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Publication date: 22 January 2019

Kee-Cheok Cheong, Christopher Hill, Yin-Ching Leong, Chen Zhang and Zheng Zhang

Using a Southeast Asian context, this paper asks a question that has seldom been researched: Is there a divergence between parents’ and their college-going children’s…




Using a Southeast Asian context, this paper asks a question that has seldom been researched: Is there a divergence between parents’ and their college-going children’s perceptions of education and employability at a time of rapid economic change? If such a divergence exists, it would have hidden costs for the children. Parents’ choice of professions no longer in demand when their children reach working age can permanently damage the latter’s earning power. Also, parents’ choice of fields of study that their children are not proficient or interested in jeopardizes the latter’s chances of success in their studies. The paper aims to discuss these issues.


Data were collected using mixed methods, a combination of structured online questionnaires from two local special-purpose sample surveys conducted by the authors, and follow-up interviews. Graduate Employment Survey 2 (GES2) was the second of a three-phase British Council-sponsored study, focusing on TNE, that used a structured online questionnaire for students of several tertiary education institutions, both in the public and private sectors, and for several group interviews of students in 2015. A structured questionnaire was also administered to a small number of parents.


In terms of employment, the rankings of HEIs by parents and students were generally consistent. Study in foreign HEIs abroad has the highest likelihood of employment. Branch campuses were ranked next highest. Despite this, of interest is the difference in mean scores between first and second ranked HEIs. Whereas students rate branch campuses as not much inferior to foreign university campuses, parents see a major gulf between them – they rate foreign campuses more highly than branch campuses more poorly. This difference is likely caused by parents’ traditional preference for foreign study over local, coupled with a lack of TNE knowledge.

Social implications

A fundamental issue of perception is how parents and students see the role of education. Is education a destination or is education a journey? This disconnect has consequences. Given the shifting nature of employment, the need for transferable skills and the fact that some of the jobs that the next generation will be doing are not even known today, parental advice based on what they know may not do justice to their children’s choice of career. Likewise, the approach of TNE to promote traditional degrees to job paths is also a conventional approach that has a limited shelf life.


The role of parents in education choice has received surprisingly scant academic attention. With technological change driving product and service innovation ever more rapidly, previously unknown types of work have emerged in a relatively short span of time. In this situation, the risk of mismatched perceptions between parents and their children, whose educational experience spans a generation, is becoming increasingly real. While most studies of a parental role have been undertaken for Western countries, there is much less research on East Asian parents’ role in their children’s education.


Higher Education Evaluation and Development, vol. 12 no. 2
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 2514-5789


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