The ties that bind: Choosing a university to be close to family
NEW research suggests overseas students are picking where to study based on how much family they have nearby. Yaocheng Lee talks to a few international students to find out why.
Overseas students have long been attracted to Australian universities for their high standard of education, the job prospects and the lifestyle Australia offers.
A survey in 2009 by Prospect Research and Marketing showed having family connections in their choice country was only important to less than 5 per cent of international students.
But recent research by the same company suggests family connections are becoming increasingly important in how international students choose where to study, and is increasing at a steady rate of 1.2 per cent per year.
The survey of more than 2000 international students in September shows almost one in five international students have a sibling who is studying or had studied in Australia.
It also shows one in four international students have a close family member living in the student’s destination city.
RMIT international student Ivy Koh says family connections in Melbourne are a big reason why she decided to study here.
“Well, I wanted to go to UK but I ended up in Melbourne because my sister was here,” she says.
“It makes more sense because there will be someone to take care of me, and it’s also cheaper because we can share accommodation and living costs.”
But for Ivy, there were reasons for choosing to study in RMIT beyond family ties.
“For my marketing course, I found out that RMIT is more practical based, and I think a practical education will be better for marketing, while other schools like Monash are more theory and essay based,” she says.
“And RMIT was in the city as well, so its more convenient. I don’t have to travel far into the suburbs to go to school.”
Singaporean student Jane Low says having someone familiar in the country was an important factor in helping her choose where to study.
“It gave me a sense of security that there would be people there who would help me settle in, look out for me and serve as my safety net should anything untoward happen,” she says.
She adds while independence from one’s family does have its benefits, too much of it can be a bad thing.
“Too much supervision can be stifling and prevent one from learning self sufficiency. On the other hand, too much freedom too soon can be a heady thing,” she says.
“I believe that the best balance would be to have family or relatives in the state, but be living separately from them.”
This year, foreign student enrolments decreased by 8.5 per cent, dropping to a five-year low and costing the industry $1.34 billion.
Because of this worrying trend, identifying effective ways to attract potential students has become especially important.
Principal of Prospect Research and Marketing Rob Lawrence says Australia needs to start realising it’s “not serving just individuals but entire families”.
“[Universities] have got to put strategies in place that recognise and engage with families,” he says.
Joanne Seow of Melbourne University, however, feels family ties to a destination was not an important consideration for her.
She says the weather and lifestyle of Melbourne was what attracted her to this city.
“I like the cold weather – Singapore is just too hot – and that Asian food is readily available here compared to some other states,” she says.
“I also like that there is a good mix of locals and internationals. And that there’s the option of getting away from the hustle and bustle of the city by simply escaping into the suburbs.”
Joanne chose to study at Melbourne University for its high rankings in Australia and the courses it offered.
“There are only three universities in Melbourne that offer the course I’m taking so I didn’t really have much choice, although Melbourne University was my first choice and I’m happy I got accepted,” she says.
“I have relatives in Adelaide and Perth but not in Melbourne. When I came to Melbourne I was mostly on my own, I had only a handful of friends.
“Initially I was a bit worried, but at the same time I appreciated the independence.”
The education sector in Australia was previously the third most profitable export industry in the country, but it has now dropped to fifth.
With the high Australian dollar, universities here are facing increasing competition from elite US universities.
It is clear universities here would benefit from identifying the factors important to international students when choosing where to study, and using them to attract more foreign enrolments.
Why did you choose to study in Australia?