News & Reports

Studies Help Parents Weigh Educational Cost Versus Quality

Australia is the most expensive place for international students to get an education, but is perceived by parents as being only fourth in the world when it comes to quality, according to two studies.

A study released last month by HSBC found Australia to be the most expensive destination for international students with an average annual cost of living and fees totaling $42,093. But an earlier HSBC study on parents’ perception of educational quality found that Australia came in fourth.

That study polled 4,500 parents in 15 countries about the three countries they felt offered the best quality in university education. (Australian educators would counter the criticism by saying that for a country with a small population, they have seven of the top 100 universities in the world)

The study—conducted by Ipsos MORI, a UK-based market research company, on behalf of HSBC—found that 51 percent of parents polled placed the United States at the top when it came to reputation. And while the United States is perceived as offering the best education, it came in third in terms of cost with an average annual total bill of $36,564. Many Arab students, of course, have to add heavy travel costs on to that price.

The United Kingdom came in second in terms of educational quality. It was viewed by 38 percent of parents as one of the top three. It came in fourth in terms of how expensive it is—at an average annual cost of $35,045.

On the other hand, Germany is one of the cheapest developed countries for international students, with fees and costs of living totaling $6,285 per year, and was ranked third in terms of the perceived quality of education.

Although the survey didn’t poll Arab countries, the perception of quality education destinations seems to be the same for Arab-region parents and parents elsewhere.

Nermine Tobbala, a mother of two living in Dubai, feels the United States and the United Kingdom offer the best education possibilities for her 15-year-old, despite the fact that both her children were educated in French. “When you look at rankings of the top 10 universities you can see that they all come from these two destinations,” she says, adding that rankings are her key criteria to choosing a university. “You’re talking about Oxford, Harvard, MIT and Cambridge.”  Because most of the people in Dubai are expats, Tobbala says that parents either send their children to their home countries for university or to the United States or United Kingdom.

Her son, Aly Seif El-Din, switched to an English-language school to get a set of skills—including presentation, communication and extra-curricular activities—that his mother believes French universities don’t offer. He is also attending summer camp at a U.S. university next year. That, the family hopes, will help him get into the university of his choice.

France does not seem to enter most parents’ minds. “France is just not as good as the U.K. or the U.S.,” says her son. “You hear of great universities like Harvard, MIT and Oxford, but France? I only know of the Sorbonne.”

Similarly, although 17-year-old Nada El Chamy has studied at a French school in Cairo, she is focusing on the U.S. as her first choice for university, followed by France.  “I want to continue education in English because it will be best for my career,” says El Chamy.  She adds that although she believes the United Kingdom offers quality education, she believes the country is stricter when it comes to English-language requirements than the United States, which eliminated the country from her list, because she is not that confident of her language skills. Her mother, Rania El Sherbiny, on the other hand, only wants her to go to the United States if she can go to an Ivy League university. Otherwise, El Sherbiny says, she prefers France, which is cheaper and closer to home. “If she goes to France I can be there in four hours if she needs me,” says El Sherbiny. “But if she’s accepted in an Ivy League university, I can’t tell her to pass up on that opportunity.”

Whether or not it is realistic for parents to get their children into top-tier Russell Group universities in the United Kingdom or Ivy League institutions in the United States is questionable. Harvard University, for example, only accepted about 6 percent of applicants this year.

Although the two major English-speaking education destinations are among the most expensive, parents believe children need education there to give them a chance in a competitive career market.

Tobbala explains that even though it’s expensive to study in the United States or the United Kingdom, if her son is going to a top-ranked university and is hardworking and has potential, then it is a sound investment and value for money. “Now the competition is really high worldwide,” says Tobbala.

El Sherbiny echoes similar feelings, adding that if El Chamy doesn’t get into a top university, then her choice is leaning towards France. “If she doesn’t get an athletic scholarship then we’re talking about at least $60,000 a year for fees alone, while in France the tuition fees are only 200 euros,” says El Sherbiny. “So if she ends up getting accepted only in a normal university [that isn’t top-ranked] why would I bother pay these amounts and have her so far away from home?”

The report also found that despite parents seeking quality education for their children, four out of five families pay for their child’s education from current income. More than half the parents surveyed expressed regret they hadn’t started saving for their children’s education earlier.

This feeling is accentuated in Arab countries where parents seem to rarely start education funds for their children. HSBC says it wants to improve the financial planning of parents who might want their children to get an international education.

“An international education brings an extra dimension of complexity to planning, particularly financial planning,” said Simon Williams, group head of Wealth Management at HSCBC in the report. “The majority of overseas education is privately funded by parents, and while the concept of a college fund is well established in the U.S., it is still the exception elsewhere.”

Parents ranking countries among the top three destinations of quality education:

1- United States (51%)

2- United Kingdom (38%)

3- Germany (27%)

4- Australia (25%)

5- Japan (25%)

Countries ranked based on average tuition fees plus average annual cost of living:

1- Australia ($42,093)

2- Singapore ($39,229)

3- S. ($36,564)

4- K. ($35,045)

5- Hong Kong ($32,140)

6- Canada ($29,947)

7- France ($16,777)

8- Malaysia ($12,941)

9- Indonesia ($12,905)

10-Brazil ($12,627)

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