This year marks the 50th Birthday of IDP and the 8th iteration of our annual Student Buyer Behaviour Research. The research launched each year at AIEC, with the now famous running people, illustrates the changing (or not) perceptions international students have of the five major destination markets. This year, for the first time and with the support of Austrade we also surveyed parents, producing what I think are some fascinating results.
I’m not going to go into too much detail of the overall findings and methodology, they’re already available here and have been covered in the sector press. Instead, I want to look at what the findings mean for Higher Education marketing, recruitment, and communications professionals. What actions should we be taking and what changes should we be making as a result of this year’s findings?
Having spent a great deal of time with the research and having presented it at the AIEC Conference in Perth, and subsequently to our core members in the UK, there are a couple of standout takeaways:
-The importance parents play in decision making and the need to treat them as an audience segment
-The perception of safety vs reality and how as communications experts we tackle this
The role of parents:
If you’ve ever flirted with the idea of treating parents as a core audience segment in your marketing and recruitment plans but never had the evidence to fully commit to it, now you do! Choosing where to study as an international student is very much a family affair.
Almost half (46%) of students surveyed believed the country they chose to study in was either equally decided with their parents or predominately by their parents. This reduces to 38% when it comes to choosing the city they study in and 27% when it comes to the institution. Both parents and students seem to agree that when it comes to the course, the student makes the decision. Add to this the fact that nearly 6 in 10 students said parents were the greatest influence on their decisions about international study and three quarters of students stated it was their parents who funded their course and there you have it; a cast-iron case from the students themselves that parents are central to their decision making and their funding. Anyone working in international student recruitment now has the evidence needed to make communicating with parents a core part of their strategy.
So, what should we do, how should we ensure that we cater to the parent audience? Looking further into the research, the parents state they are looking at the institution’s social media and they are visiting your website (even if the students don’t always realize this). They are also, in even greater numbers, accompanying students to open days, to overseas events and to meet counselors. This suggests we don’t necessarily need to introduce new channels and new platforms and it is the content we need to tailor to their needs.
The research is clear – parents have different concerns than the student. The student choice of where and what to study is transactional in its nature; how much will it cost, can I afford it, will I get a return on investment at the end by getting a good job. Parents’ concerns, on the other hand, are more qualitative and center around the wellbeing of their child whilst studying – will they be safe, how far away will they be from friends and family, will there be too much of a cultural difference and will they find suitable accommodation. Students are aware their parents’ concerns differ from their own and so, in my mind, there are two things we should be doing:
-Ensuring we have the content on our sites that addresses parents’ concerns and arms the student with the information they need to be able to address their parents concerns
-Understand what content and messages resonate most with parents. Content that allays safety fears and builds a positive picture of a welcoming and inclusive environment in which international students feel part of the wider university community
Safety as a key concern:
Safety is a theme that runs throughout this year’s research – with the US continuing to be perceived as much less safe than its main competitors and parents stating that safety is their number one concern. It is easy to draw conclusions based on these top-level findings, but when you drill down into the research and look at the qualitative findings you see the issue is much more nuanced and requires a nuanced approach.
Safety, in the eyes of the parents, is less about macro events and much more about what their individual child will encounter and experience. Will their accommodation be safe and comfortable, will they feel welcomed and make friends, will they feel a part of the university community and will there be support available to them should they need it?
It is this sense of inclusion and belonging that will reassure parents of their son or daughters’ safety. As much as we may want to, we can’t prevent tragic events happening in our communities and countries. What we can do is ensure we create and foster welcoming and inclusive communities for all of our students and then find ways of communicating this to future students and their families.