Revealing the Unspoken: Malaysian Students' Intrinsic Influences in Selecting the UK for Higher Education Migration
Alex Khim Kian, Lee
The UK has been amongst the leaders in providing higher education for both home and international students, especially from developing countries such as Malaysia. The recent budget cuts on the UK higher education sector implemented in the academic year 2012/13 have increased the competition for UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to secure home [UK and EU] students as the opportunity cost is greater compared to starting a career. Therefore, it is almost imperative for UK HEIs to attract more international students to fill the gap left by home students to remain financially sustainable. Previous researches on the decision making process for higher education destinations looked extensively at rational factors such as financial viability, size of institutions and availability of programmes as well as reputation related factors, such as university ranking and league tables. The question is: Are these the factors - rational factors - that influence the decision making of prospective international students’ evaluation and selection of the UK as a possible host country for higher education migration? This research aims to elicit and understand the non-rational factors that may intrinsically influence the decision making behaviour of Malaysian students when selecting the UK as the destination for HE migration. Interpretive phenomenology was utilized as the research approach and the Ethnographic principle of cultural interpretation was enhanced by the researcher’s reflexive stances. Data was analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Six emergent constructs were revealed which then led to the emergence of three core themes reflecting the intrinsic influences hidden within Malaysian students’ HE migration decision behaviour. Twelve ZMET interviews and two focus group conversations with participants whom were recruited using the stratified random sampling method - covering three geographical regions of the UK, eleven UK universities within four main university groups. ZMET, short for Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique, is an eleven-step in-depth interview technique that elicits both conscious and unconscious thoughts by exploring metaphoric expressions. Findings from previous researches employing ZMET as data collection method showed that data saturation is achievable with just four to five interviews, providing 90% validity. Focus group conversations functioned as methodology triangulation to validate findings. Both of these data collection methods were guided by two overarching questions: (1) why do you choose a UK university? and (2) what and how does being a UK university student make you feel? The six emergent constructs: (1) Egotism; (2) Self-concept; (3) Current security; (4) Future security; (5) Freedom and independence; and (6) Future opportunities, were then interpreted through the researcher’s reflexive stances - personal and epistemic - to signify the insights of the three emergent themes: (1) Fulfilling their emotional needs for acceptance; (2) Satisfying their spiritual pleas for freedom and independence; and (3) Providing a promise for a greater self-worth. These six emergent constructs were embedded into the conceptual framework of this research - Consumer Decision Making model underpinned by Push/Pull Theory of Migration - resulting in a revised conceptual framework depicting Malaysian students’ HE migration behaviour. This research contributes to academic knowledge, research methodology, practitioners and policy makers of HEIs - both in Malaysia and the UK. Suggestions for further research are longitudinal study, geographical extension study, comparison study and a study using this research’s revised conceptual framework as the research model.