Where should I study? : international students’ perceptions of higher education in the UK, Ireland, and the U.S.

Rounsaville, Cheryl A. (2012) Where should I study? : international students’ perceptions of higher education in the UK, Ireland, and the U.S. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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Abstract

In the thesis I examine international student decision-making arguing that there is a gap in knowledge about the theoretical frameworks which have been applied to understanding this issue. A comprehensive review of the literature showed that thus far the foremost theory utilised for explaining international student decision-making is the Push-Pull Theory of Migration, a theory which is primarily quantitative. This research innovatively uses a theoretical framework combining three influential capital theories based on a qualitative methodology. Using this theoretical framework, I sought a deeper, and potentially new and different understanding of why international students choose to study abroad and why they select particular host countries – the two questions traditional Push-Pull Theory seeks to answer.

The three capital theories used are Human, Cultural and Social Capital. Using these to understand the decision-making of international students begins with the premise that individuals invest in international education in the hope of achieving some aim or reaping some benefit. As these theories originate from two different disciplines, I argue that such an approach provides a more multifaceted perspective for understanding students’ decision-making. Each of these theories, including their strengths and weaknesses, is discussed in detail in the thesis.

The context for the study is provided through an examination of the impact of globalisation and neo-liberalism on the political, economic, socio-cultural, and technological trends of recent decades. It also considers the growing internationalisation and marketisation of higher education, including a greater emphasis on and expansion of international student recruitment and mobility.

The research notes that individuals are increasingly responsible for their own success in the global knowledge economy. International education is one way in which students can make themselves competitive in the labour market as well as obtain valuable socio-cultural benefits. The research emphasises that higher education is becoming a privately rather than publicly-funded activity in which individual students (and often their families)make the decisions about whether or not to study abroad and where. Host country, source country, and student perspectives are considered.

The research focused on international postgraduates originating from five Asian source countries, studying in six disciplines, and enrolled at universities in three different English-speaking host countries. Data on why students decided to study abroad and why they selected their host country was gathered using questionnaires and face-to-face interviews. The student participants in the research were already enrolled in their host universities at the time of data collection thus enabling me to investigate post-enrolment the reasons for their decisions.

The combined theoretical framework was used to analyse and categorise the data based on whether students’ answers referred primarily to human, cultural or social capital. The analysis revealed that for each form of capital, the decisions made by these students were based on both the capital they possessed and had access to prior to international study (existing capital) and the capital they hoped to gain from going abroad (potential capital). Existing and potential capital were broken down further into relevant themes and sub-themes. The analyses also showed that human capital factors were most influential, followed by cultural capital and then social capital factors. In addition there was significant overlap among the forms of capital. Finally, the implications and limitations of the research are considered along with recommendations for further research.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Supervisors:Morgan, W.J.
Uncontrolled Keywords:Students, foreign, study and teaching, decision making
Faculties/Schools:UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > School of Education
ID Code:2661
Deposited By:Ms. Cheryl Ann Rounsaville
Deposited On:31 Aug 2012 15:01
Last Modified:31 Aug 2012 15:01

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