International Education Market Research

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Recently there have been articles about international students’ motivations and well-being on their journey of discovery through international education, a significant industry.

Such articles are relevant in that they do not criticise or dog whistle international students by describing them as ‘immigrants’ or suggesting they purposely short visa and immigration systems for long term or permanent residency.

In addition to reflecting increased international mobility and prosperity in developing nations, such insights should be imperative for all service-based marketing, especially digital carrying word of mouth or WOM.

Word of mouth is the most influential marketing channel as it is based upon experience of friends, family and peers with a product or service, the most trusted channel.

The message for marketers in any industry, especially services, is never make assumptions or rely upon headline or indirect data, but your customers too.  Marketing brand, reputation etc. requires constant feedback, monitoring of well-being and word of mouth while leveraging the same authentic feedback via social media, couched within a digital marketing strategy.

 

What we know about why Chinese students come to Australia to study

Hannah Song in The Conversation:

In 2016-17 Australia’s third largest export, international education, leapt from A$23.6 billion to a record high of A$28 billion. Within the higher education sector, the highest intake of international students is of Chinese origin.

Behind these statistics are the individual stories and aspirations of Chinese students’ parents who provide them the financial resources and emotional support. Yet, we know so little about why it matters so much to their parents, and what long-term impacts overseas study has on them and their families when they return home…

….Focusing on a shifting landscape of education in Shanghai, I undertook a longitudinal pilot case-study of four bilingual kindergarten-secondary schools to investigate the aspirations Chinese middle-class parents have for their children’s education.

….If Australia is to remain a destination for world-class education, we need to be far more self-reflective and long-sighted about what Australian international education offers: global citizenship and transnational mobility. We need to listen to the voices of an increasing middle-class in China.’

Student journey through international education

International Students (Image copyright Pexels)

‘’It’s stressful being an other’: The mental health woes of international students

Emily Baker in The Conversation:

Moving to Australia has, in Daniel Kang’s words, been a mix of challenges and little blessings. The Australian National University student has found room to breathe and develop. Walks through the abundant bush help clear his head. Generally, the experience has exceeded his expectations.

But moving from Singapore to Canberra has also carried difficulties. It can be stressful being an “other”, he said. The 22-year-old has at times been very lonely…

The most recent student experience survey from the federal government’s Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching found undergraduate international students rated their experience at Australian universities 75 out of 100 per cent – slightly below the 79 per cent awarded by domestic students.

But separately, many international students report stress. They report social isolation. The very fact of being an international student in Australia – the experience of being alone in a new country, subject to financial pressures, navigating a new culture, and adjusting to a new academic system – is considered to make an individual at greater risk of mental ill-health.’

 

Any institution, business or organisation that neglects its existing customers to inform quality and marketing strategy development, maybe asking for trouble while relying upon PR and sales?

In the case of international education the most valuable resources are accessible onshore and on campus, i.e. enrolled students and their networks.

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Focus Group Feedback – Qualitative Data Analysis – Grounded Theory & Coding

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Focus Group Feedback – Qualitative Data Analysis – Grounded Theory & Coding

 

Potential respondents must have the ethics of research explained before any interview or feedback, not only verbally at start of an interview or related interaction, but inclusion on a briefing document explaining study and research, storage of data, along with ethics.

Focus Group Interviews

 

Focus interviews, individual or via a group, based on psychoanalysis, can be very adaptable, allow expression of body language, in addition to concept checking or informal communication which would be precluded by the written form.  However, there are disadvantages, interviews can be very time consuming to conduct, transcribe, code and analyse when using open questions to elicit perceptions, attitudes and experience of the research area, plus they can be subjective or prone to bias.  On the other hand, they are useful to explore same perceptions etc., then importantly, used to inform a valid survey or data collection instrument or further research (Bell, 2005).

 

Types of interview include structured e.g. answering survey face to face, semi-structured and unstructured, the latter allows good quality data to be offered.  The unstructured interview can offer an opportunity for an industry person to explain and elaborate on issues that have emerged organically, that would have otherwise remained unknown and ignored (Ibid.).

 

Focus Group Interview Feedback Respondents

 

The ‘Focus Respondents’ for this research study included two former international students now professionals with digital literacy, two international education marketing (and admissions) managers for large multinational education providers and two more senior ‘Focus Respondents’ who manage within international education, but without formal marketing background.

 

‘Focus Respondents’ were asked open questions based upon the literature and round the information search process with any critical issues, key words, processes or phenomenon to be expressed, not in long narrative for full transcription, but abbreviated for notes and action coding.

 

It was explained to focus respondents, to give them structure or context, that the general focus was decision making behaviour process, represented by a five-stage model:

 

Purchase Decision Making Model

 

Five Stage Purchase Decision Behaviour Model or Process (simplified)

  • Recognition of Need
  • Information Search
  • Evaluation of Alternatives
  • Purchase Decision
  • Post Purchase Behaviour

(Kotler & Keller, 2012).

 

From same focus interviews regarding information search or discovery process, the research elicited factors or latent variables, then quantified by survey to analyse for significance of these factors in ‘optimal marketing and communications’.  These factors and construct can then be used to develop an information seeking construct and a useful template for industry.

Next step is to deliver survey to a hopefully significant sample population to then ground any marketing strategy development.

 

Reference List:

 

Bell, J. (2005) Doing Your Research Project. (4th Ed.). Maidenhead: Open University Press.

 

Kotler, P. & Keller, K. (2012) Marketing Management. (14th Ed.) Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education – Prentice Hall.

Focus Group Research then Survey for Digital e-Marketing Strategy Development

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Digital or e-Marketing Research for Strategy Development

 

Conducting Qualitative and Quantitative Feedback – Focus Respondent Interviews for Survey Instrument Development

 

Following outlines steps in applying research techniques for marketing using a MBA cohort of professionals of diverse backgrounds mostly based in Europe.

Limited interviews, both face to face and email based, were conducted with selected former students and industry stakeholders for experiential feedback to ascertain or confirm important factors.  After analysis of feedback, this led onto the development of a simple survey instrument with the factors or clusters of elicited, making up dimensions or phases (Saunders et al., 2009).  One could then measure or relate the importance of each factor in the information search amongst a related population or student cohort, then drawing inferences, but neither correlations nor causal relationships.

 

While optimal language and communication skills are important for questionnaires, there must be a process of researching, identifying and forming the questions to be included in a survey, that leads to valid and reliable data for analysis; one cannot go back after collecting survey data.

 

Ordinal Likert scales can be used to assess the strength of perceptions on relevant factors, on a three, five or seven-point range and can indicate order e.g. not very important through neutral to very important.  Ideally scales are applied to many factors or questions leading to inference of a construct explaining the research focus.  In this study, simply assessing relevance of each factor grouped as phases or dimensions for inclusion e.g. if deemed to be important or very important by students (Bell, 2005).

 

While the quantitative data collection or survey was a ‘probability sample’ or ‘representative sampling’ i.e. all from the same online MBA cohort, to allow inferences to be made about the population, the ‘Focus Respondents’ informing the survey development represented ‘non-probability’ sampling for convenience or streamlining.

 

By accessing ‘Focus Respondents’ and gaining input from potential population, also including informed input from industry personnel, industry and scholastic research; a valid survey instrument could be developed (Saunders at al., 2009).

 

The sample population of university students surveyed represent the population’s ‘information seeking’ behaviour, through collecting quantitative data from this representative sample of enrolled European University students in online MBA program.

 

Ideally this could have been expanded further amongst other sample populations for comparison and cross tabulation, but the scope of this study precluded inclusion, however actual colleges, public organisations and SME business workplaces can replicate the process.

 

Reference List:

 

Bell, J. (2005) Doing Your Research Project. (4th Ed.). Maidenhead: Open University Press.

 

Saunders, M., Lewis, P. & Thornhill, A. (2009) Research Methods for Business Students. (5th Ed.) Harlow UK: Pearson Education Ltd.

 

 

How to Research the Digital Customer Journey

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Related Research on International Student or Customer Information
Seeking Journey

 

This study started with individual focus input from a limited number of former international students and stakeholders giving open and related feedback on information seeking factors; mirroring grounded research techniques allowing issues to emerge within time and resource constraints (Strauss & Corbin, 1990).

 

This study, through qualitative techniques of literature review, with stakeholder feedback from both students and marketers, was followed by quantitative measurement of data from a modest but relevant sample student population, using descriptive statistics i.e. data tables, informing a construct with analysis, then discussion and recommendations.

 

Good starting point for qualitative research is ‘grounded theory’, a methodology to allow issues to emerge from focus respondents; this was partially replicated, but in an abbreviated or streamlined version.

 

Qualitative Research – Grounded Research Theory & Inductive Approach

 

Qualitative data from interviews or focus respondent feedback can be used for the ‘Inductive Approach’ (to inform survey instrument) exemplified by fluid theoretical framework, identification of relationships in the data for potential hypotheses, then theory emerges from this process.  Further, there are various types of approach e.g. summarising meaning or ‘condensation’, categorisation or ‘grouping’ and structuring or ‘ordering’ leading to a narrative, this approach avoids becoming caught in a deductive process of proving theory (Saunders, 2009).

 

Further, analysis of the emergent qualitative data allows comprehension, integration, pattern recognition, then potential development or testing of theories.  Also significant are language terms that emerge from the data, which also appear in existing literature, that are used by participants and relevant industry (Ibid.).

 

Language analysis is especially important to inform good website design, SM usage, content marketing and SEO keywords and phrases, reflecting the language or communication means that students prefer, use and can find.

 

Why Mixed Methods & Grounded Research Theory?

 

The reasons for using mixed methods include ‘triangulation’ to corroborate both facilitation and complementarity through qualitative and quantitative, ‘generality’ assessing importance through quantitative, and ‘aid interpretation’ with qualitative explaining quantitative.  This approach can solve a puzzle through analysis i.e. asking students directly versus guessing or assuming the latent factors driving their behaviour when planning a purchase (Saunders, 2009).

 

Grounded theory emerges from induction through the study of a phenomenon, e.g. study of student information searching preferences to derive a ‘grounded’ marketing and communications strategy or approach.  However, qualitative via grounded theory follows a process of systematic data collection and analysis related to a phenomenon so that data collection, analysis and theory relate to each other; it’s not subjective opinion (Strauss & Corbin, 1990).

 

Using mixed methods of data collecting or multi-method approach, adds up to enhanced validity and reliability through ‘triangulation’ (Bell, 2005).  Coding can also be done in a selective manner in choosing the core category for which relationships and other categories are viewed (Ibid.). Process or linking up of elements in the research or study emerges as a sequence of events, exemplified by identifying need, information search, analysis and decision; mirrors many cyclical processes including those outside of marketing (Ibid.).

 

The research process in this case, using grounded theory, allowed flexibility provided evaluation criteria are satisfied, leading onto empirical grounding (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). How or where do we start?

 

 

Reference List:

 

Bell, J. (2005) Doing Your Research Project. (4th Ed.). Maidenhead: Open University Press.

 

Saunders, M., Lewis, P. & Thornhill, A. (2009) Research Methods for Business Students. (5th Ed.) Harlow UK: Pearson Education Ltd.

 

Strauss, A. & Corbin, J. (1990) Basics of Qualitative Research – Grounded Theory Procedures and Techniques. Newbury Park CA: SAGE Publications.

 

Focus Group Research for Digital e-Marketing Strategy Development

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Digital or e-Marketing Strategy Development
Research Design & Methodology

 

Optimal research is based on triangulation between scholarly and industry research representing a process with related factors, then analysis and coding of key stakeholder feedback according to same process.  Thirdly, it can be followed by quantitative data gathering or survey of customers’ attitudes on the factors that emerged, joining the circle or triangulation.

 

The literature review can highlight research and industry issues or views of marketing and communications for international education or related products and services, leading to an optimal marketing and communications construct to inform strategy and professional practice.  Additionally, to inform or validate any construct, qualitative data needs to be collected through focus type respondents from industry or target market, coded and analysed for inclusion of important factors in a survey instrument.

 

Quantitative data can be collected, described and analysed; resulting in a practical process and template for both small and large entities. It is limited neither to education nor marketing, but applicable to any workplace investigation or consulting, not unlike good investigative journalism or detective work or training needs analysis.

 

Research Approach Rationale

 

This data collection and qualitative research use the inductive approach, with grounded research methods, which informs development of a survey instrument, and represents the purchase decision process model.  The focus is ‘information search or discovery process’, produces data for analysis and then informs a generic marketing and communications model or template, for marketing and communication practitioners, through a process.

 

This is opposed to taking the deductive approach of testing a hypothesis already formed from previous research or practice, assuming data and a hypothesis or rationale is publicly available.  However, the deductive approach is precluded by the lack of the following: transparent marketing strategies, access to data, direct process based KPIs key performance indicators and ROI return on investment, meaningful analytics on student marketing and communications, and access to statistically significant sample population(s).

 

 

Effective medium or long-term strategy may be precluded by a short-term sales or ROI type of analysis of an annual marketing investment budget, evaluating only selected inputs and outputs, but neither processes nor future income streams.  Accordingly, with related scholastic research lacking in this field, a contemporary framework or construct reflecting both target market and changing technology, is needed to aid analysis and future marketing.

 

Research Design & Methodology

 

The research can start with question or proposal round ‘information seeking’, review of marketing research literature and education industry reports with expert focus respondent feedback.  From the latter, a survey instrument can be developed, piloted, data collected, then analysed according to descriptive statistics through e.g. Survey Monkey, then data tabulated, presented, analysed, reported and linked back for business applications.

 

Inductive Approach to Qualitative Research

 

One can take the approach of ‘theory first’ and test deduced hypotheses to verify theory, or conversely ‘theory after’, not starting with theory but collecting data to generate a theory or model.  This is not unlike inferring the significant factors that impact how Google and Facebook Page search algorithms affect SEO, when the algorithm is commercial in confidence.

 

The research is based on eliciting relevant process or factors to inform and develop a latent construct of optimal marketing and communications for students as purchasers, especially related to the information seeking phase or journey.  This construct, developed through inference, should suggest good industry practice that includes latent factors or (re)sources that allow students to find relevant information to analyse for a future purchase decision.

 

Advantages of this approach are that it allows one to take a research direction, it does not force respondents to adopt a restrictive theory or framework that may preclude relevant feedback (Saunders et al., 2009).  Such a construct can be used to develop a marketing and communications strategy or template, then used to develop initial, or compare existing, strategy and evaluate, according to users, clients or students; creating systematic process and utility in the sector.

 

Research Proposition

 

How do students’ or customers’ information seeking behaviours relate to marketing and communications strategy in international education or related service industries?

 

The research proposition posits that there is a relationship between more recent information seeking factors exemplified by digital, and the older WOM word of mouth, for a purchase decision process, with development of grounded, practical marketing and communication strategy.

 

This data collection and research focused mostly upon the similarities in recent digital based ‘information search or discovery process’, the factors that are related to this process and could be used to infer an optimal information seeking construct or model (Kotler & Keller, 2012).

 

Reference List:

 

Kotler, P. & Keller, K. (2012) Marketing Management. (14th Ed.) Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education – Prentice Hall.

 

Saunders, M., Lewis, P. & Thornhill, A. (2009) Research Methods for Business Students. (5th Ed.) Harlow UK: Pearson Education Ltd.