not enough. Sometimes the duration of your degree may not compatible with the requirement of the immigration office for work visa application or for applying long-term stay (permanent residency). Cecily Huang, a former international student, writes a bitter story in The Sydney Morning Herald (one of the leading Australian newspaper).
|Story 5: I recently obtained my master’s degree in journalism from the University of Technology, Sydney. I got a full-time job offer from a well-known Chinese-Australian newspaper, but I needed a Temporary Student Visa to take this job. Unfortunately, after spending $1600 on a non-refundable visa fee, and waiting a month, my visa application was not successful, because my master’s degree was not a “two-year program.|
Is she was known this situation before she started her study, she could have enrolled in a two-year degree program.
If you carefully consider the above-mentioned general tips, you should be able to choose the right courses and the right University that suits your needs
A few days back, I received a call from a friend whom I had not met for a few years.
“I wanted your advice on what subjects my daughter should choose after completing her 12th grade,’’ he said.
“It was a challenging question for me; I did not have easy answer”. I told him what subjects to study depends on a range of factors, such as “your daughter’s interests, preferred career destinations (Nepal or abroad), her academic track records, your family’s financial capacity to pay for tuition and other educational costs, and so on.
This was not the first time I faced such education related questions from friends and relatives. But most of the time I responded them vaguely. This time I was prompted to explore a little more on issues of academic choices, so I would be in a better position to explain if others turn me for suggestions.
After all, the task of career choice is a critical challenge everywhere. Just look at this report from the Guardain (22 Jan 2013, by Tristram Hooley):
“Learning how to manage your career is a lifelong process which needs to start early on in secondary school. But government policy is leading to less rather than more career support for young people. Career management is not just something that those in danger of slipping into unemployment need to be good at – all young people are presented with a host of difficult decisions. What subjects to choose? Sixth form, college, apprenticeship or work? Which university will be best? Stay at home or live away? All of these choices have huge implications and young people are likely to need help to navigate them”.
Does your degree best fit into the job market?
Only a small proportion of educational institutions, degrees and courses are serving students well by actually providing them relevant skills to perform at the job market. A survey of 1000 industry leaders and academic managers published in Forbes magazine in 2015 shows that only half of the graduates were deemed fit to take job at the time of graduation in the United States. This proportion is even worse in the developing world.
This means graduation does not guarantee your job as all the universities are not producing job-oriented graduates. As a consequence, employers ask fresh graduates to work as interns, mostly without pay for some time before they decide to offer new graduates paid jobs. A professional media writer has written in the Guardain: “As a young professional, I undertook no fewer than five unpaid internships or work experience placements before securing a permanent job”. Likewise, for many graduates, higher degrees also seem to be a waste of time and resources, as graduates end up doing things not related to their formal degrees.
What subjects to choose?
In the article entitled what business needs and what education provides, Josh Bersin writes in the Forbes: “We don’t have a job crisis in the world, we have a skills crisis.” This is a real pathetic situation meaning that our education system is not in accordance with the skills required in the job market. Such mismatch adds difficulties for students while choosing Universities/collages, locations, degrees, and subject areas.
Education is also linked closely to students’ aspirations for migration and mobility. These days, a large number of students of the developing world want to pursue higher education in the Western world. If a student wants to work and live in a Western country after completing education, studying abroad seems a reasonable route to choose. Remember, all degrees you achieved in the Western universities are not equally good in the job market even in the country you studied. The case of developing world is different – a lot of what you learn in the Western universities may not work for you when you return your home country.
Does your degree match with the skill requirement of your country?
When the supply of educational degree and the demand for job skills does not match, the degree you get can only add more misery and challenge to your life.
A few years back, one of my colleagues who did a PhD in biotechnology returned to Nepal. After a year of failed effort in trying to find a job that could match his skills and degree, he left Nepal. It was also not possible for him to initiate a private venture either, the way medical doctors set up the private clinics on their own. The thing here is biotechnology was a subject offered by the Western Universities, a Nepali student picked up without knowing the job prospects at home.
The problem with Western education for returning students is simply a technical misfit. For instance, students of forestry in a US University are usually asked to focus on trees and forests. This is not unreasonable for an ecology focused course. Some courses are more interdisciplinary, providing students to look at how communities interact with forests. However, these courses do not contain information about the kind of poverty and poor people who live in and around forests in the developing world and how vital are there forests for their everyday livelihoods. In this case, students are not trained to tackle interconnected problem of poverty and forests. Returning home (developing country) with the knowledge not relevant to their home country can turn into a nightmare in relation to finding an appropriate job.
Problem starts from home
Education in many developing countries has its own problems that are even more serious.
My recent interaction with dozens of students studying in Nepalese and Indian universities (including those doing Masters and PhDs) confirm that there is very limited amount of critical thinking and analysis students are required to pursue. Western educational institutions far much better in terms of critical pedagogy, but the context misfit outweighs any benefit accruing from pedagogical benefits.
The most revealing case through which I learnt such pedagogical difference is from my own daughter’s reflection. After she completed the last two years of primary school in Melbourne, Australia, I asked her what differences she noticed in Australian and Nepalese education system.
“In Nepal’s math course, I just memorized a math formula without knowing what it meant, and here I understood how that formula works,” she replied.
This also reminds me of the Indian movie ‘Three Idiots” which exposes the problems of rote learning practice in India. This is problematic but has been a norm in South Asia. The schools include quite tough study materials in the curricula, but invest too little in making teaching methods effective and learning oriented. As a result of this, students ended up getting a degree rather than acquiring most out of their school education. Remember, the quality of education is the key to determine your future career and personal development.
The situation is not same everywhere. Even within the developed country such as the UK, studies show that geographical inequality significantly determines educational attainment, as per the report published by Guardain. Same is true in South Asia. Students living in and around New Delhi have access to much higher quality education than those living in Assam. This is one of the reasons why young people think of moving away from home town while choosing a University.
What subjects to study?
Besides location and University pedagogies, what subjects to study in the University is important while deciding the right educational institute.
Although there is still an intense pressure on students to choose highly acclaimed subjects such as medicine and engineering, this has reduced significantly with the introduction of new subjects and a range of new specialization areas where students can excel.
It is also important to note that a subject is not good or bad in itself; most subjects have good prospects in the job market, especially if you are among the top twenty percent.
For the majority, a careful subject choice becomes even more critical. This is where students and parents need guidance and specialist advice. My advice here is to use a clear navigational framework before you make your decision.
How to choose a right course?
In my view, the navigational framework can be seen as one consisting of a range of questions that need to be tackled in choosing locations, institutions, degrees, and subjects. These are as follows.
First, there are questions related to career: what kind of career a student enjoys – such as outdoor (like a civil engineer), lab-based (like a pathologist), community based (like a social worker), exotic context (like an astronomer or pilot) and so on. A person who recently joined civil engineering in the University of Sydney said to me: he joined the course because he liked outdoor jobs that involved moving from place to place.
Second set of questions involve ascertaining student’s competency level as per the requirements of the prospective academic institutions. These cover a wide range of areas such as choice of subject, language skills, and computational and numeracy skills. Often these determine a student’s likelihood of securing admissions with scholarships in universities abroad.
Third question is about your financial ability to invest your University fees. Many students go abroad on loans and are hard pressed to work to pay the loan back. This undermines educational achievement and subsequent employ-ability.
The four question is what is the job prospects of the subjects that you may choose to study. For instance, is the job prospect for a particular subject likely to change by the graduation time? This is probably the hardest question, but with some expert consultations on a narrow range of subjects, it is possible to arrive at some sense of how job markets are likely to evolve.
Finally, questions about which subjects to study and where have no simple answers. It is important to look at the prospects, competencies, career preferences, and the ability to finance. A simple approach is to think, explore, and consult knowledgeable people before making a final choice on the University education that will have lasting impact on your life. This is the age of internet which you can utilize to select and use information for a best possible career plan.
“Prakash Gurung had almost forgotten that he had paid hundreds of thousands to the consultant when he got the visa. But after reaching London, the college asked for money with him again. He then realized that the consultant had cheated on him by not transferring money to the college”.
“Rajani Sharma of Chitwan had applied at a college in Ireland paying 5,500 Euro (almost 6 lakhs and 21 thousand NRs). But her visa was rejected. Initially, both the college and the consultant hesitated to give her money back but she got her money back a year after taking legal action”.
The two cases mentioned above represent the plight of the Nepalese students seeking consultancy service to pursue higher education overseas. Owing to the increasing youth unemployment and lack of quality education system at home, foreign degrees have become a preferred choice of Nepalese students. Similarly, the societal perceptions towards ‘foreign educated’ have become a matter of social prestige and recognition often providing an impetus to international education.
International students’ number ever swells
In fact, Nepali students are among the 10 largest populations of foreign students in Australia, Japan, India and New Zealand. The trend of migrating for international education is increasing every year. The Ministry of Education in Nepal issued a total of 30, 696 no-objection letters for prospective students in the fiscal year 2014-15, compared to 28,126 in the previous year which clearly hints at the craze of international education among Nepali students.
Educational consultancy becoming an ‘industry’
It is estimated that there are about 1,000 educational consultancies in Nepal alone although all of them haven’t been legally registered. Walking down Putalisadak or Baghbazar any morning till evening, we can find thousands of young students at study abroad centres seeking counseling services to materialize their dream. Lured by the promise of student visas and affordable education among others, they throng at these service centres with much enthusiasm and hope. However, students in most cases don’t have even the basic knowledge about the geographical location, environment and culture of their destination countries.
Lured by the promise of student visas and affordable education among others, they throng at these service centres with much enthusiasm and hope. However, students in most cases don’t have even the basic knowledge about the geographical location, environment and culture of their destination countries.
What international students are to expect from educational consultancies?
While it is natural for students to seek professional help to ensure that they are making an informed choice, it is equally important to have done this with a certain level of research. Questions relating to study decisions such as: What are the minimum requirements of the University in the subjects they wish to study? How is the visa process for the corresponding country? How is the job prospect in the subject of your study? How you plan to cover your study cost? If there is any possibility of getting a scholarship to cover your full or part of the study cost.
These questions are vital but the majority of the international students often do not adequately contemplate them. “It’s very rare to get students exploring about their own further study themselves in Nepalese case. They can take information from the students who are already there as well”, says Suman Bhattarai, who went to the USA for further study without knocking the door of consultancies. He added that spending few months surfing about the colleges and their admission requirements will easily help to get things done as international colleges and universities give a clear information about academic requirements, scholarship provisions and the documents to be submitted while applying in their websites.”
Have you checked whether you have chosen a registered consultancy !
It is distressing to note that many educational consultancies have been operating the business without registering with Educational Consultancy and Accreditation Section at the Ministry of Education (MOE). “Educational Consultancies are mushrooming and some individuals have infiltrated them with the intent of serving their vested interests,” said a government official at MOE seeking anonymity. Ranging from the trafficking of persons to foreign countries in the name of abroad study to collecting money from aspiring students for visa processing to send them to Japan, Cyprus, New Zealand, Australia and Canada, the fraudulent business practices remain unabated.There have been instances of a police raid in Kathmandu in the recent past whereby such educational agents have been nabbed and put behind the bars.
Ranging from the trafficking of persons to foreign countries in the name of abroad study to collecting money from aspiring students for visa processing to send them to Japan, Cyprus, New Zealand, Australia and Canada, the fraudulent business practices remain unabated.There have been instances of a police raid in Kathmandu in the recent past whereby such educational agents have been nabbed and put behind the bars.
What support is supposed to offer by educational consultancies?
But with the increasing international enrollments through agents who are being considered as prominent local advisors to provide support for the complex decisions and the processes related to it, it isn’t possible to downplay their role completely. They have been assisting students with everything from study plan counseling to pre-departure intensive language classes, arranging for standardized tests, flight reservations, planning for required insurance, visa and immigration assistance, pre-departure briefings and even career guidance.
Beware of the fake/unreliable consultancies!
According to a counselor at one of the leading consultancy in Kathmandu, study abroad can’t be still decided or ‘booked’ upon in the manner in which a hotel room or holiday package can be- it is simply too large and personal an investment requiring the help of education agents. “Although some fake agents have also emerged, it is important that students make sure that they go to the certified educational consultants to seek service ”, he said reiterating that some genuine agents are offering high-quality service to students.
For various reasons, international students who are seeking Australian education may not enter into a bachelor degree right away. Entry requirements may not be met or an international student may want to dip their toes in the water before committing to a full degree.
Some international students, seeking an Australian education participate in Australian Vocational Education and Training (VET) courses instead of a bachelor’s degree and still gain valuable knowledge and skills that can be applied to the workforce.
VET courses hands on industry experience
VET courses are offered by Technical and Further Education (TAFE) institutes, private colleges or Registered Training Organisations (RTOs).
One form of Australian education that many international students choose to take is a VET course which is a sector based on the partnership between the Australian government and industry. VET courses are a great option as they often have hands-on industry experience and are a great form of Australian education that prepares international students for the workforce.
Types of VET qualifications
This form of Australian education includes the following types of qualifications for international students:
- Certificate I-IV (teaching introductory skills and vary from 6 months to a year).
- Diplomas (preparing international students for their industry of choice and usually take 1-2 years).
- Advanced diplomas (for advanced skills and can be used towards university courses, around 1.5-2 years in length).
- Vocational graduation certificate/diploma (high-level employment skills between 6 months – 2 years).
- English language courses (approx. 48 weeks).
VET courses are much cheaper than University degrees
Another benefit for international students studying a VET course instead of a university degree is the price difference, VET courses vary between $4000 to $22,000 per year (not including the cost of living) which is much cheaper than a university degree.
Entry requirements for this Australian education also vary. Most VET courses require the equivalent of Australian Year 10, 11 and 12 but in addition, some courses may require something more specific to the course such as a portfolio for an art course.
TAFE institutes that offer this Australian education are Holmesglen in Melbourne, Victoria which offer international students courses such as Engineering, Digital Media, Hairdressing, Education and much more. Another Melbourne TAFE if the Kangan Institute which is one of the most well-known Australian education providers. Kangan Institute offers international students 5 different campus locations and many courses ranging from Automotive to Visual Merchandising.
If you are an international student seeking Australian education in New South Wales, TAFE NSW has 10 different study regions and offers international students over 300 certificate, diploma, and advanced diploma courses. Alternatively, TAFE Queensland offers international students over 15 study areas with over 180 courses and really helps students prepare for life in Australia.
Means to acquire hands-on experience
Regardless of what city, state or territory in Australia an international student may want to study, students who are seeking an Australian education will find that VET courses are a fantastic option to gain hands-on experience for the workforce or to use as a pathway into an Australian University.