Parents in Asia are prepared to get involved to give their child the right opportunities

It is a proud moment when a parent watches their child head off to university for the first time. Students are starting a new chapter: they will meet new people, explore ideas and learn skills which shape the rest of their lives.

It is only natural for parents to take a close interest. HSBC’s new report Value of Education Learning for Life – based on a survey of parents in 16 countries and territories around the world – says that parents in fast-growing economies, especially in Asia, have strong opinions on what their children should study and are keen to get involved.

It starts with a long-term view. Parents in Asia have clear ideas about what career paths are best for their child. More than nine in ten parents in Indonesia, China and Malaysia have a specific occupation in mind. While medicine is the top choice globally, parents in India are keener for their children to consider careers in computer science, perhaps reflecting its importance to the national economy. Many parents want their children’s university education to equip them with knowledge of the business world: in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore parents’ preferred degree subject is business, management and finance.

The majority of parents provide financial support for their child’s university education

Western parents first and foremost want their children to choose a path that suits their own preferences and skills, while parents in Asia are more likely to focus on the realities of what is needed to succeed in a competitive work environment.

They are not wholly focused on income-earning potential, however – parents in Asia are also more likely to say that they want their child to do work that benefits society. And they place a high value on formal academic education to meet these long-term goals.

At least nine in ten parents in China, Indonesia, Malaysia, India and Singapore think an undergraduate or higher degree is necessary for their child to achieve important life goals, compared with less than half of parents in Australia, Canada and the UK. When it comes to postgraduate qualifications the difference in attitudes towards academic qualifications is clearer still. More than four in five parents in India think a further degree is necessary for their child to achieve their ambitions, compared with fewer than one in five parents in Australia or the UK.

Parents in Asia are prepared to get involved in a very practical way to give their child the right opportunities. More than half of parents in the UK and Australia do not seek any guidance about their children’s university education: by contrast, more than four in five parents in China, Indonesia, Malaysia and India ask for advice – whether that be consulting friends, teachers or websites. Parents in Asia are also the most likely to encourage their children to consider spending some time studying abroad, despite the extra cost and distance involved.

The majority of parents provide financial support for their child’s university education. In some cases, grandparents also pitch in. More than two in five parents in China with a child currently at university say that grandparents are helping or expected to help meet the costs. On top of university fees and living costs, most parents in Asia are also prepared to invest in extra tuition to give their child’s studies a boost.

More than half in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore, and more than seven in ten in China, Indonesia and India have paid for extra tuition. These findings are testament to how much parents are prepared to do to give the next generation the best possible start in adult life. They show a deep concern for their children’s welfare and an admirable willingness to make sacrifices on their behalf.

But the report also shows that paying for education can put a strain on family finances. Most parents hope to be able to save enough in advance to be able to provide support throughout university. However, many of those with older children find that they have not been able to save as much as they need, leading parents to take out loans or placing pressure on their day-to-day income.

The advice is clear: put in place a long-term savings plan and stick to it. This is particularly important for those considering overseas study. A separate study conducted for HSBC last year suggested that the average international student would need more than USD30,000 for each year of study in the US or the UK – the world’s two most popular destinations.

Parents also think that becoming financially independent is an important part of the university experience, according to the report. They can help ensure that young people are ready for that transition by teaching them to manage their own money from an early age. With money, as in many other aspects of life, the best way to look after your children is to give them support but also the freedom of independence.

A version of this article appeared in the South China Morning Post in July 2015.

Related content

Higher ambitions

15 July 2015

More than three quarters of parents think their child will need at least an…

Great expectations

15 July 2015

Being a parent is a joy, a privilege and a huge responsibility – especially when…