International Students' Higher Education Choice: Using the Theory of Planned Behaviour to Identify Key Choice Attributes by Segment

Sunita Prugsamatz (2009). International Students' Higher Education Choice: Using the Theory of Planned Behaviour to Identify Key Choice Attributes by Segment PhD Thesis, School of Business, The University of Queensland.

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Author Sunita Prugsamatz
Thesis Title International Students' Higher Education Choice: Using the Theory of Planned Behaviour to Identify Key Choice Attributes by Segment
School, Centre or Institute School of Business
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2009-08
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Associate Professor Frank Alpert
Dr. Ravi Pappu
Total pages 396
Total colour pages 20
Total black and white pages 376
Subjects 15 Commerce, Management, Tourism and Services
Abstract/Summary Abstract This research develops and tests an application of the latest version of the expectancy-value model—the Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB), to a new context, that of higher education overseas enrolment choice. The study argues that TPB is well suited for modelling and predicting international students’ university choice processes. Choosing a university in a foreign country is probably more difficult than making a domestic choice. While there has been some literature on undergraduate domestic university choice, scant attention has been directed at the understanding of international students’ choice of universities. Past studies have looked mainly at factors that influence choice of programmes and destinations with little emphasis on the students’ cognitive processes. Furthermore, these past models, intended to help predict student choice, have been limited to economics-based, pragmatic or statistical frameworks. Now, more than ever, this gap in the literature needs to be filled. International education is currently worth more than $4 billion a year. More and more universities today are increasingly dependent on overseas full fee paying student revenue, sometimes to an enormous and alarming extent. This competition and globalisation of higher education is forcing universities to better understand how students choose. A simple understanding of international student choice behaviour is not enough when so many universities are competing for vital revenues and market share. The Theory of Planned Behaviour, as a rigorous and comprehensive choice-model, well supported by hundreds of published studies, is proposed as a way forward to help better predict, segment and profile international students’ university choices. This research attempts to answer the following three main research questions: 1. How do international students choose overseas universities? 2. How do international students’ choice processes differ by culture? 3. Can TPB be applied in an international student choice context and can it usefully be applied for cross-cultural segmentation? Underpinning the development of the conceptual model presented are two research themes. The first of these themes investigates the choice processes of international students with respect to three main cognitive factors: attitudes, subjective norms, and perceived behavioural control. The second theme of this research investigates the differences in choice processes between students from different national cultures with respect to attitudes, subjective norms, and perceived control and behavioural intentions. It examines how the relationship between these constructs can help determine appropriate segments of international students. Collectively, these research themes lead to a new model for the choice process international students engage in when selecting an overseas university. The study conducted in this thesis involved a two-stage design. The first, qualitative, stage consisted of a pilot study (Study 1). The primary purpose of the pilot study, using semi-structured questionnaires, was to elicit the attributes to be addressed by the quantitative part of the research (Study 2). The second, quantitative, stage consisted of a questionnaire survey. A total sample of 500 potential international students from four countries (Norway, China, Thailand and India) was collected. Careful translation and cross-cultural measurement validity processes were followed. The findings provide insights into the three research questions proposed. Firstly, results indicate that choice for a potential international student is a complex, highly involved, cognitive and individualistic process. Findings also underscore the important influence of sources of information on students when choosing an overseas university. Additionally, this study concludes, for the first time in this research area, that information sources indirectly influence changes to students’ intention through attitude or subjective norms, whereas prior research has skipped the detailed process and looked only at the direct influence of information sources on intention. Results of analyses on structural models show that attitude is the best indicator in predicting students’ intentions to choose an overseas university, while perceived behavioural control contributes little toward predicting students’ intention for the TPB model. However, perceived behavioural control showed a positive relationship with intentions for the total group. The more control a student feels he/she has, the more likely the formation of intentions to attend an overseas university. Secondly, the results of post hoc tests for multiple comparisons between groups showed differences between all cultural groups. This result meant that regardless of culture, differences in process or criteria weights can be found and so it is important to use a segmentation approach. The findings show that when marketers analyse the international student market as a whole, which is by grouping all the different country data together, this could result in serious “aggregation error,” i.e., when grouped data results are misleading because the groups are heterogeneous. Instead, the data must first be disaggregated by country and then by behavioural attributes, such as attitudes, subjective norms and perceived behavioural control. In terms of measurement reliability and the structural fit of each model with the data, the results were positive. Finally, the present research confirms the usefulness of TPB as a choice model in the context of understanding international students’ decision making process. The use of a rigorous cognitive model such as this offers insight to educational marketers on segmentation and positioning. Additionally, this research demonstrates that the choice process is complex and that the diversity of the choice process requires attention. If universities wish to continue to attract and retain international students, they must understand students’ attitudes, normative beliefs, and control beliefs as well as the factors that influence their choice.
Keyword theory of planned behaviour, higher education, choice, international students, segmentation
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classifications (ANZSRC) Marketing, Business and Management, (ERA Cluster Four: SBE) 150308 International Business 40%, 150506 Marketing Theory 179999 40% Psychology and Cognitive Sciences 20%

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Created: Sat, 06 Feb 2010, 00:02:29 EST by Sunita Prugsamatz on behalf of Library - Information Access Service