To Study Abroad: A Complex Matrix of Influences

To Study Abroad: A Complex Matrix of Influences

Donna M. Velliaris (Independent Researcher, Singapore)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1607-2.ch001


Universities globally are increasingly seeking to improve the international mobility of their students. There are several latent benefits that accrue to a university whose faculty and/or students actively participate in international exchange programs. Essentially, this can lead to an increase in the capacity to develop international relationships, greater diversity in the student population with all the benefits that stem from diversity, opportunities for benchmarking against best practices, and the university's international reputation spreading on a global scale. Drawing on extant literature, this descriptive chapter reviews many and varied scholarly works to elicit a comprehensive range of ‘Push-Pull' factors or ‘a complex matrix of influences' that play a role in tertiary-level students' decision-making in relation to study abroad.
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The Push-Pull Model of International Student Choice

The ‘Push-Pull’ model was originally developed to explain the factors influencing the movement of people for migration (E. S. Lee, 1966), but it has since become the most common tool used by educational researchers to aid the examination and explanation of international student motivations and decisions. The model has been used to understand international student flows, the decision or motivation to study abroad, and international students’ choice of country and higher education institution (HEI). Although the basic ‘Push-Pull’ model of international student choice is valuable as an explanatory mechanism, it does have limitations (Li & Bray, 2007).

Both ‘Push-Pull’ factors are forces that impact on students’ behaviors and choices, but the individual preferences and personal characteristics of students are largely unaccounted for. Individual students may react to different ‘Push-Pull’ factors in different ways. Various researchers have built upon this model to develop other sophisticated conceptual models of international student choice (see Velliaris & Coleman-George, 2016). Relatedly, Mazzarol and Soutar (2002) recognized that the decision process through which an international/foreign student moves when selecting a final study destination, appears to involve at least three distinct stages (pp. 85-86):

  • Stage One: The student must decide to study internationally, rather than locally. This can be influenced by a series of ‘push’ factors within the home country. Once the decision to study abroad has been made the next decision is the selection of a host country.

  • Stage Two: Certain ‘pull’ factors become important, making one host country relatively more attractive than another.

  • Stage Three: The student selects a HEI. A variety of additional ‘pull’ factors make a HEI more attractive than its competitors. Such factors include alliances or coalitions, an institution’s reputation for quality, degree of innovation, market profile, offshore teaching programs, promotion and marketing efforts e.g., the use of agents and advertising, range of courses, resources, size of the alumni base, staff expertise, and use of information technology.

At any one time, a student may hold multiple—positive and negative—images of a HEI and these images are likely to change over time as the student gains new information or has new experiences or thoughts. A university cannot easily be conceptualized in a single image because each campus, each department, and each professor occupies their own image(s). Stakeholders can also hold different and multiple images simultaneously, because each uses different criteria when assessing a HEI.

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