Global Internships: A Win-Win-Win for Universities, Students, and Employers

Global Internships: A Win-Win-Win for Universities, Students, and Employers

Higher education institutions are under intense pressure from both students and employers to produce career-ready graduates.

Photo: CIEE

Global internships can foster a more diverse and inclusive campus community

Employers and governments are under equal pressure to source high quality talent amid declining youth populations and acute skill gaps in industries most critical to future economic growth.

In parallel, demand for work-based experiential learning opportunities such as global internships continues to rise globally.  According to a study from IIE, the number of US students participating in international internships increased by 33% between 2008 and 2018 (IIE, Rise of Remote Global Internships, 2021).

Similarly, based on data from the US Department of State, the number of non-US students participating in the BridgeUSA J1 Intern program increased by 27% between 2016 and 2019 even as new international students to the US decreased by 7%.  The value of these programs as critical pathways to career readiness is increasingly becoming clear.

Global Internships are an essential strategy for universities and employers.

Given these global trends, how could global internships be an opportunity both for institutions who are trying to reinforce the value of degrees and employers who are seeking talent?

First, let’s define what global internships are.  A global internship is a work-integrated learning experience where one works with an organisation outside one’s home or study country on a short-term basis (one month to one year).

These experiences allow participants to apply learnings from the classroom to a work setting while gaining real-world experience in a global context.  These experiences can be organised by the university in which students are enrolled or recently enrolled or facilitated by providers like CIEE.

The benefits to universities that offer global internships include enhancing the value of a degree at their institution with prospective students; achieving internationalisation goals; fostering a more diverse and inclusive campus community; and advancing student success.

For employers, as global talent shortages continue to intensify, tapping into cross-border talent will be key to building new pipelines of talent, particularly to fill jobs with more specialised skills. Global internships can bridge the gap between universities, students, and employers.

Global Internships are transformative for students; why is participation limited?

Students who participate in global internships often describe the experience as transformative. They gain advantages beyond developing the expected professional connections, relevant experience, and valuable skills such as communication, teamwork, problem-solving, adaptability, and intercultural competence.

Exposure to different cultures, languages, and lifestyles broadens their horizons and perspectives on global issues, opportunities, and career paths.

While numerous studies have shown that internships enhance employability, are integrated into the curriculum by higher education institutions and growing in popularity, participation in internships outside one’s home country remains limited.

In the US, for example, while 70% of US students graduating from the class of 2019, representing over 2.1M students, reported having completed an internship experience (NACE, 2020), IIE reports that only about 25,000 US students reported having worked abroad or completed an international internship (IIE, Rise of Remote Global Internships, 2021).

Even the EU’s signature youth mobility program, ERASMUS, reaches less than 10% of European graduates.

“Institutions must be intentional in helping young people develop intercultural competencies”

As the world becomes increasingly global, it is imperative that institutions be more intentional in helping young people develop the intercultural competencies needed to successfully transition into and thrive in global workplaces.

This all starts with work-integrating learning experiences like global internships.

Tapping into Global Internships

Yet, taking advantage of the opportunities that global internships can offer is not so simple.  For one, immigration policies do not always embrace cross-border talent.  On the higher education side, establishing partnerships with employers in other countries is not so easy – it’s the same for employers.

Just the simple exercise of vetting which institutions or which employers to partner with is no easy feat.  Furthermore, even when you’ve found the right partners, ensuring that students have a successful experience while managing the intersecting factors of language, culture, health, and safety concerns is resource intensive.

When we layer on top of this the need to ensure access for students from diverse backgrounds, be it geographic, racial, socio-economic or a host of other factors, the issues can seem daunting.

“There are many successful models which have effectively leveraged global internships to prepare students for the global workplace”

The good news is that there are many examples of successful models which have overcome these challenges.  At CIEE’s Global Internship Conference (GIC) taking place in Berlin, Germany June 21-23, there will be an opportunity to learn more from thought leaders and practitioners alike.

Discussions will highlight case studies of successful models which have effectively leveraged global internships to prepare the next generation of talent for the global workplace while also challenging us to consider the challenges that remain to be solved.

PIE subscribers may register for GIC with the PIE preferred rate by using discount code “PIE_200_GIC23”.

As the world of work continues to evolve and the need for greater alignment between higher education and industry intensifies, higher education institutions and employers need to consider new opportunities to prepare and source career ready talent.


About the author: Linda Liu is the Vice President of Strategic Initiatives & Partnerships at CIEE. In this role, Linda leads CIEE’s Internships and Professional Exchanges (IPEX) division which focuses on delivering global work-integrated learning experiences for young people in the US and more than 70 countries around the world. She also oversees the organisation’s premier Global Internship Conference. Prior to joining CIEE, Linda held various leadership positions at the College Board including as VP of International where she led the organisation’s work to connect international students with higher education opportunities globally through the SAT and Advanced Placement programs. Linda spent the early part of her career as a management consultant,including at Deloitte consulting, where she advised some of the world’s largest companies across the pharmaceutical, banking, professional services and insurance industries. Linda holds an MBA from the Wharton school of Management at the University of Pennsylvania and a BA in Economics and East Asian Studies from the University of Chicago.



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