Montreal, London, HK are top foreign study destinations

Updated: 2013-07-16 07:13

By Yang Ziman (China Daily)

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Montreal, London, HK are top foreign study destinations

Time spent at schools abroad lends luster to resume, opens opportunities

Bank of Communications Ltd - one of China's largest banks - has ranked Montreal, London and Hong Kong as the top education destinations for Chinese people.

Bocom's 80-city list is called the Sea Turtle Index because the pronunciation of "sea turtle" in Chinese is the same as "coming back from overseas."

In China, local people who have studied or worked overseas are regarded as having language advantages and a better understanding of the global work culture. Therefore, "sea turtles" often have an edge over local graduates in the job market.

According to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, more than 4.1 million students sought higher education overseas in 2011.

In China, educational institutes offering their services to help students get accepted in their dream universities are booming. However, when faced with too many choices, students and parents often find it difficult to pick the right one.

Bocom's index and the accompanying White Paper - compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit, an independent research and analysis firm owned by the Economist Group - offer a set of comprehensive standards to choose the ideal education destination.

Education rankings usually look at universities or majors. The Sea Turtle Index, however, regards education as a form of investment and has factored in elements influencing its returns, apart from education quality, including financial returns, real estate returns, work experience, as well as the quality of the social and cultural experience on offer.

Many parents also want to invest in the destinations where their children receive their education.

"Metropolitan cities with world-class facilities are ideal places for investment," said Liam Bailey, chief of dwelling houses at Knight Frank, an international real estate firm. "If the investor happens to have educational needs there, they will make an investment decision more quickly."

In addition, students usually want to gain some work experience in the country where they attend college so that their resumes look more attractive to Chinese employers.

Other factors, such as a multicultural and safe environment, are also important aspects of education returns.

"Education is one of the most important investments within a family, particularly for mid- and high-income customers who expect high returns for sending their children overseas," said Leo Abruzzese, global forecasting director at the Economist Intelligence Unit. "We've created the index to show that colleges ranking at the top do not necessarily guarantee a handsome payback. Other factors such as tuition fees, living costs and employment prospects have to be considered as well."

"The research is part of our initiatives to better inform high-income customers when it comes to their education investments," said Tao Wen, who is in charge of personal finance at Bocom. "These families value not just education but job opportunities for the children and investment possibilities for the parents."

Montreal, with its relatively low education costs and welcoming attitude to immigrants, scored 72.4 to reach the top of the list.

"Real estate investment prospects are positive, with steady growth in prices along with a low-fee, low-taxation environment for foreign investors," according to the White Paper. "Canada welcomes graduates to stay on job-seeking for up to 3 years, though opportunities may be somewhat limited in Montreal due to a fairly high unemployment rate and only modest GDP growth."

Zhao Hong, chief of the colleges sector in Canada at Hezhong, a company which helps students apply for overseas universities, said that Canada is a popular destination for her customers, particularly for undergraduate programs.

"Canadian colleges are mostly publicly funded, which eases the financial burden. Moreover, some families are considering emigrating to Canada, or they have relatives in the country who could take care of their children while they go to college there," said Zhao.

American cities such as Boston, New York and Los Angles, even though they are home to a series of world-class universities, rank in the middle of the list due to high tuition fees and limited job opportunities.

Boston, for example, though it continues to hold great appeal despite the high cost of living for students, has scored only 45.6 in the Work Experience item due to the lack of a job-seeker visa program, which means that many students will take their newly gained skills overseas upon graduation.

Los Angeles' ranking was dragged down by its expensive undergraduate programs and the high cost of living. The city has some of the world's highest rents despite sharp falls in real estate prices since 2007.

Meanwhile, many Asian cities are catching up thanks to their comparatively high quality-cost ratios, with Hong Kong, Singapore, Seoul and Taipei taking up spots in the top 30.

Hong Kong, the highest-ranking Asian city, has an investment environment very open to foreigners, a booming real estate sector, low unemployment and minimal taxation.

"(Hong Kong's) score is also boosted by its status as one of the safest cities in Asia, allowing students to make the most of the social and cultural experiences on offer," according to the White Paper.

Singapore is in the 12th position not only because of its prestigious universities but also due to its reputation as an open financial hub, "offering an open banking system and a generous tax environment, low unemployment rate, and one of the safest places in the world."

Beijing is in the 27th place thanks to its extremely high growth rate combined with low unemployment. However, there are certain policy restrictions on foreigners' access to the capital and real estate markets in the city.

Xue Ning, chief of the colleges sector in the United States at Hezhong, said that parents differ in their choices for education destinations.

"Those who have worked abroad are more open-minded. They often value a creative environment and do not want their children to have too much peer pressure," said Xue. "But for those who have never been abroad, they look at nothing but the ranking of the universities."

(China Daily USA 07/16/2013 page15)