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Factors Influencing Decisions to Study Overseas Essay

Introduction

Past few decades have witnessed massive inflow and outflow of students in order to acquire foreign higher education. International education and the international mobility of students can be traced back to ancient times, as early as 600 BC in India (Chen, 2007). Since the late 1990s the higher education market is growing by 7 percent a year. (Kaul, 2006).The trend is not only common in Western world but Asian students also constitute a major proportion of international students in foreign universities. This Asian market continues to be a major one (Gatfield & Hyde, 2005). The existence of world class institutes in UK and USA make them most preferred destinations for students.

The prominent education exporting countries (those which sell education to international student) include USA, UK, Canada and Australia while the education importing countries (those which buy education from foreign universities) include East Asian Tigers, China, India and Pakistan. Due to increasing trend of foreign education, the competition amongst the education exporting countries is also becoming intense and thus they pursue better marketing efforts in order to attract foreign students.

Pakistan’s service sector has grown substantially in past decade and requires major human capital in order to sustain efficient growth. A skilled workforce is a key to successful operations of any business. The development of sectors like information technology, financial sector and the establishment of multinational corporations require educated personnel. Therefore an educated and highly skilled human capital is a prerequisite for a developing country like Pakistan to enable economic growth.

In Pakistan, there are a handful of universities offering post-graduate programs. The disciplines offered are not much diverse and the numbers of seats are also limited. Research facilities for doctoral studies are also not as advanced as in world class institutes abroad. Beside these already established facts, my research would revolve around the influence of personal factors, the “external push-pull factors” and the influence of family, peers, sponsors and employers. (Chen, 2007)

Literature Review

There have been several studies conducted on this topic. The ones I have gone through while doing literature review were carried out in India, China, Australia, Portugal, Canada, Malaysia, United Kingdom and South Africa.

A research suggested that in order to attract international graduate students, focus should be concentrated on investing in research and ensuring the standards of education by the institutions, while efforts should be devoted to “the internationalization of graduate education”, as well as devising a national marketing strategy to portray a better image of their higher education institutions and programs. (Chen, 2007).

This research suggested that pull factors of host institutions in terms of cost, academic excellence and Canada’s good reputation for cultural tolerance are more significant as compared to other personal factors. It further stated that the quality of education was more important to students as compared to financial concerns. ‘Internationalization of higher education’ related activities are significant to impact the decision of PhD students’ choice of foreign university whereas marketing activities directly influence students’ choice in taught degree programs. (Chen, 2007)

A study by World Bank stated that foreign education is no different than trade. It is trade of a service where one country’s resident buys education from the country which is selling it. This study made an in-depth analysis of the negative push factors associated with the home country. The demand for foreign education increases when there is excess demand for domestic education and seats are limited. Also, the changing business dynamics and work practices require a more qualified taskforce which make international degree more valuable. Countries like India have started a collaboration program with foreign institutes to so that their domestic education system is improved. The study revealed that education trade has adverse impacts on domestic education system of home countries especially the developing ones.

“Nonetheless, this trade is bound to increase and diversify due to the growing demand for foreign qualifications and increasing competition among industrialized nations in the higher education market and also due to the entry of more higher education institutions from developing countries, which can compete on both price and quality.” (Bashir, 2007) Greater economic benefits are achieved if natives have acquired higher education. Education export is a business for which the administrators need to devise marketing strategies in order to stay at par with competitors. In this Malaysian study, international students have also been termed as customers as they are paying for the service. This study analysed 48 factors and their relative strengths which influenced the international students’ decisions to select appropriate universities for their post graduate studies.

This study identified 6 major factors which attracted foreign students, with quality of education and impact of influencers being the most important ones. Importance of each factor was determined using ANOVA and MANOVA. The research suggested that students from different regions had different preferences and ‘needs and wants’. However, all these students demanded a better ‘customer focus’ as they were paying heavily. All international students evaluated factors like ‘qualification of instructors, medium of communication, learning environment, socialization and location’. Quality education, cost, and facilities are directly related to services provided by the HEIs (higher education institutes) are the key determinants of decision-making process by the international students therefore these factors should be addressed by the HEIs (Padlee, Kamaruddin, & Baharun, 2010)

A study carried out in UK revealed that the students have a desire to attend a world class institute which motivates them to go abroad. It was also revealed that US is the most popular destination for UK students. Students with good academic capabilities were mainly the ones who applied to foreign universities. The social class and parental educational background also influenced the decision-making and the upper class and highly educated parent’s children were most likely to go abroad. However it was analysed that family influence mattered least while decision-making. A few students opted to study in Australia because they were interested in permanent emigration. It is predictable that the factor of a desire to attend a world class university will become more influential in upcoming decades as there has been an exponential rise in globally emerging world class institutes. (Findlay & King, 2010)

International post graduate students studying in Malaysia ranked the programs offered as the most important criteria while selecting a particular university, followed by fees, facilities and academic staff performance. The paper stated that Malaysia is amongst the most preferred countries for educational purposes these days. The academic excellence of visiting and permanent faculty is noted to be major influencer to attract students. International publications by the professors or university also impact the university reputation.

Scholarships offered and ‘environment built’ were least important factors. However it was observed that there lays a difference in priorities of students from West and Asia. A multi criteria decision making issues were evaluated using AHP technique. This technique ranked the importance of each factor. Marketing implications for Malaysian universities is that they should offer a wide range of programs along with scholarships and reasonable fee structure. (Dahari & Abduh, 2011)

The benefits of acquiring foreign education are evident in form of a highly skilled and productive labour force. The experience of foreign culture adds to learning experience and a more diversified labour force is produced. Owing to these benefits, competition amongst the education exporters has become intense. A South African study found out that the pull factors associated with host country are more influential in decision making rather that the negative push factors associated with the home country. Students purse foreign education primarily for career development and to experience a foreign culture. 14 factors were examined individually and the most influential factor was found to be “seeking qualifications with worldwide recognition” through rank order analysis.

Other major factors include limited course availability in home country, better employment prospect with a foreign degree, experiencing foreign culture and higher quality education abroad. The two least important factors were strict entry requirements criteria in domestic institutions and non-acceptance by domestic university for preferred course. There was not much variation in responses of students from different countries. As the competition amongst the education exporting countries is increasing, greater marketing efforts are needed by these countries in order to be a lucrative market for foreign student. Internet could prove to be a beneficial tool in terms of advertising. It must be ensured that the quality of education is excellent so that there is cross border recognition of higher education institutes. (Mpinganjira, 2009)

Today, higher education is a central factor in order to match pace with the rapidly advancing technological world. A study conducted in Australia investigated the choice patterns of Singaporean students. Australia is favoured for higher education by international students due to its relatively lower cost of education and accommodation as compared to other Western countries. This study explored the demographic profiles of students in detail through in-depth interviews and found out how the socio-economic background, cultural influence and psychological factors of student influence their decision making.

The students wanted to have an independent living experience. The decision making process is a highly complex one which requires high involvement where social, personal and behavioural aspects come into play. Cultural, colonial, political and regional interest similarities between Australia and Singapore are favourable factors which allow for educational exchange between two countries. The natural physical endowments such as oceans, beaches and vast land were also one of the attractions for international students to opt for Australia. The study concluded with a recommendation to Australian institutes to attract foreign students through advertising. (Gatfield & Hyde, 2005)

An Indian research highlighted the need for higher educational institutes in their domestic market as there is a need for skilled labour force for their emerging industries. Not only there is a boom in industrial sector, but financial, medical, biotechnical and information technology sectors are also developing rapidly along with advent of multinational corporations. These sectors require human capital which is a product of quality higher education. That paper has termed international higher education as a business with students being its clients. It proposes that foreign campus of international universities should be established in India so that students who do not afford foreign education abroad may earn the fruits of this joint venture between Indian public institutes and foreign universities. (Kaul, 2006)

Decision making process is a multi step process influenced by various factors at each stage. A paper by Pimpa primarily focuses on family, peers and agents influence on decision making of Thai students for foreign education. The family factor is further dissected into factors like finance, persuasion, competition and expectations while peers and agents may influence through information and competition. The study also developed a relation between age and family influence, the older the students the lesser the influence of family on their decision. Thai students enrolled in Australian institutes were taken as sample through convenience sampling. The results depicted that finance factor of family influence had a major impact followed by information provided by agents and peers whereas competition amongst the family members and persuasion from family members were least important criteria. This study added the agents influence in detail to already existing theories of external push and pull factors. (Pimpa, 2003)

Apart from the role played by external push and pull factors, the impact of personal psychographics and behavioural factors along with socio-economic background were studied by Boey, Smith and Cuthbert. Gender difference has often been sidelined in this area of research however this study also incorporated that how the relative importance of each factor vary with respect to gender difference making this research unique from all the previous works done. The demographic profiles of each respondent were made to determine their social class and standing. The main importers of Australian education are Asian students. 50% of students belonged to single income families while other 50% belonged to double income families thus being capable to afford education in Australia.

Fathers of respondents were more qualified than mothers but the influence of parents’ education level was very minute. Results depicted that sons were sent to UK or US for higher education while daughters were sent to Australia due to relative lesser cost of education than in US or UK. The reputation and academic standing of the institute were prime factors which influenced the selection of university followed by ‘campus environment’, facilities and location. Also, females opted for foreign education as an opportunity to experience life abroad in independent manner. The results depicted that gender have different approaches and further research may be carried to highlight these differences. (Smit, Boey, & Cuthbert)

A Portuguese study analysed the factors which led to departure of graduates for doing scientific PhD from abroad. These factors included better employment opportunities after acquiring foreign degree, better research facilities abroad and lack of competitive scientific environment at home. The reputation of the institution, scientific motivations, such as the resource availability and the composition of the research were pull factors stated in sequence of their importance. (Delicado, 2010)

Since the emergence of world as a global village, higher foreign education has become an essential part of the globalisation process. The demand for highly qualified professionals has lead to increased flow of students to international markets for acquiring foreign degrees. The prime objective of foreign education is ‘self development’ but it eventually adds up to national interest. The most beneficial outcome of the international education is that students become well equipped with the required tools to understand the concept of ‘social equity and justice’ with respect to international issues. The term ‘internationalization’ has several meanings attached to it but with respect to education it could be referred to as the process of adopting a set of activities to make domestic education system well integrated with foreign education system in order to meet the challenges of globalisation.

There could be four possible rationales for internationalization process namely; political, social/cultural, economic and academic. Different stakeholders assign varying level of significance to these rationales. The differences in interest of various stakeholders usually give rise to conflicts which may hinder the internationalization process. The internationalization of education could be done though elements such as: joint research projects, international conferences and seminars, visiting faculty, distant learning, international students, cross cultural training, intercultural campus events, student exchange programs and foreign language education etc. (Qiang, 2003)

Globalisation and internationalization are two phenomena which are distinct in nature but are inter-related. In past decades there has been a phenomenal shift to service based industries which has resulted into creation of a ‘knowledge society’. Trained personnel are thus required in knowledge based industries in modern times. These elements constitute the process of globalisation. Internationalization too is a part of globalisation where academic institutions indulge in activities such as student exchange programs, designing international standard curriculum, foreign language programs and branch campuses etc. The main education selling countries are UK and US and earn handsome profits through international students from Asian and Latin American countries.

Some institutions from UK and US have opened up branch campuses in Qatar, Singapore and Spain along with some other countries which facilitate provision of international standard education in middle income countries. The factors which hinder the international student mobility include terrorism acts, cultural intolerance, greater cost of foreign education, government regulations, language barriers, government regulations and policies, distant learning programs and the emergence of private sector educational institutes. Provision of international education should not be aimed at earning profits; rather it should have a vision to benefit public on a mass scale. (Altbach & Knight, 2007)

Chinese students compose the major chunk of world pie of international students and Australia is one of the biggest known for education export. It is a preferred destination for Chinese students because of security and friendly environment for foreigners. In the earlier times, Chinese government used to fund foreign studies of its students however now the Chinese family’s major expense second to food is their child’s education expense. Chinese push factors include inadequate number of institutions in domestic market, increasing trend of foreign education in society, increased ability for self funded foreign education due to rapid economic growth and the need for highly skilled labour. Parents are more aware of the potential benefits of foreign degree thus are willing to invest in their child’s future.

While selecting the host country, Chinese students consider factors like the reputation of host country, the recognition of the institute, cost of living and tuition fee, the influence of family, friends and peers, the proximity of host country to Mainland China and the host countries’ laws and regulations. Chinese students surprisingly do not have an urge to live in West and experience their lifestyle and culture. Research proved that Australia was preferred over US, UK and Canada. The most important factor which influences their decision to study abroad is the better quality of education abroad as compared to that in their home country. Australia attracts students because of its appealing immigration policy, lower crime rate, English-speaking country, cultural tolerance, lower cost of tuition and living and quick visa application processing. (Yang, 2007)

Push factors are associated with the social and economic factors of the home country which propel the students to pursue foreign education. The selection of the host country is relied on pull factors which attract foreign students. In developing countries of Asia and Africa there are not enough opportunities in domestic market to acquire higher education therefore students direct themselves to foreign journey. The historical and colonial link of the host and home countries is one of the major factors which influence the decision of students in terms of selection of host country. Other factors include the language similarity, geographical proximity to home country and the technological advancement of the host country. The push factors of home country include the economic stability, its contribution to world economy, emphasis on education importance by the government and access to higher education at home.

The pull model stated that the attraction to a particular country is influenced by the kind of economic and political ties which persist between the home and host country. The common model states the first step is to decide whether to study abroad or in home country, second is the choice of host country and the last decision is to select the host institution. Through each stage of the process, several independent factors influence the decision which includes the immigration intentions, barriers to entry in domestic institutes, limited courses offered at home, to experience foreign culture and better quality of education abroad. Major concerns are cost of living, travelling, tuition fees and career prospects. (Mazzarol & Soutar, 2002)

Research Questions and Objectives

The central research question is:
What are the major factors which influence Pakistani students’ decisions to pursue post graduate studies in a foreign country?
While attempting to address the central question, this study also incorporates following questions:
1. What are the characteristics of Pakistani students who acquired foreign degrees? 2. Why did students prefer to study abroad?

3. How has their socioeconomic background and family setup influenced their decision?

The basic purpose of this paper is to investigate factors that influence the decision to study abroad. It would explore the extent to which various factors influence the decision to study abroad and how different student’s preferences vary based on personal factors and their socioeconomic backgrounds. Finally this study would provide implications for Pakistani universities as to how they could improve their education system in order to attract native students. It would also be beneficial for education exporting countries as they could formulate their marketing strategies based on the findings of this paper..

Theoretical Framework

It’s a three staged process where students first decide whether to go abroad for higher education or to study at a local institute. Once they have chosen to study abroad, they select a host country. This second stage is a critical decision to make where students have to weigh the positives and negatives of various options available. The last stage is the selection of the institute. This three staged process is commonly adapted by every student who considers studying abroad but sometimes students skip the second stage, the selection of host country, and finally pick up the institution for them. E.g. getting enrolled at Ivy League or Oxford is the aim of some students so they do not consider applying to any other country thereby skipping the second stage.

The first stage is to take the decision whether to study in Pakistan or abroad. At this stage, personal motivation factors to study abroad and the influence of family and peers along with the external push and pull factors influence the decision. Once the student has decided to go abroad, the second stage comes into play which is selection of destination. Several factors come into consideration while selecting the host country. Major factors are proximity to home country, cultural similarity, language and ease of visa process. After the selection of host country, third stage is selection of host institution. While selecting the university, factors such as programs offered, facilities, fee structure, international reputation and academic quality are evaluated. Throughout the three ages, following independent variables influence the students’ decisions.

* “Personal characteristics & motivation”

Personal characteristics include socioeconomic background, preferences, academic ability, social capital, and creative capital. (Chen, 2007)

* “External push & pull factors”

(Internationalization & Globalisation: Prospects of better employment, esteemed foreign degrees, opportunity to experience foreign culture, desired education not available, home country lacks research facilities, limited career prospects at home, financial support from home government or agency). — include positive and negative forces from the home and host countries, personal driving forces due to external influences, and institutional characteristics. (Chen, 2007) * “Friends and Family influence”. It includes encouragement from family / spouse, relatives, professors, sponsors, or employers. (Chen, 2007) The dependant variable is the decision to go abroad for post graduate studies.

By the end of the search stage for institutions, students will derive a choice set of institutions from which to make applications. The final stage of the school choice is to select one school from the set of offers of admission. Students will make trade-offs among the factors considered in the search stage, and reach a final choice. Literature review covered factors like characteristics of graduate international students — as well as studies on college choice factors, such as location characteristics, economics of international graduate education, visa, and education / immigration / mobility. The push – pull model was also reviewed to understand the strengths of and relationships among various factors that influence the choice of a country, institution, program, and city.

A push – pull model was originally used in the theory of migration (E. S. Lee, 1966) to explain the factors influencing the movement of people. The model has been used to understand the international students’ choice of a country (Mazzarol & Soutar, 2002). The push factors are the factors associated with the home country. Some push factors are positive and some are negative in nature, while pull factors are in general positive to attract international students to the destination. In essence, the decision, motivations, and flow of international students are a function of the combined ‘pull’ factors and ‘push’ factors as influenced by intervening obstacles. The push factors had strength in the initial reasons for studying abroad, while the pull factors dominated the choices, especially the appeal of program availability.

Hypotheses

Ho: Family and Friends influence does not impact the decision to go abroad for post graduation. HA: Family and Friends influence does impact the decision to go abroad for post graduation. Ho: Personal motivation does not influence the decision to go abroad for post graduation. HA: Personal motivation does influence the decision to go abroad for post graduation. Ho: External push and pull factors do not influence the decision to go abroad for post graduation. HA: External factors push and pull factors do influence the decision to go abroad for post graduation.

Methodology

The methodology that has been adopted is a combination of qualitative and quantitative research to analyse the factors which are most influential during the process. Quantitative data from a survey questionnaire have been collected to determine the relative strength of each factor influencing the decision to purse foreign education. The impact of push and pull factors, personal motivation, family and peers influence and their relative importance in taking the final decision have been studied using regression and cross tabulations. The survey questionnaire used for this research purpose is taken from a study of English Alumni, administered by the University of Dundee (Professor Findlay) and University of Sussex (Professor King) in UK in 2010. The used for analysis is collected using survey questionnaires sent to international graduates who have returned to Pakistan after acquiring post graduate degrees from abroad or are currently enrolled in foreign universities.

The survey comprised a structured, detailed and comprehensive questionnaire examining various factors related to international study. Targeted sample size was minimum 50 surveys to be obtained from the international postgraduate Pakistani students however only 45 were returned. Judgemental sampling was done. Diversity in age, gender and socio economic background were considered while selecting respondents. It was preferred to have a balance between male and female respondents. The data collected has been used to develop a framework which best describes the decision making process of Pakistani students when they decide to pursue foreign education.

Instrumentation

The questionnaire was designed and piloted in such a way as to ensure that maximum relevant information could be collected with minimal imposition on respondents. It takes 10 minutes to complete on average, with a range between 5 and 15 minutes. The questionnaire was designed to provide useful data to answer, or at least shed light on, the research aims. The questionnaire mainly involves closed questions, simple to tick or write a one-word response, with a few spaces for elaborations where it is thought necessary or useful. First three questions are basics about age, gender and the course of study that was completed abroad. Next question asks about the discipline that was chosen for study abroad. This question would help me figure the preferred courses which students pursue abroad. This would also help me explore that the decision to study abroad might was taken because that particular courses were not offered here in Pakistan.

The question about financing of study program would help profile the students, which would in turn help me to analyse how financing issue impacted student’s choices to study abroad. The next question about guidance from school staff is related to the independent variable of the impact of significant others. This would help me analyse the importance and impact of information from school about opportunity to study abroad and whether this facilitated the decision to study abroad or it had no impact. The objective of the question which asks to mention preferred Pakistani universities is to identify the top preferred post-grad institutes where these students had considered to study in home country. The following question would explore that what was the impact of rejection or acceptance by domestic institutes on students’ decision to go abroad. Next question would help determine that whether the restrictions on number of places to study the preferred discipline in Pakistani universities a factor in encouraging students to consider studying abroad.

Under the head of ‘impact of significant others’ there are questions about the contact with acquaintances who were already present at the foreign university. Following is the question about whether there was any information given about scholarships/bursaries by the schools and was that important for those students in making a decision about foreign education. The next question is about the next two independent variables, ‘students’ characteristics & motivation’ and ‘ external push and pull factors of home and host country’. There are seven factors which are being analysed and have been assigned a scale ranging from very important to slightly important to not important and finally not applicable. It includes factors like family pressure to study abroad, personal motivation to attend a world class university, desire for a better career, limited courses available in Pakistan, opportunity to experience foreign culture, increasing trend of acquiring foreign degrees and finally the institutions’ ranking.

The responses by respondents would help me identify how important was each of the stated factors. The next question is open ended which ask students to mention the key factors which influenced their choice of one country over other and the factors which led to selection of a particular institute. This would help me identify the pull factors which attract students to foreign universities. Next question is about the qualification level of the respondents’ parents. The level of education which they have might influence the decision of students for foreign post grad study.

Last question is about the hindrances or the factors which might have concerned students about studying outside Pakistan. Again the degree of importance ranges from very important to not important. The purpose of these factors is to analyse how each factor affected their decision process. These factors include: problem with the foreign language, difficult to leave parental family or spouse/partner, cultural shock, financial constraints to bear expenses and concerns about obtaining visa.


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