International education: surveying the globe

Global outlook

19 June 2018

Don Fearon explores the benefits of training a more internationally minded generation of surveyors

In recent years, the terms 'internationalisation' and 'global' appear to have become increasingly common in the language we use as property professionals and chartered surveyors. As you are no doubt aware, RICS members are currently or will soon be using the following standards:

These standards are set to provide global consistency in the way we classify, define, measure and present land and property information in simple reports and for projects at local, national and international levels. For more recent entrants to the profession, we also have to consider revisions to the APC by RICS’ Global Education and Qualifications Standards committee as well.

Looking further ahead, the RICS Futures insight paper Our changing world: let’s be ready explores the implications of key changes up to 2030. The document identifies six areas where action is required by the profession over the next few years. One of particular relevance to myself as a member employed at an academic institution is 'Winning the war for talent'. How do we attract the next generation of professionals, retain that talent, promote diversity and ensure that the right education is available to meet our sector’s needs?

The chartered status offered by RICS is recognised in most countries, and can provide you with the opportunity to work across much of the world. With a global population rapidly growing and ever urbanising, the demand for homes, offices, retail, infrastructure and transportation has never been so great in so many places. In a constantly changing world, most of us would agree that as property professionals we need to adapt and change our mindset and our work processes continuously to keep up with the changes.

If you are employed in an international company or working with international clients then this global context is of the utmost importance. However, its relevance might not be as apparent to small businesses and employers, individuals and surveying graduates – or at least, not yet.

Going global

How should you go about becoming more international? Let us not address this question by entering into a debate on Brexit, although clearly that will be relevant as time passes. Instead, we should ask what we mean by internationalisation for our own purposes.

There are various definitions of the term available, and much academic literature has been written on the subject. As with the term 'sustainable development', we think we understand the principle of internationalisation, albeit somewhat vaguely; but in reality it means different things to different people.

My own simple definition might be 'the desire and ability to adapt your way of thinking, living or working to those of a country outside your own'. Internationalisation can affect some or any of the following areas of your work and life, although not in any particular order of significance:

  • academic and career aspirations;
  • business performance and employability;
  • personal and professional development;
  • transferrable skills; and
  • social and cultural change.

Different lenses

The nature of your international ambitions will obviously differ depending on whether you are a small business, larger employer or an individual wanting to make a temporary or permanent career change. By way of brief examples, a small business may wish to review its five-year business plan and include some international intentions, even if that just means planning to acquire one new international client in this time frame. Larger employers can meanwhile review their staff recruitment and retention strategies to foster interest at all staffing levels, through measures such as extra training, secondments and exchanges with international businesses.

Surveying students and graduates in turn can more easily map their ambitions with early planning, choosing courses that include international elements and targeting the global surveying companies that offer overseas opportunities for graduate positions.


Universities, and perhaps some secondary schools, are where progress can be made to enable individuals who want to work internationally to succeed. We are fortunate that internationalisation is already high on the agenda at many UK universities, including Northumbria University where I am based.

It is included in various university-wide policy documents, and also embedded in the international strategies of universities and the Higher Education Academy, which works with governments, ministries and universities both in the UK and around the world.

Internationalisation already occurs in many contexts in universities, including:

  • culturally mixed student cohorts on many programmes;
  • student exchange and mobility opportunities, such as Erasmus+, with partner overseas institutions;
  • the opportunity to study a foreign language;
  • distance learning courses that are available to students outside the UK;
  • a positive attitude towards international students and accreditation by international student bodies; and
  • opportunities for international sabbaticals and transnational teaching for academic staff.

Gauging interest

The benefits of such measures are clearly significant, often leading to ongoing research and enterprise opportunities and positive self-marketing for all those involved, including students, employers and participating organisations.

In this context, an initial research project was recently undertaken at Northumbria with the aim of enhancing the student experience and improving the global employability of our surveying graduates.

This exercise was primarily designed to assess whether there is sufficient demand or interest to pursue further internationalisation of our built environment surveying degrees. Views were sought from the key stakeholders, being the students themselves, in their first and final years, and the human resources departments of large international surveying companies with head offices in London, along with input from RICS as our accrediting body. A small sample of the results to a questionnaire are set out in Figures 1 and 2, with interview responses below.

Surveying students' responses to the internationalisation question

Figure1: Northumbria BSc (Hons) surveying students’ responses to the question 'How important is it to you that your syllabus includes an element of internationalisation (for example study visits, case studies, assessment)?' Part sample, 2016–17

Students' responses to the question of an international curriculum

Figure 2: Northumbria BSc (Hons) surveying students’ responses to question 'Overall, do you think internationalising the curriculum for the future surveying profession should be a priority?' Part sample, 2016–17

Employers' responses

UK-based employers may look for certain attributes from those employees seeking to work in their other international offices. In this regard, a sample of interview responses from employers’ HR departments includes the following:

  • 'International vacancies are available for new and experienced staff generally up to Associate level: one month or one year overseas.'
  • 'We select the highest performer based on the performance review from line managers.'
  • 'We look for, enthusiasm and drive, adaptability, good local property knowledge in their chosen city/location, client care and how [they] present themselves.'

The responses provide a snapshot so are not fully representative of students’ and employers’ views, but they nonetheless offer a useful indicator of attitudes. With the exception of a few students, all project stakeholders and participants were highly responsive to the suggestion that we further internationalise the curriculum for surveying students.

The next step for us as a university would be to design a module that specifically fits with the needs of international employers of our graduates and convene a staff-student focus group to determine how it would fit into our existing programme.

Getting an international outlook

Businesses and employers can:

  • review their business plan and incorporate international steps;
  • research countries and clients;
  • update their LinkedIn profiles to reflect an interest in internationalising their business;
  • contact the local university or business school;
  • look into Business Network or Chamber of Commerce support;
  • use RICS events and contacts;
  • attend or arrange conferences; and
  • obtain professional advice on tax, professional indemnity insurance and other financial issues.

Property professionals, graduates and students can meanwhile:

  • visit relevant Facebook pages or international surveying websites;
  • research countries and employment opportunities there;
  • update their profiles and their interests on LinkedIn;
  • contact university built environment staff;
  • read blogs, including those on travel;
  • attend RICS Matrics meetings and events;
  • visit their careers advisory services and employment agencies; and
  • take language classes.

The way forward

Obviously, in order to internationalise you must be willing to start the process for yourselves. Ask yourself why you want to pursue some form of internationalisation -- what do you hope to achieve?

Networking is key, and from my own experience there are plenty of people willing to share their knowledge. It can often be pleasing to realise we already have the skills required but that we are not confident about how to use them, meaning we need to develop self-efficacy. By way of a start, perhaps the tips in the box (above) will help.

Further information