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Parents are key influencers in the international education decision making process for many prospective students. Understanding their concerns and motivations should therefore be an important aspect of marketing and recruitment research undertaken by institutions. In this article we look at parents’ perceptions of key aspects of international education, how they’ve changed over a four-year period, and how they compare with the perceptions of students.

As part of our latest Emerging Futures 4 (EF4) student survey in August 2023, we asked parents a dedicated set of questions, capturing the responses of 857 parents from 38 countries across the globe.

In 2019 (pre-Pandemic), we surveyed parents as part of our Buyer Behaviour Research for the Australian Trade and Investment Commission. This online survey was undertaken across the selected IDP and Austrade markets of Brazil, China, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nepal, United Arab Emirates, and Vietnam. The July 2019 questionnaire targeted key decision makers, with a total of 725 parents completing the survey.

Parents concerns are changing when they consider international education

In our 2019 survey, 47% of the parent cohort said ‘safety’ was their main concern about international study. In 2023, this had only changed very slightly, as 45% said ‘safety’ was their biggest concern. However, as we look further down the list of ‘biggest concerns’, the order has now switched around.

In 2019, ‘living costs’ and distance from friends or family’ were ranked second and third respectively as parents’ biggest concerns after safety. In EF4, ‘job prospects after graduation’ leapfrogged into second place ahead of ‘living costs’, while ‘tuition fees’ placed ahead of ‘distance from family or friends’.

Greater concern regarding job prospects appears to show parents’ desire to see a tangible effect of international study in the form of better career prospects for their children. Afterall, for many families, international higher education is a huge investment and, in some cases, a substantial sacrifice.

In EF4, of the five countries with the largest number of parent respondents to our survey, those from the Philippines and India were the most concerned about safety (57% and 49% respectively), while parents from Vietnam and India were the respondent cohorts most concerned about ‘job prospects after graduation’ (51% and 45% respectively).

Perceptions of safety and welfare of students

In 2019, parents rated Canada as the highest in terms of safety for international students, followed closely by New Zealand, Australia, UK, and Ireland. USA was rated sixth and was rated a little behind the other five nations.

In our EF4 survey, we asked respondents to rate their perception of ‘welfare of international students’ in the destination countries. Parents rated Canada and Australia highest (7.8), followed by UK (7.5), USA (7.3), New Zealand 7.1, and Ireland (6.8). So, it appears USA has achieved a small uptick in parents’ perceptions of how it will look after their children when they study overseas in the four years between surveys.

Changing perceptions of study destinations

We ask parents for their perceptions of certain aspects of international education so we can see how these change over time, and how they compare to the perceptions of students. This is vital information to understand how parents may influence their children when choosing a study destination.

Quality of education

In 2019, all destination countries were rated highly for ‘quality of education’, but the USA was rated highest by both parents and students, with UK in second place. Parents rated Canada and Australia almost identically, but students rated Canada slightly higher than Australia. For our EF4 parent respondents, again, the perceptions of quality of education were all high: USA scored an average rating of 8.5, UK 8.3, Australia 8.1 and Canada 7.9. EF4 student responses on quality of education were identical, apart from Canada with an average rating of 8.0.

So, we can see that between the two surveys in 2019 and 2023, the perception of Canada’s quality of education has slipped slightly and Australia improved.

Looking at the different source market countries, of the five with the largest number of parent respondents to our EF4 survey, those in the Philippines rated Australia and Canada above USA and UK for quality of education, with 9.1 and 9.0 respectively. Conversely, the lowest average ratings for quality of education in the major destinations was also for Australia; parents from China rated it 7.1 and parents from Nigeria gave it a 7.2 average rating. So, institutions in Australia may have to work harder to convince parents in China and Nigeria that their child will receive a well-rated qualification.

Graduate employment opportunities

In 2019, global parent perceptions of graduate employment opportunities were closely matched among the top-four destination countries with Canada just edging the USA followed by Australia and UK. All parent perceptions were higher than student perceptions. Students rated Canada considerably ahead of other countries, placing Australia in second place, followed by USA, New Zealand, Ireland, and UK lagged some way behind.

It appears that students in 2019 had much lower expectations of finding employment after studying in the UK than their parents. (It is worth noting here that the fieldwork for this survey was conducted just prior to the announcement of the reintroduction of a PSW visa – the Graduate visa came into action in July 2021.)

In August 2023, for the EF4 survey, parents rated Australia on average as having the best graduate employment opportunities (7.9), followed by Canada (7.8), USA (7.7) and UK (7.4). Parents from China rated USA and UK in first and second spot (7.8 and 7.7 respectively).

Globally our student respondents in EF4, agreed with the parents in rating Australia highest for graduate employment opportunities (7.6), but after this the order changed: USA was rated joint second with Canada (7.5), then New Zealand scored 6.9 and UK came in fourth with 6.8. When looking at source markets, students from China agreed with their parents in rating the graduate employment opportunities in USA and UK in first and second spots, but their average scores were lower than the parents– 7.1 and 6.9 respectively.

Post-study work visa policies

We know that graduate employment opportunities are important to students and their parents, so we want to understand how PSW policy affects the decision-making process and overall perceptions of the destinations countries. In our EF4 survey, we asked respondents to rate their perception of post-study work (PSW) visa policies for international students.

Parent’s perceptions of Canada’s PSW policies were highest, with an average rating of 7.9, closely followed by Australia on 7.8. UK was rated in third place with 7.4, followed by USA (7.3), New Zealand (7) and Ireland (6.6). We feel the high rating of USA, where post-study work is only available through Optional Practical Training and has the shortest duration of all the major destination countries, shows a lack of knowledge by parents.

Students in EF4 appear to have a little more knowledge of the major destinations, as Canada and Australia receive higher average ratings, while New Zealand and UK are rated the same and USA very slightly behind. However, students still rate Ireland lower than USA, despite Ireland’s graduate visa, the third level graduate program, providing students with one or two years’ stay to find employment following successful completion of their studies.

Money matters

We know that current economic problems and cost of living increases are causing some students to reassess overseas study and both the July 2019 and August 2023 studies asked questions about financial considerations.

In the 2019 parent survey, Canada was seen as the most affordable international study destination, closely followed by New Zealand, Ireland, and Australia. UK and USA were seen as significantly less affordable. With USA being the least affordable. This pattern was repeated by student respondents to this survey, but all countries were judged as less affordable by students than parents. Canada had a significant lead in its perceived affordability than other destinations. Ireland and New Zealand were rated almost identically in second place, Australia rated some way back in third, followed by UK and USA respectively.

In our EF4 survey, we asked parents and students for their perceptions on cost of living. Parents rated the cost of living in USA as the highest (8.2), followed by UK (8.0), then there was a drop in perceptions of cost of living in Australia (7.2), Canada (7.1), and then New Zealand (6.4), and Ireland(6.3). Our EF4 student respondents rated the destination countries in the same order and with very similar average scores.

While USA was seen as having the highest cost of living, when the respondents were asked to rate ‘value for money’ USA came out on top with parents and students alike (both rated USA at 7.8) and this shows that where the USA is rated lower for some other aspects of its offering, overall, the high quality of education is a key factor and therefore keeps the country rated highly when value for money is considered.

Parents and students both rated UK and Australia in joint second place for ‘value for money’ and Canada in third place. The average rating scores were very close between USA, UK, Australia, and Canada (ranging from 7.8 down to 7.4), and almost identical between parents and students – New Zealand and Ireland rated 6.8 and 6.7 respectively for both cohorts.

In terms of top source markets, the highest ‘value for money’ rating by parents was from Philippines who rated Australia 8.8, while parents from Nigeria rated UK as their best ‘value for money’ destination with an average rating of 8.6.

Addressing parents’ concerns and creating better destination awareness are key in the decision-making process

While ‘safety’ remains parents’ number one concern for their children when considering international education, we can see that in the years following the pandemic, parents’ anxieties have changed and good job prospects after graduation are now second only to safety. Pre-pandemic, parents were more concerned about their children’s distance from family and friends, but this has fallen behind – concerns relating to living costs and tuition fees are now more of a worry. We can see that current economic conditions are sitting high in the minds of parents during the decision-making process. Institutions who have strong links with employers and run graduate employment schemes should promote these, as well as any career guidance support that is offered specifically designed to address the challenges faced by international graduates. Likewise support available, financial or otherwise, should be promoted to parents.

By comparing our pre-pandemic survey with EF4 responses, we can see how perceptions of the top destination countries have changed. While the perception of Canada’s quality of education has now slipped behind USA, UK and Australia, its post study work (PSW) rights are still perceived highest. Similarly, the USA continues to be seen as the most expensive country to study in, with the lowest rated PSW offering, but parents still tell us it offers the best value for money.

When it comes to graduate employment opportunities, there was a difference in perceptions between students and parents and these too had changed between 2019 and 2023. In the latest survey, both parents and students rated Australia as having the best graduate employment opportunities. Despite the USA’s restrictive PSW offering, it was highly rated by parents in both surveys (second in 2019 and third in 2023) and this is testament to the fact that parents believe that a qualification from the USA is likely to improve career prospects wherever their children seek employment or entrepreneurship.

The 2023 IC3 Institute’s Annual Student Quest Report surveyed parents of high school students across the globe and found that access to counsellors who can support students and parents in navigating their priorities when making decisions about international education is essential. Their survey found that around half of all student respondents had not met with a counsellor, and only a third of parents had talked to a counsellor. The survey found that the impact of counsellors on the decision-making process was significant, but that parents’ awareness of educational and career opportunities was rated as ‘moderately aware’. 63% of counsellors indicated an awareness rating of 5 or less among parents, with an average 5.2 out of 10.

The findings detailed in this article show a continued need for parents to be made aware of the international education landscape and the range of opportunities and career prospects available to their children. The involvement of counsellors can be crucial in this step and can ultimately help to influence the final decisions about what subjects are studied and where prospective students attend to achieve their international qualification. Marketing and event planning should include strategic content aimed at parents, particularly in the fields of student safety and welfare, career prospects and post-study work policies.

Related Reports:

IDP International Student and Parent Buyer Behaviour Research 2019

Global Press Release: Emerging Futures 4


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Jane Venn
Jane Venn08 February 2024