Parents a key player in offspring studying abroad

Parents are a key player in influencing their offspring to study abroad, according to a worldwide survey to get inside the applicant’s mind and understand the study abroad decision-making process.

More than 8,500 postgraduate and undergraduate students planning to go abroad for a programme primarily taught in English were surveyed by the i-graduate International Insight Group and the TOEFL® and GRE® Programs.

The findings were shared with higher education international marketing and recruitment professionals attending the Studyportals ‘Embracing Change’ Academy, held in Amsterdam last week.

The session was led by María Victoria Calabrese, academic and government relations director at ETS Global, which administers and scores over 50 million English-language tests in 180 countries, including the TOEFL test.

Calabrese said while the survey showed most students claimed it was their decision to study abroad, many openly admitted their parents greatly influenced their move to enrol in another country.

Father knows best – in some countries

The influence of the father was the strongest in Asian and Middle Eastern countries. In India, just 26% of students surveyed said it was their idea to study abroad, with 24% saying it was their dad’s idea and 15% crediting their mother. Other influencers included siblings and friends.

In Saudi Arabia, while 55% of survey students said it was their idea to study abroad, 21% said their father initiated the notion with mother’s influence dropping to 4%.

Father’s influence was strongest in China with 30% admitting it was dad’s idea and 13% saying the notion came from their mother. Only 33% of Chinese students said it was their idea.

In Mexico, over half of students claimed it was their idea to study abroad, but 14% said their father and 10% said their mother was the driving the idea.

Survey data for Nigeria showed 58% of students taking the credit for planning to study abroad, with 17% saying it was their dad’s idea and 8% saying it was their mother’s.

Mothers can be dominating influence

But in some countries, mum was the dominating factor in encouraging their sons and daughters to fly the nest and go to university in another country.

This was strongest in Brazil, where just 22% of students said it was their idea to go abroad and 27% gave their mother the credit for the idea, with 20% saying it was their father’s idea.

And in the Philippines, while 43% of students claimed they had first thought of the idea, 15% said their mother had initiated the move with just 9% saying it was their dad behind the idea.

The data from the i-graduate International Insight Group and the TOEFL® and GRE® Programs joint survey also showed that 62% of Colombian students said they initiated the idea to study abroad, with mum just beating dad’s influence.

Just parents turning up at study abroad fairs

In the discussion at the Studyportals Academy, many university representatives said they had noticed a recent upsurge in parents turning up with their children at study abroad fairs.

One delegate said: “In US fairs, sometimes just the parents turn-up.” Other international recruitment university officials said they had also noticed this in India and China, with parents talking in plural about their children’s options – as in “We want to go the States or Germany to study”.

Edwin van Rest, chief executive officer at Studyportals – the international study choice platform hosting the event in Amsterdam – said he thought growing parental influence was the result of rising tuition fees for international students.

As for the primary reason for studying abroad, María Victoria Calabrese from ETS said the responses varied sharply in the four regions surveyed – Europe/Eurasia; Latin America; South West Asia/Middle East/Africa; and East Asia

More than just about career prospects

Most students predictably said improving career success and getting a better job after graduating were the driving force for going to university in another country, but experiencing new cultures was the top reason given by Malaysian students, at 73%.

Getting a better education than in my own country was the main reason for 68% of Indonesian students surveyed and 67% of those surveyed in Vietnam. In Indonesia, 67% said studying abroad would also help them become well-rounded individuals.

In contrast, European students tended to highlight getting a better job as the main driving force for studying abroad. Over half the Spanish and Russian students surveyed cited improving career prospects. But experiencing a new culture also scored highly with 51% of Spanish students and 47% of the Russians surveyed saying this was a key driver.

Calabrese told University World News: “The results show the study abroad process has many influencing factors. The more we know, the better we are able to have students that will be a good fit when they arrive.

“Both rational and emotional elements play into today’s international students’ decision-making process and we need to speak to both. So the key message is ‘Don’t get lost in the big picture: Drill down a bit further and don’t forget to consider students by nationality, by field and by level of study’.”

Missing mum’s cooking

Calabrese finished her session with a video, which filmed real-life Chinese students and their parents at a departure airport in China as the fathers and mothers were saying goodbye to their study abroad offspring.

One Chinese mother said her main fear was that her son wouldn’t eat properly, while the son filmed shortly after going through security, said: “The main thing I will miss is my mum’s cooking. I’ve already researched Chinese restaurants and whether there is a Chinese supermarket near the campus I will be going to.”

Nic Mitchell is a British-based freelance journalist and PR consultant who runs De la Cour Communications and blogs about higher education for the European Universities Public Relations and Information Officers’ Association, EUPRIO, and on his website. He provides English-language communication support for Norwegian, Czech and UK universities.