In today’s hyper-connected, communication-obsessed world, the dream of pursuing a foreign degree knows no national or racial boundaries. Anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that developed countries such as the US, the UK, Australia, Singapore, Canada, New Zealand and Germany are among the most popular ‘study abroad’ destinations worldwide.
According to the 2018 World University Rankings by Times Higher Education, even smaller countries like the UAE, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Hong Kong and Austria are witnessing a steady growth in their international student population every year. Despite increasingly insular attitudes among some of these education hotspots, studying abroad seems like a trend that is likely to stay the course in the coming few years as well.
While there is no doubt about the advantages of studying abroad, it’s not a decision to be taken in haste. One must think through all the possibilities before putting themselves out there.
A possibility that’s often overlooked is what if we choose to come back to our home country after an international degree! In this article, we have compiled a list of questions one should ask oneself before leaving home, along with probable suggestions, some practical advice packed with useful information, so that you can make an informed choice before you take the plunge.
#1. Is Your Degree Valid In Your Home Country?
Your foreign degree may not be valid in your home country so if you are considering studying at an institution that is not accredited from a recognised global, regional or national accreditation body, you may hit quite a few roadblocks. Here are a few things you need to think about if you plan to return to your home country after completing your studies abroad:
- Accreditation: Is your institute of choice accredited by an international or even local accreditation agency?
- Quality: Is the institution or university prestigious and globally recognised for its quality of education?
- Recognition & Standard Of International Qualifications: Is your international qualification recognised by the government and employers in your home country? Is it comparable to a domestic degree?
- Authenticity: Does your institute have a long, unbroken history of existence? If yes, it is likely authentic and therefore unlikely to cause you problems related to recognition, comparability and maybe even accreditation.
- Reciprocity: Does your institution have a reciprocal arrangement with a university in your country to validate each other’s degrees?
- Accords: Are both your countries part of a multi-country accord or protocol that can validate and provide equivalence to your degree? For example, The Bologna Process recognises degrees from 48 European countries so Europeans with a qualification from one country can still apply for a job in another with few questions raised about their degree’s validity.
- Credits transfer: If you have to return home without completing your degree, will you be allowed to transfer the credits you have already earned to a university at home? Or will you have to start a degree in your home country from scratch?
A number of accreditation agencies ensure that the quality of education is maintained at a certain level by assessing the performance and results of institutions and determining whether they meet the accrediting body’s standards. For example, the International Network for Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education (INQAAHE) works closely with educators and National Accreditation bodies worldwide to promote excellence in higher education.
Local agencies such as Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) in the USA, European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA) and University Grants Commission (UGC) in India are also responsible for evaluating and managing education standards in their respective regions.
Keep in mind that professional degrees, such as medicine, nursing, pharmacy, law, accountancy and architecture awarded by foreign institutions may be reviewed and accredited by your country’s professional councils or bodies, so if your degree does not meet their specific standards and benchmarks, it might be deemed invalid.
Also, online degrees, distance education degrees and non-degree foreign qualifications such as certificates and diplomas are not recognised by the accreditation bodies and governments of some countries.
Some designated agencies are in charge of recognising and comparing international qualifications and skills. For example, NARIC does this on behalf of the UK government to ensure that job applicants with international degrees are qualified to work in the UK. Similarly, returning Australian citizens can contact an Australian state of territory government Overseas Qualifications Unit (OQU) to know if their overseas qualification compares and is valid in Australia. Check if your country has a similar arrangement for returnees with foreign degrees.
If your institution is accredited, enjoys a good reputation around the world and has prestige associated with it, it is very likely that your country’s government and employers will recognise your degree.
#2. What Are The Industry Realities? What Are Your Job Prospects?
It is possible that the qualification you obtained abroad may not necessarily be high on the employability scale in your home country. Even if your degree is valid and recognised, its contribution to improve your job prospects depends on the industry and job profile you’re targeting in your home country. In addition, some hiring managers are only open to hiring internationally qualified candidates if they have graduated from a university that is in a particular country (like the USA) or is on their list of ‘qualified’ (i.e. good) universities. In such cases, your job prospects are likely to be better if your foreign institution is known to the hiring manager and is trusted in your country.
For example, a STEM (Science/Technology/Engineering/Mathematics) degree from a good US university will probably improve your ‘job prospects’ in your home country because such professionals are in high demand almost everywhere. Keep in mind, though, that the salary you’re likely to earn in your home country might be less in comparison to the salary you can expect to earn in the US. However, you may be able to command higher salaries in your home country if you back up your foreign degree with foreign work experience.
On the other side of the spectrum, an international degree in Philosophy or Latin may not grant you the same ‘cachet’ in your home country’s job market.
In some industries, your foreign qualification may actually be a hindrance by rendering you ‘over-qualified’. If your industry is highly competitive with a huge supply of available candidates with similar qualifications, your international degree may not be enough to differentiate you from the rest unless you graduated from an ‘Ivy League’ or any other highly-ranked international school. Also, potential employers in your home country may be more inclined to hire you based factors such as skills, previous experience, attitude and even personal/professional network.
Consider all these realities before you start walking down the study abroad path. Also, do your research, adjust your expectations, be open to opportunities and find ways to fill any skill gaps you may have.
#3. What Does Your Financial Future Look Like?
In addition to salaries and other career-related factors, you must also review your current financial situation and try to visualise your financial future. Going abroad can be a huge drain on financial resources so the decision must be made only after a thorough and unemotional analysis of your economic status and wherewithal.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Am I solvent enough to finance my studies abroad? Once I am there, how will I manage my living situation?
- If I am not financially well-off, what avenues are available to me? Loans, scholarships, grants? Should I borrow from friends, current employer, parents?
- If I have to take out a loan, what interest rate am I likely to pay? What are its other terms and conditions? Is there a discount (for women students, for example)? Will I have to place any of my assets as ‘lien’ against the loan?
- Am I already in a position to repay the loan comfortably without affecting my family’s or my future financial health?
- If not, how will I manage my debt? Are my job prospects good enough to give me a path for steady debt repayment? Do I have other sources of income I can tap into?
Find these answers first before you take the leap to go abroad.
#4. Does Your Personal Situation Conform With Your Study Abroad Aspirations?
When you’re planning to go abroad for studies, your personal situation should also be considered before you make any final decisions.
In this context, think about your:
- Commitments: How is your family likely to be affected by your international sojourn? If you have aged/ailing parents, how will your move affect them? While you study, will your spouse work and support you financially? If you have young children, will you be taking them with you? What kind of arrangements do you need to make for their schooling and care? These considerations will affect your current and future financial situation.
- Costs: If you’re giving up a job or business or another regular source of income to go abroad, consider the likely repercussions on your financial and career prospects. Can you afford to give up the income if you are a full-time student? Even if you get a part-time job abroad, it may not be enough to cover all your living expenses and loan obligations. On the career front, taking time off can cause a ‘gap’ in your résumé, which is not seen in a favourable light by some employers in some countries. Personally as well, an international study break can take a toll on personal relationships as well.
- Culture Shock: Even knowing the language or culture of the country you’re aiming to study in does not inure you from culture shock. Reverse Culture Shock: Once you come back to your home country, you may suffer from reverse culture shock and the effects may take some time to abate. This can be exacerbated if your study abroad experience was not as rosy or positive as you expected it would be.
Before You Leave…
For many people, studying abroad can be an intellectually rewarding experience and bring them personal and professional satisfaction. However, despite what admissions officers and education agents say, leaving your home country to study abroad is not always a straightforward or uncomplicated process. Therefore, before pursuing an overseas degree, you must consider various factors and keep an open mind to all possibilities.