For International Education Week, we spoke to John Crawford, Team Leader, Education at Scottish Development International, about the importance of being globally mobile

How important do you think it is for learners to gain international experience when considering their future careers?

Hugely important. With more companies selling into international markets, and with growth in global supply chains, there is greater demand for workers with international experience who are prepared to be more globally mobile. Companies are interested in taking on people who can engage and communicate with their customers, buyers and suppliers around the world. International experience can help you to more easily understand the trade issues, bridge gaps and solve problems that sometimes arise due to differences in international business culture. 

Why does having an international outlook matter to Scottish learners from an education and skills point of view?

From an individual learner’s perspective, having an international outlook and learning languages is so important, as it can help to increase their employment prospects. Six out of ten employers highlighted that they would give extra credit for international student experience, according to a 2015 QS world university rankings report.

From an education sector point of view, internationalisation is equally important. International trade in services, and in particular in education, is a growth area and a huge opportunity for Scottish education institutes. The OECD has projected that, with demographic changes, international student mobility is likely to reach 8 million students per year by 2025. With five universities in the world’s top 200 and an education system held in high global esteem, Scottish education institutes are well placed to take advantage of this growth in global demand for education, not only in terms of the high numbers of international students attracted to Scotland, but through the opportunity to deliver Transnational Education (TNE) overseas. 

More widely, why is having an international outlook important to Scotland from an economic development perspective?

As a small, open economy Scotland relies on trading with the rest of the world to grow its businesses, attract investment and skills, and drive productivity growth. Overseas trade presents new market opportunities and also stimulates innovation by exposing companies and individuals to global competition. 

Whilst the volume of Scotland’s international sales are growing, national export performance relies on a small number of firms in a limited number of sectors. With such a fragile export base, having a greater global mindset could really help to stimulate the internationalisation of individuals and companies in our economy. 

I passionately believe that we need to raise the international ambition and confidence of Scottish individuals and businesses to trade overseas. For instance, a survey of UK companies found that a quarter of these lost out on international business due to a lack of foreign language skills. There’s a ‘nice to have’ attitude towards foreign language skills which we need to move away from. 

If you could give one piece of advice to a Scottish learner, what would it be?

Learn another language. With English the international language of trade - for the time being at least - we have a comparative advantage as native English speakers. However, I’d recommend learning other languages and if possible, trying to spend some time working overseas. For instance, there is global demand to learn English – this gives you a paid ticket around the world! I learned Spanish and French and worked in Colombia, France and Belgium before embarking on a career. Getting in touch with the British Council network to discover and source opportunities would be a great place to start.

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