Students vs Parents: Who matters more in international student recruitment?

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In Asian families, cultural norms and traditions place family authority at the center of all important decisions.

By U2B Staff 

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The short answer is: neither. Both groups are equally important, but to varying degrees across different measures.

According to new data presented at the 2019 Australian International Education Conference in Perth last week, parents are more likely to play an influential role in where their children study, whereas students are the final arbiters of what they study.

“While students said their parents had the greatest influence on their destination choice, 80 percent reported they were the primary decisionmaker when it came to their course and nearly three quarters (73 percent) said they chose their institution,” IDP Connect CEO Simon Emmett said.


The data was drawn from the Student Buyer Behaviour research and inaugural Parents of International Students’ Buyer Behaviour study by IDP and Austrade, which examined more than 2,300 students’ and 720 parents’ perceptions of the five main English-speaking study destinations and the factors that influence their decisions.

The research also found that parents do not only have a strong influence on study abroad destination, but at every step of the research process when their child decides to further their education abroad.

More often than not, parents would attend events and meet with education agents together with their child, even if both may conduct online research independently.

This isn’t a massive surprise, especially as it pertains to the international student population, which largely comprises students from Asian countries. More than just the fact that many parents hold the budget for their child’s study abroad stint, cultural norms and traditions also prescribe respect for the elderly and obedience to family authority.

This naturally means that Asian parents will be heavily involved in the college and university selection process. With higher education becoming increasingly competitive and costly, it’s also to be expected that students will want to seek the advice of their trusty guardians.


In addition, the IDP and Austrade data also uncovered differing concerns for parents and students when it comes to study abroad decisions.

For parents, their child’s safety is a primary concern, whereas students are more worried about job prospects after graduation, tuition fees, as well as living costs.

This is among the reasons for Australia’s rise as an international study destination, according to Austrade Senior Industry Specialise Rebecca Hall.

“Parents who choose Australia for their child are seeking high-quality education and graduate employment opportunities in a safe and welcoming environment,” Hall said.

“The research reinforced that safety is a universal concern for parents, which is particularly important as they are the key decisionmaker of their child’s study destination. 

What it all means for international student recruitment

Given that parents still play a crucial role in their child’s study abroad decisions, college and university marketing must ensure their institutions are promoting messages that resonate with both groups.

Although students are the primary decisionmakers when it comes to what they study, their parents still hold the purse strings and will have the final say, both in the institution they pick and which country.

“This finding demonstrates the need for education providers to develop tailored information for both groups to ensure marketing materials do not neglect parents, who are an important influencer in the decision-making process,” Emmett said.


Education providers would do well to identify and understand what parents are looking for when investing in study abroad for their children, on top of understanding student interests. Marketing campaigns that appeal to students broadly, may not have the same impact on parents and vice versa.

However, communication with both groups must be coordinated. Marketing departments and student recruiters must be singing from the same hymn sheet, even if they alter their tone when communicating with different groups.

“Your communications with parents should always happen in tandem with conversations you’re having with students.

“Outreach to both audiences is most effective when it’s coordinated. However, parents and students aren’t always concerned about the same things,” education group EAB says.

Higher Education Marketing says good start would be developing multiple parent and student personas for your top source markets. This provides a clearer understanding of the different motivators across different age groups, socioeconomic backgrounds, as well as cultural norms and traditions. 

Then use these profiles to inform your international student recruitment strategies, crafting unique messages and campaign plans across different platforms so that you are presenting information to your target markets in the most effective possible way.


Another useful method is through effective SEO (search engine optimisation) and pay-per-click advertising campaigns, through which institutions can leverage their understanding of parents’ search behaviours to draw attention to their educational offerings.

While international education fairs remain an effective student recruitment resource in many markets, a much higher number of prospective students and parents around the world are going directly to the institution by engaging with them online.

And what leads them to the institution? Online research. An SEO-friendly website and campaign, therefore, is a great way of increasing your institution’s visibility and online reputation.

Of course, it must also be reminded that in all this, the needs and interests of the prospective international student must remain central to the recruitment process. After all, they will be the ones relocating to unfamiliar grounds for study. 

An unhappy study abroad experience will affect both student and institution. In a highly-competitive higher education landscape, a solid international student recruitment strategy that pays mind to all these issues could pay off a thousand times over.

The IDP Connect and Austrade research findings were released at the Australian International Education Conference, which attracts more than 1,500 international education experts annually and is jointly presented by IDP Education and the International Education Association of Australia.