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15th Aug 2012

In China, father (and mother) knows best: 65% of study abroad decisions made by parents

China is the world's biggest source of international students. By some estimates, more than one million Chinese students are studying abroad today, and a recent report from the International Business Times indicates that nearly 90% of China's high net-worth families are planning to send their children to study abroad (to say nothing of the aspirations of the country's burgeoning middle class). The image below illustrates where China's wealthiest families are sending their children to study abroad: The massive scale of the Chinese market has naturally drawn a growing field of competing destination countries, including emerging regional hubs such as Hong Kong. Against this backdrop of increasing competition, marketers and recruiters are always on the lookout for new insights as to how Chinese students make decisions about study abroad. And a new study reported in University World News points out that while students do play an important role in the process, it is often the parents that have the most influence over the final choice of study destination. The study, conducted by Dr. Peter Bodycott of the Hong Kong Institute of Education and Dr. Ada Lai of the University of Melbourne, was particularly concerned with students who had chosen to study in Hong Kong. With its geographical proximity, high quality of competitively priced education, and shared Confucian cultural heritage, Hong Kong is an attractive option for students from mainland China. In terms of the broad patterns of decision making they observed, the authors note:

"[Our] study identified two main types of students: those who initiated the idea of studying in Hong Kong, and those whose parents initiated the idea. In the process of initiation and making decisions, Confucian cultural roles of child and parent were largely followed."

Key findings of student's desires included the following:

  • Students were motivated by employment and study opportunities as well as the opportunity to travel outside of their home country. Underlying this motivation is a belief among students that higher education in China is limited educationally and that a degree from abroad or from Hong Kong would lead to enhanced language skills, new professional networks, and new career opportunities.
  • Students were also heavily influenced by the perspectives and experiences of family and friends, including those of peers that had returned from studies abroad to share their experiences.

In this respect, the factors reported in the study as driving student interest in gaining an education overseas are consistent with those from other research in this area. Other recent studies reinforce again that the major factors affecting Chinese students' choice of colleges abroad include the availability of their desired programme of study, the quality of the education, safety, philosophical approach to education, cost, and rankings. Further findings revealed:

  • In contrast, Chinese parents were more likely to be motivated by the intense competition for university places in China, their children's future employment prospects, and downstream opportunities for immigration.
  • Students most often felt that they had a role in the decision-making process. However, for 65% of the students in the study, the final decisions with respect to destination country, programme, and educational institution was made by the parents.

Please see University World News for additional findings and background on this important study. The original study paper is available for purchase via the Journal of Studies in International Education. Sources: University World News, Genius Recruiter

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