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Work-integrated education through American universities offers Indian students a level-playing field

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By Eric S Armbrecht, PhD, Professor and Associate Provost, Saint Louis University

“Whatever your goal in life, the beginning is knowledge and experience.”
~ Henry Ford

A visionary and the founder of the global automobile giant sure recognised the importance of getting one’s hands dirty through practical work when it came to acquiring true knowledge. Learning can bear fruits only when put to practice, and experience is the only factor that helps an individual forge ahead in their chosen path. Students from India are showing increased interest in pursuing an American education to fulfil their academic and professional dreams.

American universities are regarded as pioneers in introducing education programs that encourage internships through industry collaborations, which eventually contributes to the professional success of their students. With the world recognising the importance of practical and experiential learning, students are increasingly opting for programs that offer work experience along with education.

The US is among the leading countries that offer work-integrated degree programs for their undergraduate and post-graduate students. It is estimated that more than 20% of college/university students in the country availed of internship programs in 2022. This, coupled with holistic pedagogy, ensures that the students are industry-ready by the time they receive their degrees. Hands-on experience equips students with skills such as critical thinking and problem solving, apart from improving their communication and getting them attuned to professional spaces. They are given a chance to explore all possibilities outside the confines of their classrooms, and at the same time, give them a platform to make a smooth transition into work life with confidence and realistic expectations.

We live in the age of rapid technological advancement. With digitisation making its way into every industry, there has been a marked shift in the way they function. Evolution is the order of the day, and therefore, it is critical for students to have practical knowledge of how industries function. The job market, today, is also being influenced heavily not only by technology but even by global factors such as the need for energy transition and public health services. With new industries such as green energy taking the spotlight, there is an increasing demand for skilled professionals to fill the gap in these sectors. Industry training, consequently, becomes key as sectoral experts come with both knowledge and experience that helps groom the student community as they transition into these new industries.

American universities are known for their industry-driven curricula. This direct y response to industry practices and behaviour helps students learn industry-specific skills and aligns them better with sectoral needs right from early days of their professional careers. Students with work experience are also proven to be preferred over their peers who do not have such experience when it comes to getting jobs. With the job markets increasingly getting competitive, work experience becomes a game changer for students aspiring to achieve fulfilling careers.

Establishing a symbiotic relationship between the educational institutions and industries helps foster the spirit of collaboration and innovation among students and young working professionals. Supported by industry with organic infrastructure and funding and with knowledge from the academia, internship programs go a long way in being the agents of innovation in higher education to produce the most needed talents of the workforce of today and tomorrow.

American universities are also known for embracing international students and helping them obtain their internships with programs such as Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT) . These programs, along with other experiential learning, provide international students the opportunity for a jump-start of a meaningful career pursuit . Exposure to the professional world especially helps international students adapt to the country’s work culture seamlessly after they secure jobs. It also gives them a chance to experience financial independence, which makes them more self-assured as they embark on academic and professional journeys. They also help the young professionals with networking opportunities in a foreign land, offering them a level-playing field.

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