A study of Student’s Behaviour in Selecting Private Tertiary Education in Singapore

Abstract

Education in Singapore has a vibrancy that has seen the establishment of many tertiary institutions. Apart from the three autonomous universities, viz Nanyang Technological University, National University of Singapore and the Singapore Management University, there is a contingent of internationally affiliated and nationally established private Universities that offer comprehensive programmes. In this diversity, students are spoilt for choices and a number of factors guide selection on which institution one attends.

Students graduate from GCE “A” level education to join the private and tertiary colleges across the country. The private universities and tertiary training institutions offer even greater avenue of choices than the public institutions that rely on central selections. In this way, students join these private educational institutions under a liberal criteria. The choice thus depends on the natural processes of selection that are influenced by determinants such as the cost of services, the quality of education, influences occasioned by fellow students and parents and other external factors such as location and natural affiliations to the institution of choice.

This study adventured into the characteristic behaviour of students in the choice process, before and during their initial days of making decisions, what affects their decisions and how these decisions influence their choice of institutions to join. Needless to say, the process of choice relies on perception built prior to making choices. This study focused on the process of choosing and what determines this choice, if there are specific lines of choice and what implicates the choice have on future establishments of these private colleges.

Choice of an institution to attend were found to rely on the perception of the students on the kind of services offered in the institutions they wanted to join again, these choices largely depended on the cost of programs offered and were also observed not to depend on the association a student had with the institution before as long as he/she considered the institution prestigious enough to suite his ego. Of the 76 respondents of the study, 92% acknowledged that the associated cost of learning affects their choice most. 88% of respondents in this study attributed their choice to prior communication while 65% associated their choice to prestige of the institutions.

From the conduct of this study, the researcher felt that the main objective of this study-behaviours affecting the choice of tertiary public education- was met although further and extensive study should be done to confirm, with greater certainty, the general behaviour across the country. A greater sample size would be appropriate to minimize errors associated with under representation.

Acknowledgements

Foremost, I direct my appreciation to my supervisor Prof/Dr/Mr Xxxxxxxxxxx whose guidance and insights has enabled me reach this far. In the course of this work, he remained not only available, but also valuable for continual consultation.

I wish also to thank my friends for moral support. Their encouragement is worth mention. To my dear relatives, their input in terms of questionnaire development and interactive field sessions, your effort was not in vain.

Finally, my deepest appreciation goes to my best of friends, Xxxxxxxxxxx and Xxxxxxxxxx whose time out of their busy schedules, I must say, was quite invaluable. They helped me in proofreading and fine-tuning this script. Without them, I would have taken extremely longer by my own. Thank you all!

Introduction

Consumer behaviour studies and choice decisions in buying are experienced in many disciplines. Buyer decision making processes are in the levels of individual or groups. Through trends such as psychographics and demographics, the group influences in setups, such as families reference groups or friendship rings an individual is prone to shift choices. Belch defines customer behaviour as the processes of searching, selection, use, purchase, evaluation and disposal of goods and services in need satisfaction (Belch 2004).

Stages in consumer behaviour include problem recognition, information search, evaluation of information, decision regarding purchase and finally decision after purchase evaluation. Problem recognition is described in the difference between want and need, the difference occasioned by the desire against the actual state of events. Motivation is responsible for driving a consumer to action with reference to his hierarchy of needs.

Once a problem is recognized, the consumer moves to find the relevant information regarding the service or product. This happens both internally in the memory and external research. Here, perception plays a major role in informing the consumers’ decision and which many vary in persons and groups thereby laying a totally different idea about the choice of products. What follows is evaluation of the received information with reference to likes and dislikes in particular sets of services or products. At this point, the product or service provider should be able to influence the consumer and sway them into accepting their brands. Attitude formation plays a very critical role (Belch 2007, p. 117). The multi-attribute model of attitude formation may be used to analyze the attitude formation in understanding what is best under different circumstances.

The consumer then makes his mind to purchase a product or employ the services being offered. The best alternative of the generated likely choices is taken this choice should be able to satisfy the consumer, at least by the time of picking it, otherwise this qualifies to be a regulated market. The choice is integrated into the mind such that any other alternative is at least left pending for further evaluation sometime else. The product or service after its use will naturally be subjected to after purchase evaluation. The pattern of this evaluation is associated to the satisfaction derived from the product. Many at times, this process determines future purchasing pattern for the consumer shall have known what is best in bidding for this product (Oliver 1993)

In understanding the behaviour of customers to services, their choice process is as important as their preferences and to a large extent, the inherent determinants of their choices. These determinants include diffusion innovation that depends on a consumer’s perception with reference to compatibility, communicability, divisibility, complexity and relative advantage (Keaveney 1995, p. 71-82). The second determinant is brand loyalty which explains the degree with which consumers are committed to certain brand of services and depends on the cost associated with brand shift and availability of substitutes.

Values and attitudes also determine the use of a service by a group in reference to their cultural considerations and are important as a factor in providing for different cultural variations. This is closely associated with manners and customs which dictate the best behaviour that relates to the use of service or products. It is a major determinant in service encounter. Last is the material culture that determines use of product or service on the basis of how closely affiliated or ownership strength a consumer has on a product.

This study will focus on the customers of private tertiary education in Singapore. The students have similar customer - service provider relationship typical in the market. In this study, the focus is on specific value aspects that shape the students’ understanding of operations of these institutions and which is assumed to wholly affect their choice to attend them. The other factors which are discussed include government intervention as part of restriction to the activities, provisions in the constitution and its influence on learning in private tertiary education, and the associated quality of service provision.

1.1 Setting the scene

Singapore boasts of some of the best tertiary learning institutions in the Asia and pacific regions of the world. With European countries showing interest in conducting research in the countries large university campuses, there is a surety of the education endeavours receiving even grater expansion potential both locally and abroad. Students from Malaysia, China and the great Asian republics are finding it convenient to enrol in the Singaporean education system. This means that the tertiary education service industry should brace for more customers and increased complexity in customer behaviour.

The expected outcome of education in Singapore include moral uprightness, a clear understanding and appreciation of culture, respect for difference and a responsibility to the family and the community. A student is expected to believe in meritocracy, appreciate constraints but turn them into opportunities, participate in a society that is gracious, hardworking, a lover of teamwork, show confidence in facing adversity and be innovative. The student is also required to think globally but have the appreciation of Singapore and its roots. A student will strive to achieve in line with this philosophy.

Private education in Singapore is deeply rooted and rivals the public sector in all magnitudes though the state remains the principal service provider of education. The private sector has complemented the provision at all levels. This is done through running and supplementing education in commercial basis in fields such as business education, languages, fine art, computer studies etcetera. The law requires that these private institutions register with the Ministry of Education by School Committees of Management and this is done through the Online Business Licensing Services effective from August 2004.

The general public appreciates the services offered by these institutions. The private tertiary institutions are numerous. The tertiary category have private comprehensive universities such as the SIM University, private specialized institutions such as INSEAD-Wharton Alliance and a number of foreign affiliated universities such as University of Chicago Graduate School of business, S P Jain Center of management, The University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), ESSEC Business School, DigiPen Institute of Technology, Tisch School of the Arts Asia, and a number of Polytechnics.

In this study, a sample of students were chosen through a random sampling method from a number of private tertiary institutions and questioned over their preference for the institutions they are in prior to joining them and after joining them. From the list provided by the zzzzzzzzzzzzzz a number of potential students to join the universities was also randomly sampled and contacts made to them. The response of these two groups of students was recorded and informs the findings of this study.

1.2 The Importance of understanding consumer behaviour in reference to choice of tertiary education

The secret to keeping customers happier for long lies in the understanding of customers and what they expect of the quality, cost and prestige associated with services. Services with these characteristics have an appeal that is difficult to resist since they support a wide range of lifestyles. Gordon Foxhall (bbc)says that marketing management is based upon conception and the subsequent behaviour of customers.

Understanding a customer’s behaviour is thus key to attracting and keeping the customer since the service is then provided according to his / her goal achievements. In the education sector, the understanding of the student’s behavior ensures that the general goals of education are assured to the student and are maintained. This is achieved through marketing best practices within the institution and ensuring that the needs of the students are met.

Individuals buy services to satisfy their wants and solve personal problems. Groups require services to meet communal demands. Organizations provide best services to remain relevant to society and to the requirements of economic upkeep of its members (Bearden, 1982). This three-tier system is self sustaining courtesy of decisions made at the individual level. To attract customers to use their services, the organizations should understand the cause-effect relationship dynamics from individuals and groups. The stimuli these quarters control in service delivery customers’ response is defined by the consumption of their products and services marketers are interested in cause and effect relationships.

Specifically the relationship between the stimuli they control as regards awareness, intentions, attitudes, perceptions, purchase decisions, satisfaction and loyalty. This knowledge helps in explaining how consumer behaviour reduces risk for acquisition of more buyers for the organizations services by studying how they decide on services to go for. This is relevant for the largely commercial private institutions which rely on the number of students enrolling for proper and viable operations.

This study is thus relevant to all aspects of understanding individual decision making processes that are helpful in marketing and planning for commercial institutions within and outside Singapore.

1.3 Objectives of the Study

In noting the variation in choice as a consumer behaviour, there is a general belief, an assumption in this study, that certain factors will sway the choice students make to join different private institutions. These factors were responsible for formulating the aims of this study. Which will now be discussed in the foregoing subchapter. The objectives of this study are as follows:

  • To determine the factors for choice of tertiary education by students at the end of their pre-university GCE “A” level.
  • To ascertain the factors that contributed to choice of tertiary education for students of private universities in Singapore
  • To predict the future behaviour of potential university students in choosing private tertiary education in Singapore.
  • Guide to the contents of the report

This report is a serialization of chapters that expound on aspects of this study. Chapter one is an introduction to the chosen topic of behaviour in relation to choice of private tertiary education and also provides an overview on the trends of the public university enrolment in Singapore. The purpose of the research and objectives are also noted. This Chapter also gives a guide to the pace of the research report. It gives an overview of the exact scenario of the research field and is a guide to the hypothesis set for this study.

Chapter two talks about the review of literature in the perspective of the theories of behaviour in education with reference to private tertiary education, anticipated trends in this arena of choice of education and the conceptual framework in understanding of general consumer behaviour. In chapter three, the methodology of the research, the research design and its implementation, the study’s inherent biases and the limitations associated with this study are discussed. The methodologies available for this kind of study are reviewed and a choice made for the best in collecting data for this study.

In chapter four, the study focuses on the findings and the analysis of generated data. Here, the writer will use a predetermined analytical tool to test the relevance of the theories and deduce on the biases. Chapter five is the conclusion of the study and gives a summary of findings and the inferences from the study. Recommendations from the study are also given.

1.5 Summary of Chapter One

Chapter one is an introduction to the study. The scenario for this study is briefly highlighted with reference to the importance of understanding the behaviour associated with the choice of tertiary education in the private sector. The objectives of the study are then given. The chapter finalises on the summary of the important subheadings.

2. Literature Review

In the previous chapter, an overview has been given regarding the general trends and behaviour in the choices available for potential students in considering joining private tertiary institutions of learning. The justification of carrying out the study has also been explicitly given and why studies in this field should continue.

This study will attempt to reconcile a number of theories that explain the economic or market driven forces that necessitate choice of private tertiary schools. The writer appreciates the effects of market demand, civic values in education, constitutional regulations and government policies in shaping such choices. Publications of Milton Friedman (1955) directs this discussion from the role of government intervention in education. Friedman championed a free economy of choice after the Keynesians. The choices in educational realm, he says, are shaped by general customer behaviours such as money spending behaviour, approach-avoidance behaviour and repatronage intentions. These are applied in context as the situation warrants of in the private education.

2.1 Models of consumer behaviour

This chapter is explicit on some economic models of consumer behaviour and their relevance in choice of education and narrows down to tertiary private education and how they borrow from the universal consumer behaviour, emotional considerations and the repatronage intentions of individuals.

The literature review of these theories helps to set a base for the formulation of hypotheses with reference to the requirements of the consumers (who are the students). Aspects of consumer actions and benefaction are discussed in the review. Three theories will be analysed to help in understanding of behaviour in educational choices. The rational-choice theory, the bureau-shaping theory and the multi-attribute models will be discussed.

2.1.1 The Rational Choice Theory

The theory of rational choice is a general understanding resource for social and economic behaviour in the market. The theory has also assisted in general modelling to suite it to specific definitions in behaviour of consumers. The rationality as described in all the specific forms of this theory assumes that individuals are free to choose depending on favourable factors and constraints in their understanding of choices. Understanding forms the basis of choice but may vary depending on the specific needs within ones domain of consumption, like in this case, the choice of education in tertiary institutions.

Rational choices are not necessarily real but should be guidelines in formulating hypothesis through liberal reasoning. Good hypotheses are those able to withstand empirical tests. Rational theory considers the behaviour of individuals in analyzing micro models. Empirical tests should be possibly done in the results of these models too.

The rational model finds relevance in a number of disciplines including sociology, economic analysis, behavioural studies and to a specific extent, decisions related to macro settings and behaviour in legislature, social classes and bureaucracies (Dunleavy, 1991). In consideration for making a concrete decision, rational theory assumes that an individual is not in any duress to make a decision. He reasons, infer and consult market resources to come up with the best choice.

Under this theory, a student will decide to choose an institution based not on the influence of the institution itself, not on the government restrictive policies if any and not even on the influence of interests from the parents. This would ensure a fair choice.

Multi-attribute Model

The multi-attribute model applies mostly during the product learning period of choice process. Mayers and Sathi (1985). This model explains the process of consumer preference formation during which a hypothesis on attribute expectation formations takes place. This expectation may be used to come up with a multinomial logit model which recognizes learning or a product or service. The model can then be tested in a customer-service provider scenario. The results are usually positive for any proposal of a model structure. This model however failed in time aspects since the assumed stationary in time is not justified in real market dynamics.

The model however can predict decision making in uncertain terms such as when the customer has no prior knowledge of the services being offered. A case would be the examination of choice of an institution based on quality of service to which a new student may not have known. A reliance on market projections as in the case of received information from a former student will not be time considerate since it may have been sometime since the informer left. Circumstances may have changed.

2.1.3 The bureau-shaping theory

The bureau-shaping theory helps in understanding the consumer dynamism assisted with non governmental involvements (Dunleavy 1986, p. 236). As a specific on understanding the trends in choice for human services, the model can generate hypotheses about the origin of performance and reform from a central regulatory framework to a more freely functioning institution of service.

Through this theory, an understanding can be coined of the private sector influence in decision making. It has a potential in understanding factors influencing the behaviour of an individual or a group with similar choice characteristics. The problems of systemic underperformance can be traced from central control of government to privatization of institutions which effect the choice of a service (Dunleavy 1986, p.337).

This model has methodological individualism embedded to it and assumes with reasonable truth that social actions or situations that are responded to in collective actions result from individual reactions to these situations. The mentality of control associated with governance may creep into the private sector to haunt the liberal choice.

Weinschrott (1977) cites the four major determinants of choice of private higher education as:

  • Governance of institutions and associated educational quality;
  • Civic values in the learning institutions;
  • Effects of government policy churns; and
  • Constitutional restrictions.

These factors play a collective role in influencing a choice or denying the same from a potential student with alienation towards a particular college, kind of education of both.

Figure 2.1 Dunleavy’s Bureau-shaping model

Source: Adapted from Dunleavy’s (1986) Explaining the Privatization Boom: Public Choice Versus Radical Approaches’

  • Market Dimensions
  • Policies/ constitutions
  • Institutions
  • Civic values/ influence
  • Quality
  • Success
  • Mess Scenario
  • Customer Responses
  • Holistic Environment
  • Rational choice

Behaviors

In this study, which aims at establishing the behaviour and trends in tertiary education choice in the Singapore, the effects associated with the factors of rational choice as well as established channels of approach/avoidance and repatronage intentions, the writer focuses on market dimensions to explain the variations that change the environment to favour the acceptance or avoidance of the choice based on rational decision. The student enjoys full rational and liberal decision in this case scenario. The analysis assumes that the stage is set and the student only acts on a specific environment as set up by the model.

Bitner’s (1992) in consideration of ambient conditions, (in this case referred to as market dimensions) says that they are solely responsible for influencing a customer’s behaviour. Wienschrott and Kilgore (1996) categorize the market dimensions under value acquisition enhancement factors and include value itself and the ease with which this is obtained.

In the next subsection, the focus is on the school environment (the holistic environment) for which the success or mess becomes the yardstick for measuring the rational acceptability of the choice.

2.2 The School Environment

The quality or the benchmark with which quality education is compared has its basis on the general learning environment lo which a students has an unbiased choice. This means that when choices are many and one seems attractive on the basis of quality, the latter will definitely be the choice described by liberty of rational decision.

The best school environment has its tenets on management of knowledge to suite the students. Allee (1997) describes the value of knowledge networks and its importance in educational enhancement which has become revolutionized through technology. There are several elements that describe this sustainability of knowledge that is associated to success. These elements are discussed below:

2.2.1 Quality of education

For an educational system to remain a lure to students, the quality of education should be upheld. This quality borrows from the quality of management are have been known to have an interrelation (Buckman 2004). Once a history of success in quality has been built, then the potential students will find it easy to associate with a given learning institution. This quality management is recurrent, an aspect that justifies its relation to quality in governance of an institution.

There is need to understand the importance of stressing quality in education. This is usually referred to as education standard. Even though the study does not focus on the management aspect of tertiary education, its effects on quality is a big determinant in student choice and enrolment which should form a further study in the Singaporean tertiary education under consumerism.

2.2.2 Cost of education

Findings of fiscal school choice program in the US by Susan (2006) indicate that under the same fiscal policy or balance for both public and private institutions, where one is allowed to choose to study in a private institution or a public one, with payments made through public coffers, the net effect is that high expectations from private entities diminish. This indicates that a choice for a low paying program in public institution is not a justification for poor quality of training but just a perception.

The cost of training in private tertiary institutions has been quoted to mean better services which on the contrary are not justifiable. This cost issue remains a deciding factor in ones choice of a tertiary education. The pattern of enrolment is intended to favour high quality with minimal costs not justified in real education system for privacy is equated to best service. This is quite emotional considering that the attachment to high cost for better services is not rationally justified.

2.2.3 Prestige

The pleasantry of association with a good thing is inwardly rewarding to consumers (Bellizzi and Hite 1992). The image of a product or service to a client is known to trigger actions that cause others to want to copy thus creating a liking for the same (Levy and Weitz, 2007 and Guilford and Smith, 1959). In tangible products, colours do the calming and pleasant feelings. In service, the inherent prestige with which users of services behave can seduce others. According to Bellizzi et al. (1983), cool-coloured store environments are preferred over warm-coloured store environments.

Sowell (2007) argues that prestige of an institution is a big factor in determining the choice students and their parents make in selecting the institution of destination after ordinary or advanced levels. He urges that prestige reflects on application since the more prestigious, the higher the application and therefore, the higher the number of rejected applications. Students get really disappointed if they are rejected by institutions to which they had set their minds. Parents on the other hand may overspend or go into debts to finance their students when they meet entry and invitation into prestigious institutions.

Needless to say however, the prestige may be deceiving since what may be associated with the prestige like celebrated professionals may not at all be directly involved in the training of freshmen. Kargbo (2007) concurs but introduces the aspect of real prestige in good education that is associated with getting the best no matter what circumstances. Students aspire to get to the top of education ladder in the hope of enjoying the prestigious tag associated with the institution(s) attended. A nested logit model developed for determinants of choice of institutions to attend found out that elasticity of choice in reference to tuition is quite low and that even after considering affirmative action compliances in choice, the less privileged associate with prestigious institutions that those that are not ad whose attraction to such institutions is less (Montgomery 2002).

Employment Assurance

Government policies and regulations and immediate relations such as teachers and aspirations of a student and the subjects studied at school have a bearing on future employment of a student. In the light of this, most students choose institutions in which they believe their career aspirations will be nurtured (Kagaari 2007). Estelle et al (1989) in an experiment to gauge the determinants of choice in colleges and with special emphasis on learning, enhanced earning, formation of value and advanced research ability, note that of all the four chosen aspects, better earnings are regarded highest in choice of where one would which to take his higher education.

Before proceeding to the tertiary education, the ordinary or advanced school grade plays a very important role in the choice of institution to attend and the future career. College quality at the tertiary level determines the potential for future employment, a fact that determines the choice of college that students prefer to go to (Daniel et al 1997).

Consumer Emotional Responses and Purchase Behaviour

Studies on performances by service providers on emotional response by consumers indicate that there are predictors to behaviour of the potential and existing clients. These behaviours are usually influenced positively (Linda et al 1995, p.34). The intimacy created as a result of the encounters and time taken during the encounter affects the report levels and the perceived importance of the services to the customer.

Ingrid et al (2001), state that emotional content is grouped into three levels that include subordinate, the basic and the super ordinate levels. Subordinate explain most of the scenarios of customer satisfaction that is contributed to by positive surprise, contentment with a service and pleasure.

Negative influence occurs as a result of negative emotions such as disappointment and irritation. Positive internal responses to the services at institutions lead to ‘approach’ which is positive behaviour such as wanting to associate with the institution, inviting friends to join in the “pleasure” and being loyal. This has a positive effect on attracting the potential customers (students) by proxy. On the other hand, negative internal responses lead to ‘avoidance’. These can be seen in regret as indicated by other students who may have been in these institutions before. They develop remorse for having associated with the status and in most cases will not want to share their experiences.

Such approach-avoidance reactions take place in an individual due to the emotional state and are responsible for making choices or influencing others’ decisions indirectly. This situation is illustrated below:

Figure 2.2 Hypothesized Approach/avoidance Model

Institution

Emotional States

Approach - Avoid Behaviors

2.4 Repatronage Intentions

Repatronage is a redress process of consumer complaint behaviour. A study by Blodgett et al (1995) on the effects of customer service on behaviour of consumers in complaints suggest that the major factor that determines seeking of redress by some customers while others walk away to rebuff is the perceived likelihood of success. It also shows that when one seeks redress, two things are in his mind; receiving fair settlement or expecting respect and courtesy treatment.

Bitner’s (1992) framework suggests that positive perceptions will result in “approach” behaviour such as attraction, stay and return. In another way described by Wakefield and Blodgett (1996), satisfaction has a positive effect on customers’ repatronage intentions.

According to Wagner et al (1999), customers may for the first time patronize an establishment because of their interest but may not return if they are not satisfied with the services offered. This results from evaluation of service experience and sharing of the same to other potential customers. (Smith et al, 2002).

2.5 Summary of Chapter Two

In summary, the responses and choices of a particular service is a reference to a customer’s preference under liberal considerations. In the choice for higher learning educational services, the considerations that play greatly are the need for a better employment immediately after completion of university, aspects of prestige and comfortable of association with a succeeding outfit, the quality of service delivered and the cost associated with learning in such institutions. Factors that are inherent in this making these decisions are constitutional regulations, quality of management, civic values that guide choice of education and government policies.

3. Research Methodology

This chapter is an attempt to identifying and describing the design of the research and type of sampling. The chosen research method is then introduced. The kind of tabulation of gathered data is also briefly discussed. Lastly, the explanation is given for the derivation of the hypotheses of the study.

3.1 Research Design

Wong (1999) describes research design as the procedures and methods for the conduct of a project of research. It details the guidelines of directing a study or research into its objectives. Churchill (1999) and Zykmund (2000) concur that there exists three forms of research designs. These are the descriptive types, the exploratory type and the causal types or research.

According to many authors (Churchill, 1999; Wong, 1999; and Zikmund, 2000), there are three types of research design, namely the exploratory research, descriptive research and causal research.

Exploratory research suits scenarios where the researcher is totally new to the area of the research and is thus an explorer in its simplest description. The researcher focuses on listening and discovery to obtain his data. This has the advantage of understanding greatly about the scenario under study (Wong 1999). Through this, the researcher defines the nature of the problem and easily formulates the hypotheses with very little bias (Zikmund 2000).

Causal research explores and establishes a cause-and-effect relationship in laboratory settings between experimental variables. The variables must be known and tested for this reality (Wong 1999, p.58). causal designs find greater relevance in natural or scientific studies.

The final design is the descriptive research design. It describes the characteristics of the population being studied such as behaviour, responses to external stimuli or phenomenon description of interest in any study. It relies on numeric data gathered and interpreted for the purpose of scenario analysis.

Of all the designs, it is agreeable that descriptive design suits this study because it takes the form of investigation of consumer behaviour through measurable data. Descriptive research design is recommended when the purpose of the research is cantered on generating accurate data that can be relied on statistically.

There are two forms of descriptive data according to Zikmund (2000). These are longitudinal and cross-sectional forms of descriptive data. In longitudinal studies, there are panels that provide successive measurements at given times of an event’s history (Churchill, 1991).

In this study, the cross-sectional design fits the bill because it facilitates a comprehensive analysis of a group of customers (students) who have the same behaviour characteristics to the study subject at different times. The variable that is determinant is thus the composition or the apparent difference in personality and by extension, tastes which necessitates the variation in choice. The measurement is done at a single point in time and generates measurement data (Wong 1999, p.58). This study thus embraced cross-sectional descriptive design to measure how students make choices.

3.2 Sampling Design

In choosing descriptive design, one should have a relatively larger number of samples (in this case, respondents) to make the study viable (Wong 1999, p.54). while acknowledging that the size of the sample is not always, and can never be representative of the real data coverage, it is at best chosen because of restraints in time.

In this study, and for convenience in time, non-probability purposive sampling was done. This gave the advantage of choosing only those conveniently and purposively at best in representing the general trend in consumer dynamism under study. The choice of students for target response was thus restricted to the students of Marketing Institute of Singapore (MIS) at (xxxxxxxxx Main campus/City campus xxxxxxxx) and potential students of Republic Polytechnic joining the college in 2008 through the Direct Polytechnic Admission. A total number of 85 students, 8 from the Republican Polytechnic and 68 from Management Institute of Singapore were targeted for this study. This number was considered conveniently representative of all students into private institutions regarding group dynamic similarities within student behaviour.

3.3 Data Collection

Data collection employed both primary and secondary sources. While secondary data would provide a rational view of the scenario, primary data would be instrumental in real analysis of events.

3.3.1 Primary and Secondary Data Collection

Data collection for this study took place in two forms: primary and secondary. Primary data collection through posting of questionnaires and interviews formed the major part of data information source. The secondary portion relied on journals, books on consumer behaviour and sources from news articles on that are education related. This research focused on quantitative research. This, according to Wong (1999, p.111), the use of quantitative research is best to in deriving quantifiable and numerically accurate data.

The researcher used closed ended questionnaires for data gathering to save on time because of their non requirement for skill in inquiry and their ease of use in tabulation.

3.3.2 Development of Questionnaires

The questionnaire developed for this study was in two sections namely: demographic and scaling questions both of which were made as closed as possible to save on time.

3.3.3 Pre-testing of questionnaire

The questionnaire was pre-tested to ensure ease of use by the respondents. This was done in a small scale pilot test of 4 respondents within the xxxxxxx campus of the MIS. Al the piloting respondents were approached randomly and they accepted to participate. The researcher happens to be a student of Marketing in the same institution (xxxxxxxxxxx please confirm xxxxxxxxxxxxx) and considered this quite economical. The feedback was used to refine the final questionnaires.

3.3.4 Final Data Collection

The questionnaire was fine-tuned and dispatched to chosen respondents. This was done within the campus to save on costs while still remaining relevant to the proposed methodology. The respondents had instructions to fill them in and return them to a specific collection point within the campus. A total of 77 questionnaires were developed and successfully dispatched.

As for the potential students of Republic Polytechnic, their addresses were confirmed and questionnaires dispatched by mail with express instructions to fill them and return (mailing cost provided) to the researcher. A total of 8 questionnaires were dispatched. This method was considered because it favours concentration as opposed to say, online questionnaire, which is usually considered spam and unattended to.

3.3.5 Method of Data Analysis

The researcher used Ms Office Enterprise Excel application to statistically analyse the data. Correlation analysis was established for the data set based on the statements developed in the questionnaire.

3.4 Hypotheses

According to Churchill (1999, p.101) a hypothesis is a statement that explains the relationship between two or more variables in analysis. The statement should be clear on the stated relationship between the variables which must be measurable. In this study, the influence based on quality of service in private institutions was measured in relation to the behaviour characteristic of students in their choice of the institutions. This led to the following hypotheses:

  • The choice of tertiary education in private institutions is dependent on the perceived quality of services, quality of management, cost of educational programs offered and the prestige associated with attending the institution
  • Positive perception leads to choice of the institution while negative perception leads to rejection
  • The nature of services offered to continuing students indirectly affects the choice of the institutions based on influence occasioned on the potential freshmen
  • Communication emanating from the institutions directly affects perceptions of would be students.

Responses gathered were tested for compliance with the above hypotheses using basic statistical analysis.

3.5 Assumptions of the study

The following assumptions were made during the research:

  • That government policies and constitutional implications on education are regulated by the Ministry of Education (MoE) and are not biased.
  • That civic values based on tribes have marginal effect on choice of higher education.
  • That location and ownership of the institutions do not have any effect on the choice of an institution for all non-foreign students.

3.5 Summary of Chapter 3

This chapter reviewed the methodology adopted by the researcher in collecting and analysing the data. The researcher employed descriptive sample surveys that are known to bring out behavioural characteristics in customers. This was instrumental in formulating the hypotheses for the study that were tested in the forward chapters.

4. Findings and Analysis

This chapter is a presentation of the data that was gathered during the survey. The data is presented in tables and organised for analysis. Analysis is then done on the basis of the research objectives enumerated in chapter one of this report.

4.1 Description of Sample

A total of 76 responses out of the expected 85 were received for this study. The data was analysed using the Ms Excel 2007 package.

Table 4.1: Demographics of Respondents

Demographics of submission according to sex over an expected population size

Male

%

Female

%

Total

%

Expected Total outcome

%

44

58

41

54

76

100

85

89.41176

All the respondents of RP submitted their questionnaires, while 9 abstained among those from the MIS. Of the 76, 8 were from the RP while 68 were from MIS. The data shows a near normal distribution of respondents with 44 (58% of sampled population) being male while 41 (54%) being female.

4.2 Hypotheses Decisions

As was contained in the questionnaires posted to the respondents, they were to agree with anticipated determinants of their choice of the institution they are in (for MIS students) and the choice of institution they are to attend (for RP) students.

The following table shows the demographics of determinants for each category of respondents and their take on each of the determinants.

Table 4.2: Demographics of respondents by institution in agreement with determinants of their choices

Determinants

Number of respondents per group

Strongly Disagree

Disagree

Neutral

Agree

Strongly Agree

PR

MIS

PR

MIS

PR

MIS

PR

MIS

PR

MIS

1

Cost of Course

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

5

7

63

2

Prestige

0

0

0

0

1

4

1

16

6

48

3

Prior Communication

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

6

7

60

4

Sense of ownership

4

14

2

50

2

4

0

0

0

0

5

Influence

0

0

0

0

1

24

3

40

4

4

6

Quality of service

0

0

1

0

2

2

3

50

2

16

7

Quality of Management

0

0

1

2

4

4

48

1

16

8

Location of Institution

4

16

2

30

1

18

1

4

0

0

Legend:RP - Republican Polytechnic

MIS - Management Institute of Singapore.

This data was entered into spreadsheets and analysed to realise the strength of the hypotheses and the objectives. The following subchapter summarised various determinants with dereference to choice for each group of students.

4.2.1Scale of disagreement

Table 4.2.1: Percentage of concurrence per scale of disagreement for each determinant

Determinants

Number of respondents per group of respondents

Strongly Disagree

Disagree

Neutral

Agree

Strongly Agree

f*

%

f

%

f

%

f

%

f

%

1

Cost of Course

0

0

0

0

0

0

6

7.89

70

92.1

2

Prestige

0

0

0

0

5

6.58

17

22.4

50

65.8

3

Prior Communication

0

0

0

0

0

0

7

9.21

67

88.2

4

Sense of ownership

18

23.7

52

68.4

6

7.89

0

0

0

0

5

Influence

0

0

0

0

25

32.9

43

56.6

8

10.5

6

Quality of service

0

0

1

1.32

4

5.26

53

69.7

18

23.7

7

Quality of Management

0

0

1

1.32

6

7.89

52

68.4

17

22.4

8

Location of Institution

20

26.3

32

42.1

19

25

5

6.58

0

0

* Frequency

The table shows an increase in percentage of those strongly agreeing that the choice of an institution is determined by the cost, prior communication and prestige and an agreement across the respondents that quality of service and management and influence on students affect choice. There is disagreement that the sense of ownership and the location of the institution affect the choice to join institutions. This can be shown in the graph below:

Figure 4.2.1: Graph of concurrence per scale of disagreement for each determinant

4.2.2Agreement, Neutrality and Disagreement in determinants of choice

In comparing agreement and disagreement on the effects of the determinants on choice, the researcher realised that there is a clear margin of distinction between the determinants of choice and those that do not. This is shown in the table below.

Table4.2.2: Agreement, Neutrality and Disagreement in determinants of choice

Determinants

Disagree

%

Neutral

%

Agree

%

1

Cost of Course

0

0

0

0

76

100

2

Prestige

0

0

5

6.5789

67

88.158

3

Prior Communication

0

0

0

0

74

97.368

4

Sense of ownership

70

92.105

6

7.8947

0

0

5

Influence

0

0

25

32.895

51

67.105

6

Quality of service

1

1.3158

4

5.2632

71

93.421

7

Quality of Management

1

1.3158

6

7.8947

69

90.789

8

Location of Institution

52

68.421

19

25

5

6.5789

All factors except the location and sense of ownership positively determine the choice of an institution. The neutrality of agreement to choice can be safely assumed in this regard.

determinant

Figure 4.2.2: Agreement, Neutrality and Disagreement in determinants of choice

4.2.3 Correlation between degree of agreement and the probability of choice

That the choice of an institution depends on positive perception on the determinants was tested and the following results found. The margin of acceptance of choice or rejection of the same was taken to be 50% in both cases of agreement and disagreement. The state of neutrality was assumed to have no impact of choice i.e. neutrality = null acceptance = null rejection.

Figure 4.2.3 Correlation between degree of agreement and the probability of choice

This decision is summarised in the table below.

Table 4.2.3 Summary of Hypotheses Decision

HYPOTHESES

DECISION

a

The choice of private tertiary institution depends on

Cost of Course

A1

Prestige

A

b

Prior Communication

A

Sense of ownership

R2

Influence

A

Quality of service

A

Quality of Management

A

c

Location of Institution

R

Legend: A: Acceptance >150% Agreement R: Rejection >250% Disagreement

4.3 Summary of Chapter 4

The results shown in the analysis above are within the acceptable degree of hypothesis. The degree of agreement for choice hypothesised for all determinants have been shown to hold positive. All the determinants of choice for tertiary private education are agreeable to the students with the exception of location and the sense of ownership of the institutions.

5. Conclusion

This chapter concludes the study.

5.1 Findings of the study

The study agrees with the findings of xxxxxxx that determinants of a choice for a private tertiary education depends on the cost of the education program, perceptions related to prestige of the institutions, the kind and quality of management and service delivery, the influence prior to choice and prior communication received pertaining to the institution. This shows the strength of a customer’s perception of a service prior to being offered as predicted by xxxxxxxxxx.

Factors such as location of the institution and the sense of association prior to a student’s choice have minimal sway to the ultimate choice. The behaviour in choice of tertiary private education perfectly conforms to the hypothesis that perception and cost of service are the greatest determinants of choice in a liberal market.

5.2 Implications of the study

This study has a great implication to the providers of private tertiary education as an alternative to government funded public schools. The first implication is on the regulation of costs to compete favourably in the market. Managements of the institutions should balance the costs of study to accommodate the students’ fear of much costly education.

The quality of services and management and prestige associated with performance in different fields of higher education should be upheld to lure students into choosing the best perceived institution. Moreover, negative influence on potential students should be minimized through effective communication.

5.3 Limitation of the study

The study was limited to studying the behaviour in choice of private tertiary education by students in Singapore. The finding of this study may therefore not be applicable in other countries with different systems of education.

5.4 Recommendations for further studies

The researcher recommends that a study of a wider scope carried out to confirm with greater certainty the behaviour of students in choosing private tertiary education. This could include the whole country and focus on all private institutions. Time should also be added to facilitate longer interaction with students in studies of such kind.

5.5 Achievements of objectives

The major objective of this study was to investigate student’s behaviour in choosing tertiary education especially from private institutions. The study was able to prove that the process of choice is controlled by perception and the anticipated cost of education. The students employ the acceptance/ rejection process in evaluating their choices and settles on a choice based on the said determinants. The ejectives were therefore successfully achieved.

5.6 Summary of Chapter 5

The chapter set out to analyse and report findings while enumerating the implications of this study. Limitations and recommendations are also given based on the scope of this study. The assessment of achievement of the study objectives is also given. This chapter summarises the study by concluding that perception plays a major role in the choice behaviour of customers.