Where to Study - Australia, Canada, the United States Or the United Kingdom? Choice of Destination of Hong Kong Students

ABSTRACT - Many universities are interested in knowing why overseas students choose one country over another in which to pursue their studies. Most Hong Kong students who study overseas choose either the UK, the USA, Canada or Australia, but why do they choose one over another? Exploratory research identified 19 variables thought to influence this choice. These variables were then structured into four underlying factors: course characteristics, country characteristics, characteristics of the administrative processes involved, and cost characteristics. The relative importance of the factors for each destination was measured using data gathered through a questionnaire personally administered to 354 Hong Kong residents intending to study overseas. Course characteristics were important for all countries except the UK, country characteristics were consistently important for all destinations, and administrative processes and costs were important for Australia only.



Citation:

Meredith Lawley and Oliver Yau (1998) ,"Where to Study - Australia, Canada, the United States Or the United Kingdom? Choice of Destination of Hong Kong Students", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3, eds. Kineta Hung and Kent B. Monroe, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 173-179.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3, 1998      Pages 173-179

WHERE TO STUDY - AUSTRALIA, CANADA, THE UNITED STATES OR THE UNITED KINGDOM? CHOICE OF DESTINATION OF HONG KONG STUDENTS

Meredith Lawley, University of Southern Queensland, Australia

Oliver Yau, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

ABSTRACT -

Many universities are interested in knowing why overseas students choose one country over another in which to pursue their studies. Most Hong Kong students who study overseas choose either the UK, the USA, Canada or Australia, but why do they choose one over another? Exploratory research identified 19 variables thought to influence this choice. These variables were then structured into four underlying factors: course characteristics, country characteristics, characteristics of the administrative processes involved, and cost characteristics. The relative importance of the factors for each destination was measured using data gathered through a questionnaire personally administered to 354 Hong Kong residents intending to study overseas. Course characteristics were important for all countries except the UK, country characteristics were consistently important for all destinations, and administrative processes and costs were important for Australia only.

INTRODUCTION

The education of students overseas is of increasing economic, social and political importance to many countries. Over one million post-secondary students study in another country each year (Kemp 1990), with about 600,000 coming from Asia (Blight 1995). These numbers arepredicted to rise to 2.8 million with 1.4 million from Asia by 2010 (Blight 1995).

While the international education industry is growing, competition is also becoming more intense but the study of international education is still fragmented (Knight & de Wit 1995, Teichler 1996), with little research into how and why students select a destination country (Lawley 1993). In particular, most pre-1995 studies suffer from four major limitations. Firstly, most are retrospective, that is, done after a student has arrived in a destination (Andressen 1993; Cummings & So 1985; Steadman & Dagwell 1990, Zikopoulos & Barber 1996). Secondly, most studies gather information on only one destination country rather than gather comparative data on several (Ramirez & Riddle 1991) and the sole study that did get comparative data was done in the 1970s and so is now dated (Rao 1979). Thirdly, many studies identify factors influencing choice but do not attempt to establish the importance of these factors (Steadman & Dagwell 1990; Industry Commission 1991). Finally, many studies use non-probability sampling and hence results cannot be generalised (AGB 1991; Molla & Sedlacek 1989).

Within Asia, Hong Kong has traditionally been a major source country as over 20,000 students leave Hong Kong each year to study overseas (AGB 1991). Of these students, about 28% go to the United States, 27% go to Canada, 25% go to Australia and 20% go to the United Kingdom. In terms of market share in recent years, the United Kingdom has decreased significantly, Canada has decreased marginally, whereas Australia’s market share has increased and the United States has remained stable (Cameron 1993).

Knowledge of how students select one destination country over others would assist destination countries in developing better marketing strategies. Thus, the central question answered by this paper is #How and why do students choose a destination for undergraduate university education?’ This question is answered by developing and testing a model of choice of destination by students from Hong Kong in relation to the major destination countries of the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and the United States. This study fills the gaps previously identified in the literature by obtaining information before a final decision is made while students are actively seeking information; gathering comparative data on four destinations; establishing the importance of factors influencing choice; and finally using a probability based sampling design.

THE MODEL

A model of destination choice was developed from a review of the literature, three focus groups of international students currently studying in Australia and depth interviews with six experts in the field. From this exploratory research, 19 variables were identified that were thought to influence choice of destination. These variables were grouped into four dimensions: course characteristics, country characteristics, administrative processes and cost factors; each of which are briefly discussed below. The use of intention as a surrogate measure for choice is also discussed. The full model is presented in Figure 1.

Course characteristics

Variables contributing to course characteristics included standard of courses, standard of teaching facilities and recognition of a course by employers in the home country. Several studies confirm the importance of standard of courses to the choice of destination (Austin 1988; Wu 1989; Steadman & Dagwell 1990; Blaug & Woodhall 1985, de Vries & Richter 1988, Zikopoulos & Barber 1986). For example, Blaug & Woodhall (1985) suggested that standard of courses was the main reason 42% of overseas students studying in the United Kingdom choose the United Kingdom, while a study of overseas students in Australia identified "wider, better and superior educational facilities" as an important influence i the choice of Australia (Rao 1979). Discussions with experts and focus groups with international students suggested that the recognition of qualifications by employers in a student’s home country was an important influence on their choice of destination country.

Country characteristics

Variables contributing to country characteristics included the level of personal safety, lifestyle, the potential to emigrate and the opinions of family and friends. The importance of family and friends as the most important source of advice for overseas students has been confirmed in many studies (Harris & Rhall 1993, Paradigm Communications 1995). Another country characteristic, the level of personal safety was found to contribute positively to Australia’s overall attractiveness to overseas students (Smart and Ang 1995; Industry Commission 1991; Hill, Romm & Patterson 1992). Before July 1997 the potential to emigrate was thought to be a major driving force in the decision of Hong Kong students to study overseas. This is summarised by the Australian Education Centre Hong Kong (1992, p.2) which found that " the belief that an Australian degree will improve one’s chance of emigration to Australia attracts many to apply". This is supported by Nesdale, Simkin, Sand, Burke and Fraser (1995). Many studies confirm the influence that family and friends can have on choice of destination countries (Rao 1979; AGB 1991). However, Chapman (1981) found that the influence of both of these groups can be different hence in this study they will be considered separately as will the presence of family and friends in a destination. The final country characteristic included in the model, lifestyle, was identified from the focus group sessions.

FIGURE 1

A MODEL OF DESTINATION CHOICE BY INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS

Administrative processes

Variables contributing to administrative processes included ease of gaining entry to universities, ease of obtaining a student visa, ease of gaining exemptions, availability of information about a destination and being able to legally work part-time. Ease of entry to university was identified by the Bureau of Industry Economics (1989); Hill, Romm and Patterson (1992) and Rao (1979) as influencing choice. It was found that the easy availability of information about studying in the United States was influential in the decision of many students choosing the USA (Austin 1988; Stewart & Felicetti 1991). Ease of gaining exemptions emerged from the focus groups as an important variable that influenced choice. Hill et al (1992) identify ease of obtaining a visa as an influential factor while the Industry Commission (1991, p.4) found that "Work rights for students make Australia a more attractive placeas they appear to be more generous than in many competitor countries".

Cost

Variables contributing to cost addressed both financial and psychological costs including comparative financial cost, the distance from home, climate and levels of racial discrimination. Climate and proximity to home were identified by Hill et al (1992) as frequently cited reasons for choosing Australia. The Industry Commission (1991) and Purdy (1992) also support this result. Chandler (1989, p.x) in a review of major destination countries found that "with the exception of Australia, where foreign students rate their reception as friendly, there is no major receiving country where significant numbers of foreign students do not complain of racism". Financial cost has been hypothesised by several sources to be a major contributing factor to choice of destination (AGB 1992; Chandler 1989; Throsby 1986, Back, Davis & Olsen, 1997).

Intention

Intention was used as a surrogate measure of choice in this study (Engel, Blackwell & Miniard 1987). Two of the major gaps identified in research into choice of destination were te retrospective nature of previous studies and the lack of comparative studies (Lawley 1993). To address these gaps this research was carried out in a source country, gathering comparative data on four destination countries. The implication of this approach was that actual choice could not be measured. However data was collected as close to the actual choice decision as possible to maximise the relationship between intentions and behaviour (Engel et al. 1987). While the predictive validity of using intention rather than actual choice has been questioned (Cote & Umesh 1988), intention has been used in many other studies where research designs and research questions make the use of choice unfeasible (Richard & Allaway 1993, Bitner 1990).

METHODOLOGY

Following the development of the model, a questionnaire was developed and tested on Hong Kong students both in Australia and in Hong Kong. The questionnaire consisted of an initial screening section to ensure that respondents were considering going overseas to study as undergraduates within the next 12 months. This was followed by a section measuring overall evaluation and intention to choose the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and the United States. The third section obtained respondents perceptions of each destination country in relation to the factors that influenced choice. All data regarding intention, evaluation and perceptions was collected on five point scales. The final section gathered demographic information.

The questionnaire was personally administered to 354 respondents who were systematically selected at a major careers expo in Hong Kong in August 1995. The systematic sampling strategy was based on the number of sessions the expo was open, combined with expected daily attendance figures. Based on the estimated sample size required, respondents were then selected on a time basis. A response rate of 86% was achieved.

RESULTS

The results of this study will be presented from two perspectives, the exploratory research results and the quantitative survey results. The quantitative analysis takes the form of a multiple regression analysis (stepwise) for each of the four destination countries. The dependent variable in each equation was the likelihood or intention of choosing a particular destination country. The independent variables were the 19 variables presumed to significantly contribute to the likelihood of selecting each destination country. Before each regression was run a principal components analysis was carried out on the 19 variables to remove multicollinearity. The results are presented in Table 1.

By considering the summary statistics at the bottom of Table 1 it can be seen that the R2’s ranged from a low of 24.11 for the United Kingdom to a high of 42.31 for Australia. These results can be considered acceptable as it is generally acknowledged in the behavioural sciences that R2’s values of between 20% to 30% are satisfactory. The adjusted R2’s also appear acceptable as they dropped only minimally in each equation indicating the sample size was adequate. The F statistic and the significance indicate that all equations are significant at the alpha level of 0.05. Regression coefficients are significantly greater than 0 at the alpha level of 0.05 as indicated by the T values in brackets.

For the United Kingdom, the exploratory research suggested that the main reason students go to the United Kingdom was the standard of the courses whereas the main reasons suggested for not going to the United Kingdom where that it was expensive, cold and too far away. However, the quantitative results are to the contrary. Eight variables contributed significantly to predicting the likelihood of choosing the United Kingdom as a destination. These factors jointly explain 24.11% of the variance in intention. These included all of the country characteristics except the presence of friends, and two of the five administrative processes, ease of gaining entry and ease of gaining exemptions. None of the course characteristics or cost variables contributed to the likelihood of selecting the United Kingdom. In comparison to other destination countries, the United Kingdom is the only country where course characteristics do not contribute towards intention. The United Kingdom is also different to other countries in terms of the contribution of administrative processes.

For the United States, the exploratory research suggested that the main reason students go to the USA was the exciting lifestyle whereas the main reason suggested for not going to the USA was that it was not safe. These exploratory results are supported by the quantitative results. Nine variables contributed significantly to the likelihood of choosing the United States as a destination. These factors jointly explain 31.79% of the variance in intention. These included two of the three course characteristics (standard of courses and standard of teaching facilities), all of the country characteristics except safety, and one of the five administrative processes, ease of gaining entry. Lifestyle is the variable that contributes most to intention and safety does not contribute to intention, that is, students who intend going to the United States are not going there because of safety. In comparison to other destination countries, ease of entry contributes only to the United States and the United Kingdom. The importance of this variable to the United States is supported by the exploratory work which suggested that due to the large number of institutions in the United States students could find somewhere that would accept them.

TABLE 1

IMPORTANT FACTORS INFLUENCING CHOICE OF DESTINATION

For Canada, the exploratory research suggested that the main reason for choosing Canada was the presence of friends and family whereas the main reason suggested for not going to Canada was that it was cold. However the quantitative results are to the contrary. Eight variables contributed significantly to the likelihood of choosing Canada as a destination. These variables jointly explain 31.83% of the variance in intention. These included two of the three course characteristics (standard of courses and standard of teaching facilities) and all of the country characteristics except opinions of friends. None of the administrative process or cost variables contributed to intention. The presence of family and friends actually contributed negatively to intention and climate does not contribute at all. In comparison to other destination countries Canada has no unique variables contributing to intention.

For Australia, the exploratory research suggested the main reasons for choosing Australia were that it was close, comparatively cheap and had a favourable climate whereas the main reason suggested for not choosing Australia was that it was boring and not as exciting as other destinations. These results are partially supported by the quantitative analysis. Fourteen variables contributed significantly to the likelihood of choosing Australia as a destination. These factors jointly explain 42.31% of the variance in intention. These included two of the three course characteristics (standard of courses and standard of teaching facilities), all of the country characteristics except the presence of friends, three of the five administrative processes (availability of information, part-time work and ease of obtaining a visa) and three of the four cost variables (low racial discrimination, climate and comparative cost). Similarly to the United States and Canada, course and country chracteristics were seen as important. Australia is most unusual in that more of the administrative and cost variables contribute to intention. Australia is the only destination where availability of information, being able to legally work part-time and the ease of getting a visa contribute. Three of the four cost variables also contribute positively to Australia. These results would indicate that Australia has a particular appeal to those students to whom cost is important.

It was also interesting that all variables contributed positively to intention except for the presence of family and friends which always contributed negatively. The presence of family contributed in all four cases, whereas the presence of friends contributed only for the USA and Canada.

Only two of the 19 variables identified did not contribute to any of the destination countries, recognition of qualifications and distance from home.

DISCUSSION

Given the contradiction in results, is the research question best answered by the exploratory or quantitative research?

To clarify the contradiction in exploratory verses quantitative results further exploratory research was undertaken in the form of depth interviews with twelve overseas students currently studying in Australia. Students were asked to explain their choice of destination qualitatively. Following this they were asked to complete the questionnaire including a new section requiring them to give an importance rating (on a five point scale) to the 19 factors presumed to influence choice.

In the majority of cases respondents appeared to contradict themselves, that is, when asked to state the main reasons for choice qualitatively they would suggest two or three reasons however when they completed the quantitative survey these reasons were not given the highest importance ratings. When questioned about this, respondents explained that their qualitative response was top of mind, while their quantitative response was more considered and rational and closer to how their decision was actually made. On this basis it is presumed that the quantitative results are a more accurate reflection of actual behaviour while the qualitative results reflect attitudes that may not necessarily impact on final behaviour.

Given the results above, the question then remains why do students choose one destination over another?

Country characteristics were consistently important to all four destination countries while two of the three course characteristics (standard of courses and standard of teaching facilities) were consistently important to all countries except the United Kingdom. This would suggest that regardless of destination country, the decision process is driven by country and course factors regardless of administrative processes and cost factors.

Administrative processes did not contribute significantly in most cases. This can be explained by the fact that by the time many of these administrative issues need to be addressed, a student has already selected a destination and so will not change their mind. For example to obtain a visa a student needs an acceptance from a university and having been accepted is not likely to change their choice of destination simply because a visa may take longer than if another destination been selected.

Cost variables were considered influential only in the case of Australia. This could be due to the fact that Australian education is often promoted on this basis, that is, that Australia has a wonderful climate, is comparatively cheap and has friendly people. In terms of financial cost, a variable that was thought to be very important, further qualitative research revealed that the cost of sending a student overseas to study is so high that the marginal differences between destinations is not sufficiently large to influence the intention to go to most destination countries for most students. In relation to racial discrimiation, another variable thought to be important to intention a similar logic could apply, in that most destination countries are perceived to have some racial discrimination so the variable does not really become important to choice for most students. Distance from home is another cost factor thought to influence choice, however this factor was not important to the choice of any country, as further qualitative research revealed that with modern transportation all destinations are seen as relatively easily accessible regardless of actual distance.

The data discussed here was gathered in 1995. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the situation in Hong Kong has altered since this time in many respects. For example the strength of ties to the United Kingdom in relation to many of the professional bodies, such as accountancy, appears to have weakened as the influence of China has strengthened due to the fact that China favours an international standard in accountacy which is closer to the United States than the United Kingdom. The impact of these changes should be furthered considered when interpreting the data discussed here.

From a marketing point of view this research has indicated which factors are currently important to a students choice of destination. Many factors currently thought to be important have been shown not to be. This information needs to be combined with a destinations current strategy and positioning in the market to produce more effective marketing outcomes. For example in all destinations country and course characteristics are consistently important so should be the focus of marketing efforts. Administrative processes, while not influencing choice except in the case of Australia, are frequently talked about by students. This may indicate that one segment of the market is influenced by these factors. Destination countries could develop strategies to target this segment. For example, the United Kingdom is perceived to be the most expensive destination. A recent study by IDP (1994) established that in many cases this perception of higher cost is a misperception. The United Kingdom could focus on correcting this misperception.

CONCLUSIONS

The results for each country have highlighted the relative importance of each of the identified factors to final choice of destination for overseas study and so provided a basis for developing more informed marketing strategies. Further research to assist in this strategy development will include an analysis of the relative positioning of the four destination countries on each of the identified variables to allow comparative strengths and weaknesses to be assessed.

In addition to the practical outcomes outlined above, this research has contributed to the development of theory in the area of choice of destination by bringing together the existing empirical research and proposing the first comprehensive model of choice. The study is also the first to gather comparative data on four destination countries. Hence this study not only answers the question of why a student selected a particular destination but also answers the question of why another destination was not chosen.

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Authors

Meredith Lawley, University of Southern Queensland, Australia
Oliver Yau, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong



Volume

AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3 | 1998



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