Understand your market, communicate more effectively.

 

Understand your market, communicate more effectively.

Report from Thailand (October 2014)

 
Current Situation

Apart from the ever popular High School Tour Groups, the Thai market is for High School students who will likely go on to a degree, graduates wanting post-graduate studies, or a few graduates wanting vocational-type diplomas to complement their degree. This is partly driven by “qualification inflation” and partly because many Bachelor graduates cannot get good jobs, and want to go on to Masters, or some other career-enhancing study, preferably off-shore. Most Tertiary students require some ESOL study before taking up academic study.

Thus the September/October period is crucial for promoting February starts in NZ High schools, and January/February/March for promoting Tertiary options after graduation in April or May, and for academic course starts in NZ in July (Universities and PTEs) or September (many PTEs).

There is some growing interest in Primary education, but currently very small.

Agents tend to specialise in High School only, or High School and University, and possibly ESOL, but usually at English Language schools attached to the Universities. Most agents represent only a few, if any, PTEs, and those are mainly for ESOL.

On the other hand, many agents represent almost every High School in New Zealand, and “guide” students to choose one appropriate to their needs. Many parents are happy to have their children in “safer” areas, away from the distractions of Auckland, but graduates, particularly those from Bangkok, rarely want to be outside of Auckland. (In fact, a couple of PTEs in provincial NZ cities recruit only in smaller Thai cities, as it is hard to get a cost-effective response from Bangkok.)

Bangkok is an extremely competitive market, not just from every other country promoting themselves, but between the large number of agents for the relatively small number of students wanting to study in New Zealand. A common pattern is for a graduate (often a woman) to have enjoyed their study in New Zealand, and return to Thailand to establish an agency using their personal contacts. Some have been very successful, but many do not last long, and even long lasting ones often change direction, either with new business interests or promoting “easier” countries than New Zealand.

*There is currently a notable case, who I will not be working with, and will advise clients individually if they are already working with this agency.

 
FACTORS possibly affecting change

1.ASEAN

With the coming development of ASEAN as a regional development block (AEC) in 2015, Thai people were stung by the release of data last year to show that their average English levels were one of the lowest amongst the ASEAN countries, and particularly embarrassing to be lower than Cambodia. Also embarrassing are figures published in March this year ranking the general quality of their education system lower that of Laos.

There is a belief that by 2015 there will be increased pressure to travel overseas to improve English, and get Western experience. Thai parents already see the value in investing in their child’s education, and this will be reinforced by the political uncertainty and potential for conflict.

2.New competitor countries

Singapore has become a popular, and cheaper destination for Thai students, and there is a huge push from Malaysia. A little surprisingly, India has also been successful at the very cheap end of the market, possibly because of historic cultural connections. In Korea, New Zealand has lost huge market share for ESOL to the Philippines, but the Philippines are not at this stage active in Thailand, and are anyway not perceived as high quality, so that is some relief to New Zealand. (Although significant numbers of Vietnamese are studying English in the Philippines.)

Education New Zealand states that NZ is perceived to be the most affordable country for study abroad within the traditional 5 English speaking countries. However, the question must be raised about whether New Zealand providers are charging prices that can see them successful against these new competitors. Education New Zealand is very opposed to the “supermarket model” but premium prices need to be justified by premium products. New Zealand’s reputation for tuition quality, and Pastoral Care, should provide some premium over new competitor countries. However, given that tuition quality is “guaranteed” by NZQA, can providers justify the price ranges seen in the market? For example

  • NZ High School fees range for $10,000 pa to $16,000 pa
  • ESOL fees range from $250/week to over $400/week ($12,500 to $20,000 pa)
  • Tertiary fees range from $10,000 pa (some PTEs) to over $20,000 pa (both PTEs and Universities)

That is not to say that premium prices should not be charged, but providers need to clearly identify and promote the “additional benefits” of their product that justify the premium price. We will be working on an international price comparison over the next few months.

3.Vocational

As Thailand’s economy is so dependent on tourism, traditionally the most popular vocational courses have been in business, tourism management, and hospitality management. There seems to be growing demand for other technical courses such as IT, Animation etc, and certainly, Thai students are huge users of mobile devices.

4.Study-to Residence Pathway

Although Thai people do migrate, Thailand has not been a migration driven market, unlike some others, and the Study-to-Residence Pathway is not well known amongst agents, probably because of the lack of representation of PTEs. The increased acceptance of vocational qualifications, and the political uncertainty may lead to an increase in demand for such pathways, and is definitely an opportunity for us to promote the concept.

(Study-to Residence Pathway = 1 year study (at L7 or above)  or 2 years (at L6 and below) plus 1 year Post-study Work Visa plus 2 year Work Experience visa, with a suitable job,  giving sufficient points to meet Residency requirement)

5.Changes at Education New Zealand

The young woman (Nan) who has worked supporting agents for the last 8 years, has resigned quite suddenly. One worrying rumour is that Education New Zealand will not replace her, as agents should be experienced enough now to stand on their own. That may be true, but if other countries are providing that support, we would be foolish not to. Let’s wait and hope!

 
Our Strategy

1. Use of digital media for generic promotion of

New Zealand as a study destination to provide quality added-value to a students’ education, but at our member schools in particular.
The opportunities for post-study work in New Zealand, and particularly the Study-to-Residence pathway.

2. Identify agents in Bangkok who will work with our group, in particular in promotional activities specifically in support of our member schools. Ideally those agents will have offices or branches in smaller centres, where we can also actively promote ourselves, and we have so far identified agents with branches in

  • Nonthaburi
  • Lampang
  • Surat Thani
  • Hat Yai
  • Chiang Rai

3. Identify agents in smaller centres with whom we can work on promotions. We have so far identified agents in

  • Hat Yai
  • Chiang Mai
  • Khon Kaen
  • Phuket

4. Find agents who work in, or have branches, or relationships in

  • Pak Kret
  • Udon Thani
  • Nakhon Ratchasima

5. Develop a market visit programme in September each year focussing on potential Primary and Secondary School students (plus Tertiary), and in January or February each year focussing on Tertiary (plus Secondary)

6. Appoint in-market staff in 2015.

 

Bruce Cleland

Chairman

© Choose New Zealand 2014

Schools/Institutions we work with