Last Updated 27 May 2020

Factors Affecting International Students’ Decisions

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It is a fact that studying abroad has become a growing trend over the world. According to Mpinganjira (2009: 358), the number of students studying abroad increased dramatically from 0.6 million in 1975 to 1.3 million and 2.9 million in 1995 and 2006, respectively. Amongst countries that students often select, the UK is chosen by a number of international students. As Larsen et al (2002) state, the number of international students in the UK made up the second biggest number over the world, 16 percent. Vickers and Bekhradnia (2007) also note that the number of international students in the UK increased gradually from 300 thousand in 1995-96 to over 400 thousand in 2004-05. International students obviously bring many benefits for a country. In the economic impact, the amount of money that students pay for tuition fees as well as living cost is valuable. For example, in 2003-04 the revenues that higher education institutions in the UK received were about ?2 billion, and it made up nearly 12% of all higher education institutions’ income (University of Strathclyde, 2006). Apart from the economic impact, other benefits also are created by international students, such as international students have an important role contributing to innovation of a country (Chellaraj et al, 2004). As a result, these benefits can be strong motivation to encourage the government as well as universities try their best to attract more students. Researcher chooses this topic because he is a student, therefore, he is also an insider and have own experience about this topic. This research will illustrate how international students in Glasgow choose their university. It does not only assist universities to attract students but also can bring students important advices in selecting their destination.

Research objectives

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To discover the main factors influencing international student’s choice of university.
To explore whether students coming from different countries have different choices.
To investigate the most popular majors among international students in Glasgow, UK.

Research questions

What are the main factors influencing student’s choice of university
Does the cultural background influence factors which affect students in choosing university
What are the most popular majors among international students in Glasgow, UK

Literature Review

International students do not only aspire to improve their knowledge, but also wish to achieve more benefits during and after studying such as, experiencing diversified cultures or obtaining a job, and the UK is known as a suitable destination. While studying in the UK can offer international students many advantages, the contribution of international students in economic and brain-drain impacts for the UK is considerable (Chellaraj et al, 2004). For these reasons, understanding students’ decision-making is necessary and valuable for universities in the UK to broad their market. This research will only focus on international students in Glasgow and pay attention to students among all major backgrounds.

According to Al-Fattal (2010), the process that students choose university has 5 steps. ‘They are needs and motives, information gathering, evaluating alternatives, decision and post-choice’(Al-Fattal, 2010: 32). However, Al-Fattal (2010) still concentrated on the beginning period after students registering to their university, and this could be the explanation why he found the final step, post-choice. In the area of this research, only the process in which students form four first steps will be considered.

The first step, needs and motives, is the time that students have motivation to encourage them to think about university. The motivations encouraging students in reflecting on higher education are various. For instance, they may intend to go to university for their personal reasons or just for receiving more friends (Al-Fattal, 2010). As James et al (1999) concluded, most students consider about university a few years before graduating high school, but they will make over a half of their decision in the year of application.

After the motivation is created, in information gathering step, students gather information about universities and countries that they need to compare (Al-Fattal, 2010). Daly (2005) called the factor affecting strongly students of searching information is ‘formal recruiting channels’. Formal recruiting channels means sources of information such as, information form career guidance, career advisor or information from universities. James et al (1999) said that students in this stage often pay more attention about materials distributed by careers teachers, or events made by universities such as, university open day. However, the research carried by James et al (1999) mainly focused on the behavior of students when they receive the second offer in case their first choice was refused, and this could create the different result.

In the third stage, when students obtain enough data, they will create a list of universities to compare (Al-Fattal, 2010). As Drewes et al (2006) and Shanka et al (2005) noted, students will compare various criterions such as, ranking of the university, budget spent on scholarships and teaching, class sizes, the distance from their home to university, cost of study and safety. However, Shanka et al (2005) only pay attention on students coming from Asia, and participants in the research undertaken by Drewes et al (2006) were all high school students and these students were domestic students. These can generate a lack of clear difference amongst cultural backgrounds. During this evaluating alternatives step, as Daly (2005) said, students can be affected by elements called ‘social influence’ and ‘independent choice’. Social influence mainly includes advice from family and friend, and independent choice is the impression and experience of students. Daly’s research (2005), nevertheless, mostly gathered business students, and this could provide insufficient information because subject background can be an important part. At the end of this third stage, students will narrow the list by refusing universities that do not satisfy their criterions (Al-Fattal, 2010).

Before making the final decision, in the decision step, students attempt to find more details about universities remaining on the list. For example, they can go to university to ask some current students about their emotion as well as program of courses (Al-Fattal, 2010). After applying, if students’ first choice is refused, data will be pondered again, and at this turn, course and field of study are the most important elements that students calculate (James et al, 1999).

Differently from research above, by focusing on international students among all major backgrounds in Glasgow, this research could solve the lack of culture and subject background factors made by Shanka et al (2005) and Drewes et al (2006).


This research is an exploratory study because it is to find new knowledge. However, in this study, secondary research will also be used. According to Saunders et al (2009: 140), a search of the literature and group interviews are necessary to carry an exploratory study. Therefore, firstly, secondary data from some literatures will be used to design questionnaires. Secondly, primary research will be carried using questionnaires and interviews. The survey strategy is appropriate to achieve answers for the question ‘what’, ‘who’, ‘where’, ‘how much’ and ‘how many’ (Saunders et al, 2009: 144). Hence, this research will use survey strategy to answer questions ‘what are the factors?’ and ‘how do these factors influence?’ and ‘what are the most popular majors among international students in Glasgow?’

Due to the limitation of time, this research will only focus less than 50 international students in Glasgow. As (Saunders et al, 2009) concludes, if the size of the population is less than 50, non-probability sampling should be used. Thus, this research will use non-probability sampling. It also uses the purposive sampling technique, more specifically, homogeneous sampling, because homogeneous sampling is fit to use on small and particular group (Saunders et al, 2009: 240). Regarding to this research, it only focuses less than 50 international students in Glasgow, so this group is small and particular. Saunders et al (2009: 235) pointed out that in general with non-probability, the sample size should be between 25 and 30 respondents, and he also noted that for homogeneous sampling, 12 in-depth interviews can be enough. Hence, this research will focus on 30 respondents including 12 students for interviews.

To collect data, researcher will use delivery and collection questionnaires, because delivery and collection questionnaires can prevent from forwarding questions (Saunders et al, 2009: 194). They will be designed to have many factors predicted, for example, ranking of university, tuition fees or location of university. These questionnaires will be tested on 5 students to make sure that they are clear and suitable before being sent to 30 students. These students will answer questions based on the importance of factors marked by numbers, namely, ‘1= not important at all, 2= moderately important, 3= important, 4= very important’. During doing questionnaires, non-standard interview will be used in 12 students in 30 minutes for each student to collect more detailed information which is mainly to answer the question ‘why do students choose these answers?’ and ‘is there any other important factor apart from questionnaire?’

In data analyzing process, to evaluate the importance of each factor, researcher will evaluate by percentage.

n – The number of students choosing each level, for example, ‘very important’, in each factor, for example, ‘ranking of the university’

N – The total number of participants; N=30.

Questionnaires and interview will be prepared and designed until 30th of April. After that, collecting data will be done from 1st to 15th of May. When researcher have enough information, data will be classified and analyzed from 16th to 23rd of May, based on cultural and major background in order to answer research questions, and writing report will have done in the last day of May.

Limitation: Due to this research will be carried in a short time, 4 weeks and contain a small size of population, 30 respondents, the result could be insufficient. For example, major and cultural backgrounds among students are very various. Thus, with only 30 participants, this research cannot evaluate exactly the impact of all major and cultural backgrounds. Besides, with small size of samples, the evaluation into the most popular majors among international students in Glasgow could be not objective.

Ethical consideration

During the data collecting process, students have strong right to not take part in this research because interviews and questionnaires can waste students’ time or make students embarrassed to take part. Besides, sensitive questions in interviews can disturb them such as, questions about age, educational performance, the quality of the education system in students’ country. Moreover, students have right to worry about their privacy or their information can be used and pronounced wrongly. For example, they may have some personal and familial reasons leading to their decision.

According to Saunders et al (2009), this research will use some solutions below to deal with ethical issues. First of all, in order to achieve students’ consent, the researcher will send students a document containing the clear purpose of this research, and let them know this research can effectively help universities as well as international students. Researcher will let students know that they have right to not answer sensitive questions and their information will be used correctly, lawfully, and in anonymity. The time for doing questionnaires and interview will be considered carefully to be suitable with students’ time. Interviews will be carried face to face, but in case this has to do by telephone, a reasonable time of a day will be set. After achieving the consent of students, students will be required to sign a consent form which clearly tells the right of the researcher and participants. Moreover, in order to make respondents comfortable in interviews researcher will avoid over-zealous questioning and pressing them, and interviews will be designed to be not too long.


Al-Fattal, A. (September 2010). Understanding Student Choice of University and Marketing Strategies in Syrian Private Higher Education. University of Leeds, School of Education

Chellaraj, G. and Maskus, K. E and Mattoo, A. (September 14, 2004). The Contribution of Skilled Immigration and International Graduate Students to U.S Innovation. Washington: Policy Research Working Paper Series from the World Bank, No 3588

Daly, B.A.(2005).Color and gender based differences in the sources of influence attributed to the choice of college major. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 16, 27-45. USA: Elsevier Ltd.

Drewes, T. and Michael, C.(2006). How Do Students Choose a University: An analysis of applications to universities in Ontario, Canada. Research in Higher Education. Trent University, Canada

James, R and Baldwin, G and Mclnnis, C. (August 1999). Which universityThe factors influencing the choices of prospective undergraduates. Australia

Larsen, K and Martin, J and Morris, R.(2002). Trade in Educational Services: Trends and Emerging Issues. Working paper. OECD

Mpinganjira, M.(2009). Comparative analysis of factors influencing the decision to study abroad. African Journal of Business Management, 3(8), 358-365

Saunders,M. Lewis, P and Thornhill, A.(2009). Research Methods for Business Students.( 5th edn). England: Pearson Education Limited

Shanka, T. Quintal, V. Taylor, R.(2005). Factors Influencing International Students’ Choice of an Education Destination-A Correspondence Analysis. Journal of Marketing for Higher Education, 15(2), 31-46

The University of Strathclyde. (March 2006). The economic impact of UK higher education institutions. London: Universities UK.

Vickers, P. and Bekhradnia, B.(2007). The Economic Costs and Benefits of International Students. Higher Education Policy Institute.

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