Why digital skills courses are gaining popularity among int’l students

Steven Spielberg

The landscape of tertiary education is changing, and so are students’ decision-making process in choosing a degree. Thanks to accelerated digitisation fostered by a competitive employment market, digital skills are hot in demand among employers — a reality that hasn’t gone unnoticed by international students. 

A recent survey by Redseer found that overseas bound-Indian students are increasingly favouring skills-based courses, with 70% opting for specialised courses. Their degree selection corresponds with the current job market’s demands for tech professionals, such as software engineers and data scientists. 

Digital skills courses gain popularity among international students

Foundational online courses emphasising digital skills, such as programming and analytics, are gaining popularity among Indian students. Source: Thomas Samson/AFP

“In terms of opportunities, the demand for skill-based courses such as data analysis, AI, ML, cybersecurity happens to be in international locations. Although Indian universities are starting these courses, the demand is much greater than its availability,” Priyanka Nishar, founder and vice-chairperson of Mumbai-based Azent Overseas Education, was quoted saying in Financial Express. 

A separate finding by Coursera Skill Report 2022 confirms this trend —  foundational courses on the massive open online course (MOOC) provider focusing on digital skills are popular among Indian youths, as many believe it would aid them in landing a job. 

“In terms of opportunities, the demand for skill-based courses such as data analysis, AI, ML, and cyber security happens to be present at international locations and this demand is here to stay for the next two decades,” Shubham Gupta, a Delhi-based student who is hoping to study Information Technology at the University of Queensland, was reported saying to The Indian Express. 

“Hence, after considering all necessary factors I chose to study IT and not any other generic course. Education is of no use if it cannot generate employment… at least that’s what I believe,” added Gupta.

Digital skills courses: A ‘passport’ for global employability ? 

The educational trend observed in India isn’t an anomaly; reports from other countries confirm that popular degrees among international students lean heavily towards fields of study that heavily integrate emerging sciences. 

According to the National Centre for Educational Statistics (NCES) in the US, the two most common degrees conferred in the country are from business studies and health-related programmes. Both fields are utilising new technologies such as big data and artificial intelligence to streamline decision-making and improve outcomes, resulting in a high demand for digitally-literate graduates.  

Digital skills courses gain popularity among international students

STEM degrees fare well in terms of post-graduation employability and are classified as high-skilled careers, which increases immigration prospects and global mobility for international students. Source: Joaquin Sarmiento/AFP

In the UK, computer science has joined the ranks of business and finance degrees as a top study pick for non-EU international students, with 10,330 first year students recorded in the 2019-20 academic year. The choice is hardly surprising considering the current UK job market: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) graduates show the highest earning power, while degrees such as computer information systems and computer systems engineering have spiked over 2000% in demand within a year. 

Beyond employability, pursuing degrees that advance digital skills and technical knowledge for STEM-based careers makes sense in terms of global mobility. For instance, the UK’s move to attract global talent through the Graduate Route work visa and the High Potential Individual (HPI) visa may incentivise foreign students to select a degree that would lead to high-earning jobs in data expertise and information technology. 

Similarly, the US has opted to expand its Optional Practical Training (OPT) programme to add 22 new STEM fields, allowing international graduates from American universities to work up to 24 months after graduation. 

In Canada, international students can obtain a post-graduation work permit (PGWP) to work up to three years in the country, which could potentially qualify them for a permanent residency. Studies show that three out of 10 graduates successfully immigrate to Canada within a decade of getting their first student permit. Among PGWP holders in the workforce, careers in oil and gas, finance, healthcare, scientific and technical services, as well as manufacturing and construction recorded a higher annual median salary compared to jobs in other sectors. 

All this data points to a strong correlation between technological literacy, employment outcomes, and global mobility — factors which will shape international students’ choices in higher education for years to come. 

Why digital skills courses are gaining popularity among int’l students

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