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INVESTIGATING MOTIVATIONS AND INFORMATION SOURCES DRIVING UNIVERSITY CHOICE: INSIGHTS FROM ITALY

M. Pinna1, G. Del Chiappa1, M. Gallarza2

1University of Sassari, Department of Business and Economics (ITALY)
2University of Valencia, Marketing Department (SPAIN)
Higher Education is facing dynamic changes worldwide ([1]). The increased inter-institution global competition to attract students ([2]) and the need for universities to prepare graduates for employment ([3]) are among the current challenges in this field. As a result, universities progressively adopt the “student as a customer” concept (e.g., [4]).

Accordingly, Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are interested in understanding the “students’ buying behaviour” process, and therefore, their information search behaviour. However, this information process step is becoming multifaceted and with many sort of influences (e.g., public and private, personal and institutional, online and offline). The aim of this paper is therefore twofold: first, to report the factors that influence (Italian) students’ choice of university; second, to explore the preferred sources of university-related information.

Undergraduate and postgraduate prospective students of a Business and Economics course in Italy completed a quantitative survey (N=500). Factor and bivariate analyses (e.g., PCA, ANOVA and independent t tests) are implemented to investigate the student choice process and information search, and whether differences occur among under/ postgraduates based on socio-demographics.
Four key factors are found to influence the student choice of university, namely quality, accessibility, job placement and costs. Significant differences exist in relation to undergraduates’ gender (e.g., the course programme is more important for females than males), the type of enrolment: part or full time (postgraduates are statistically different only when the type of enrolment is considered), and the high school attended. Remarkably, the peer suggestion is the most valuable information source both for undergraduates and postgraduates.

Several implications follow:
a) the ability of HEIs to create valuable future professionals is one major issue;
b) alumni considered as ambassadors of the institution, thus included in institutional branding activities to attract incoming students.;
c) understanding how global competition is challenging the (Italian) HE field would help to inform marketing practices both at national and institutional level.

The paper is a starting point thus limitations still occur; the survey is made for one precise University, thus findings are context specific. Future research should provide comparison between private and public institutions, highlight differences between disciplines and eventually engage in longitudinal studies in order to understand whether initial expectations are fulfilled during the course.

References:
[1] Hemsely-Brown, J. and Oplatka, I. (2015). University choice: what do we know, what don’t we know and what do we still need to find out. International Journal of Educational Management, 29, 3, 254-274
[2] Maringe, F. (2010). “The meaning of globalization and internationalisation in HE: findings from a world survey”, in Maringe, F. and Foskett, N.H. (Eds), Globalization and Internationalization of Higher Education, Continuum, London, pp. 17-34
[3] Velotsou, C., Paton, A. and Lewis, J. (2004). University selection: information requirements and importance. International Journal of Educational Management, 18, 3, 160-171
[4] Watjatrakul, B. (2014). Factors affecting students’ intentions to study at universities adopting the “student-as-customer” concept. International Journal of Educational Management, 28, 6, 676-693