October 2018 - July 2019
Interchange offers international students a one-of-a-kind platform of theoretical and practical employability skills, where they can establish and extend both their local and international network. Over three full workshop days, inter-university teams create a simulated start-up, identifying and addressing real-life problems facing international students such as employability, social and language barriers and housing. The student teams are supported and mentored by previous participants and professional industry experts. Students have the opportunity to visit start-up incubators, accelerators and co-working spaces across Sydney.
The Interchange program, co-funded by Study NSW and various NSW universities, is a unique entrepreneurial partner project that focuses on strengthening the international student community across Sydney. In 2019, the University of New South Wales hosted the program along with seven participating universities: Australian Catholic University, University of Technology Sydney, University of Notre Dame, University of Newcastle, University of Sydney, Central Queensland University and Western Sydney University. These partners brought together 200 international students from all disciplines and levels of study.
In a globally competitive world, many international students take an investment approach to studying abroad and the ability to build employability skills whilst studying in Australia is considered very valuable. Interchange provides a platform for international students to develop these crucial employability skills and networks while studying in Australia. Interchange is part of the work integrated learning journey and provides students a chance to work on real-world problems in a fast paced and engaging manner. Interchange also combats the problem of social isolation as inter-varsity teams work closely together for a month, making new networks and friends.
Interchange enables students to build employability skills such as teamwork, communication, problem solving and creative thinking skills. As part of this it encourages students to network and build local Australian and international networks by exposing them to the NSW start-up and entrepreneurial ecosystem including incubators and co-working spaces. Interchange improves the employability skills of international students including their English language skills and gives them 'real world' Australian work experience. Student Shih Liz Ee found Interchange to be 'an invaluable experience, which definitely opened my eyes to new ideas and also helped me in further developing my current skill sets. It was also great to be able to collaborate and connect with so many bright-minded individuals.'
The project deliverables include the involvement of 250 international students as well as peer advisors, student volunteers and industry mentors. The collaboration of eight universities with a host university sharing in the coordination of the event with the FRANK team. There is the inclusion of TedX style speaking opportunities from Australian entrepreneurs and interactive workshops covering lean start-up methodology and key employability skills. Students are given the opportunity to attend site visits to entrepreneurship incubators and co-working spaces and to attend the Live Gala Pitch event featuring Australian entrepreneurs, industry and NSW Government representatives.
Challenges and recommendations
This is the fifth instalment of Interchange and there is an opportunity for further institutions to be involved to ensure more international students get access to these employability and entrepreneurship opportunities. There are also opportunities to build stronger and more sustainable partnerships between the start-up community and international students. Support and guidance for students completing the program via online resources, video and referrals is also recommended.