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An examination of factors influencing postgraduate business coursework students' choice of course and institution : the case of the business student.
thesisposted on 14.02.2017, 00:57 by Walker, Ian Maxwell
The provision of higher education is of considerable importance in developed countries and constitutes a major part of their service sectors. Higher education is also seen as being particularly important for its contribution to the development of national economies and also to the evolution of society. The twenty-first century has seen the focus on higher education increase because of its ability to contribute to what is being called the knowledge society or knowledge economy where knowledge is seen as the most important contributor to economic and social development. The research in this thesis focuses on business education, and in particular, postgraduate business coursework education. The specific objectives of this thesis were to (1) to identify the motivations of students who pursue postgraduate business coursework education; (2) identify the most influential factors that students take into consideration when making their decision. In addition, this thesis undertakes an exploratory stance in examining differences between males and females in terms of motivations and the factors that influence their decision making. The theoretical framework for this research is based on two relevant theories that are pertinent in helping to explain the consumer decision making process -theory of choice and involvement theory. The study involved a sample of postgraduate students (n = 242) enrolled in postgraduate business coursework degrees at two major Australian universities located in a large Australian capital city. Based on an extensive literature review two aspects of student choice of a postgraduate business coursework degree are identified, namely for personal or career development purposes. These correspond with so called hedonic motivations, that is, for personal development purposes, and utilitarian motivations, that is, career development purposes. These two influences were then each used as a dependant variable against which other more specific influences (independent variables) of choice for both a postgraduate business coursework degree and institution were tested. The influences on current student choice of degree and institution for both undergraduate and postgraduate students have been identified and tested using regression analysis. The set of these influences included the reputation of the university and the degree, advice from an educational advisor, input from family and friends, recommendations from acquaintances, location of institution, cost, mode of delivery to mention a few. When choosing a degree for personal development students give more credence to input from an educational advisor, the reputation of the course and the credibility of the department offering the course and are less likely to take notice of family and friends. However when the choice is for career development purposes advice from an educational advisor is still important but the course offering (cost, time and mode of delivery) and to a lesser extent word of mouth become more influential. Based on the findings obtained from empirical testing the less influential variables are location of institution and mode of delivery. However the most intriguing finding that is contrary to expectations is that input from families and friends often has negative impact on the choice of course in the case of pursuing education for personal development and in some cases for career development. Existing literature that researches differences in gender decision making in relation to graduate choice shows mixed results. Based on this gender was seen as an appropriate area to explore in this research. The findings indicate that there are differences between males and females when choosing a postgraduate business coursework degree and institution for personal development or for career development. This finding demonstrates that even with the same motives for undertaking a postgraduate degree different influences impact the decision and by understanding this universities can help potential students make more informed choices of what academic programs may best meet their needs. Furthermore females rely more on interpersonal communication in contrast with males who, while using personal communication also rely on intangible cues such as reputation, time program offered and information provided by the institution when making their choices In conclusion, the findings of this research indicate that there are different influences when the postgraduate business coursework degree is chosen for personal development or for career development purposes. This is also the case for the choice of institution. The academic contribution of this thesis provides some insight into understanding some of the perceived influences and motivations on the choice of a postgraduate business coursework degree and the institution at which to study. Firstly it redresses the apparent lack of research into an area of higher education that is one of the most popular for postgraduate students and important for universities. Secondly it ascertains that there are two major motivations for undertaking a postgraduate business coursework degree, personal development (hedonic motives) and career development (utilitarian motives), and that each of these motivations has a different range of influences on students when choosing a postgraduate business coursework degree to study. Also this research has shown that there are gender differences when choosing the postgraduate degree and institution. These findings have a range of managerial and strategy development implications for universities. Specifically in today's competitive higher education marketplace, particularly for postgraduate coursework students, universities have customers (students) who want the same academic course but who are subject to a range of different influences when choosing that course. The managerial implications for universities are that they understand that these motivations have different influences and need to develop different strategies when communicating and interacting with potential students. Universities can do more for potential students by attempting to offer relevant information that will satisfy their varying information needs and by understanding the different motivations and factors that influence student choice.