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“The effect of a university degree in English on international labor mobility” by Samuel Nocito

Published in Labour Economics, Volume 68, January 2021, 101943

This paper was awarded the Lluís Fina Award (XI edition)

Paper Summary:

European Union priorities for 2020 include fostering education and labor mobility to stimulate youth employment at home and abroad (European Commission, 2011). Yet, while the link between studying abroad and international labor mobility is widely recognized (Oosterbeek and Webbink, 2011; González et al., 2011; Parey and Waldinger2011), the effect of studying in English in a non-English speaking country on graduates' migration decisions is still unexplored. Understanding the labor market outcomes of graduates in English-taught programs is central to analyzing the increasing investments that European universities have made in these degrees over the last decade. Moreover, it is important to determine whether these programs contribute to the European labor mobility goal.

I provide causal evidence of the effect of studying in English on labor mobility through a novel instrument for enrollment in master's programs taught in English. Specifically, I exploit the introduction of a master's degree taught in English in a given university at the same time as a student is pursuing a bachelor's degree at the same university.1 The instrument takes a value of one for students exposed to the introduction of an MA in English in their university and discipline while they are enrolled in their BA. This avoids that students self-select into programs offering MA in English according to their future migration intentions. Critically, students are unlikely to predict when programs taught in English will be introduced (Card, 1993, 2001; Parey and Waldinger, 2011). 

I use a survey of Italian graduates provided by the AlmaLaurea consortium of Italian universities. I merge these data with a complete list of MA programs taught in English launched each year since 2008 in each Italian university and for every discipline, provided by the Italian National Ministry of Education (MIUR). The resulting sample includes more than 240,000 MA graduates from 2010 to 2015.

I find that studying in English has a strong causal effect on graduates' labor market mobility. In particular, I find that attaining an MA degree taught in English increases an individual's probability of working abroad one year after graduation by 11.3 percentage points, or almost five times the sample average.

I present several robustness checks for this result. My results are not restricted to particular fields of study, regions, or changes in universities and fields of study from the BA to the MA, and they are highly robust for all these sensitivity analyses.

Finally, I implement some heterogeneity analyses. I find a positive and statistically significant result exclusively for graduates in STEM fields,2 for students who did not graduate from a top-10 university, and for students who did graduate in the south.

Main Results

Table 1 nocito

I find a 2.7 percentage point increase in the probability of getting an MA taught in English for those who were exposed to the introduction of this program while pursuing a BA (Table 1, column 8). The effect is positively strong when compared to the sample average probability of studying in English (i.e., 2.3 percent); this percentage more than doubles for the effect of having been exposed to the introduction of an MA program taught in English during the BA. The results are strong in all specifications, with F-statistics of the excluded instrument always above 10 points.

Table 2 shows the instrumental variable estimates. I find a positive and statistically significant result for the parameter γ1of the instrumented variable MAinEnglish, showing an overall increase of 11.3 percentage points (Table 2, column 8) in the probability of working abroad one year after graduation.3 This result is close in magnitude to the corresponding OLS estimate, and it is large when compared to the sample average of individuals who work abroad, which is around 3 percent.

Table 2 nocito


1For the sake of simplicity, I refer to the second cycle degree as “Master of Arts” (MA), which lasts two years, and I refer to the first cycle degree as “Bachelor of Arts” (BA), which lasts three years.

2However, when I test whether the coefficients for STEM and No-STEM are significantly different from each other, I find no evidence of a statistically significant difference.  This implies that also graduates who do not belong to STEM fields benefit from studying in English.

3Results on the probability of working abroad three years after graduation, available for cohorts of graduates in 2010-2013, are close in magnitude to those shown in Table 2. However, effects at three years are not precisely estimated because a large portion of graduates from English-language MA belong to the cohorts 2014-2015.



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