Factors Influencing Students to go to Particular Schools

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Cambodia has been working very hard to develop its human capitals purposely to promote social and economic development, rebuild the nation, and integrate the country into the regional and global community. Cambodia's current stage of educational development is still in its infancy compared with many other Asian countries (Bumatay, 2009). On the one hand, Cambodia has been collaborating with international communities to achieve the Education for All goals by 2015 (Bumatay, 2009). On the end of other educational spectrum, Cambodia is reforming its quality of higher education since Cambodia necessarily needs its graduates to have high qualifications, to become productive members, and to contribute to the country development. (Bumatay, 2009).

During the 1990s, as Pit and Ford say, the students' demand for higher education rapidly increased while the public higher education sector was still unable to respond to that growing demand for challenging labor marketing; therefore, in mid-1990s the government introduced a new policy allowing the participation of private higher education sector (as cited in Phirom, 2010). This new policy was introduced mainly to help public sector deal with the students' dramatic increasing demand for higher education and also to allow for the private higher education implementation in Cambodia (Bumatay, 2009).

Since the introduction of private sector, Cambodia has noticed a dramatic increase in students' enrollment (undergraduate students) in both public and private higher education institutions. This remarkable phenomenon of the increasing number of students enrolled for higher education shows subsequently rising figures from 25,080 in 2000-2001 to 75,523 in 2004-2005 (Bumatay, 2009). Also, in 2007-2008 academic year, the total number of students who enrolled in all programs of higher education had increased to 131, 639 (including degrees of Associate, Bachelor, Master and PhD) (Bumatay, 2009). These numbers include 15,744 enrolled in Associate Degree Program; 105,931 went to Bachelor Degree Program; 10,365 studied in Master Degree students; and another 844 were PhD Degree students (Bumatay, 2009).

With this dramatic and demanding growth in the large amount of students' enrollment and also urgent calls for help from the government, private HEIs' rapid expansion in its higher educational trainings was constantly demanded in response to the gradually growing needs for tertiary education from secondary education graduates (Virak & Khorn, 2008). Due to the fact that the students' increasing demand has never been satisfied, the expansion of private higher education institutions has been noticed to be increasingly established (Virak & Khorn, 2008).

Currently, there are a total of 80 higher education institutions (in category as institutes and university) in Cambodia, with 33 public and 47 private, working under the supervision of eleven different Ministries (statistics of HEIs by DoHE, July 23, 2010). Compared with international standard, most higher education institutions are small, with limited resources and academic programs, indicating the inadequacies in quality, efficiency, and standardized education assurance (Bumatay, 2009). At the same time, those private HEIs provide more choices for students, not only different options from the state HEIs, but also different options among competing private HEIs themselves (D'Amico, 2008; Nault, 2008).

While having a variety of choices is not a bad thing, it does not necessarily mean that students will always choose the right course and the right university that best fits their interests, motivation, aptitude and talent, and career goals. Oftentimes, students decide to major in a particular field at a particular university without enough guidance and information about the course and university as well as about their employment prospects after graduation (D'Amico, 2008).

Further, in order to attract more students and to maximize their profits, private HEIs tend to use their marketing strategies to manipulate the increasing demands for higher education. In this sense, they design courses and degree programmes that they have cost and competence advantages to be attractive to students, which then encourage more demands for those particular courses from students, even though they are not necessarily needed in the labor market, and makes their institutions popular (D'Amico, 2008). As a result, students end up studying subjects that make them difficult to get employment after graduation. By the same token, those private HEIs may enjoy profitability in the short run, but such growth may not be sustainable in the long term when their programmes do not respond to the real needs of the learners as well as of the labor market (D'Amico, 2008; Nault, 2008).

Research problem

The rapid expansion of private higher education institutions (HEIs) saw enrollment in higher education increasingly grow along with challenges among students, and this phenomenon consequently presents two key problems (D'Amico, 2008; Nault, 2008). First, the lack of information and guidance has led to a situation where students end up studying subjects at certain universities that are not in their best interests and that employment markets for those subjects are saturated, with more supply than demand (D'Amico, 2008; Nault, 2008). Second, another major problem is that without proper management, the competition among private HEIs for profits can harm Cambodian human resource development in the long run.

In order to address these two challenges, there is a real need for a study to understand the motivation and factors that affect students' decision in selecting a private university. This is particularly important in Cambodian context where there is little scientific evidence of why students decide to go to a particular university, not others, and what those students expect to get from their studies. Such information is useful not only for those whose responsibilities are to provide students with information about higher education and to guide them in their decision making process, but also for private HEIs themselves in improving their performance so as to contribute effectively to the process of human development of the country.

Research objectives

The objectives of the study are to examine the underlying specific reasons why students are willing to pursue their study at a private university or college and what motivates them to study there. More importantly, the study is intended to find out factors that influence students' decision to select that particular higher education institution for their study in Cambodia. In addition, the study will also aim to identify the students' expectation from the university they enroll.

Research questions

This study is conducted purposely to answer the following two research questions:

What are the factors influencing students' decision to go to a particular private higher education institution?

What are their expectations from the chosen institution?


First, this study will inform all the relevant stakeholders about critical factors that influence students' decision to study at a particular private higher education institution. Second, it will provide students with informed judgment on how to choose a right institution for their study that will match with the students' labor market. Informed of all those expected reasons and influencing factors, management leaders/personnel of private higher education institutions will better understand the students' needs and also their satisfactions. The private higher education institutions in Cambodia will be better able to respond to the students' needs by designing the appropriate academic curriculums, offering the needed services, and helping coordinate their academic performance.

In addition, the findings from this study will also inform policy makers in higher education in Cambodia of better educational strategies, students' motivation, and determining factors behind the students' education at a particular higher education institution. In this sense, the findings from this study will contribute to the future improvement and development in the higher education sector in Cambodia.

Definition of key term

The term higher education institutions refers to institutions that provide all forms of post-secondary education such as vocational schools, community colleges, independent colleges , faculties and universities (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 1992). Likewise, in Cambodian context, the researcher defines the term higher education institutions as any education institutions that offer tertiary education levels following secondary education such as Associate Degrees, Bachelor Degrees, Master Degrees, and Doctor Degrees.

Proposed chapter

This research paper will compose of five main chapters. Chapter I will contain section of introduction to such important components as background, research problem, research objective, research questions, significance, and definition of term. Chapter II will outline a section of literature review describing previous studies and conceptual framework of the study. Chapter III will present a section of research methodology covering research design of qualitative, tools/instruments for data collection, sample size and sampling method, a description of variables derived from the research tools data collecting procedures, a plan to analyze data, ethical consideration, strength and limitation of the method, and pilot study. Chapter IV will describe the discussion and findings gained in the study. Chapter V will give a general conclusion and some possible recommendations for the study. Finally, sections of references and appendices will be indicated as an end of the research paper.



There are little or almost no studies concerning factors influencing students' decision on choosing which university they want to attend in Cambodia. This study will base partly on relevant studies in Cambodian higher education context and largely on related studies in other countries to frame conceptual framework for directing the study. Several studies have been conducted to seek answers to factors determining reasons why students choose to study at a particular higher education institution. As a result, they share common findings, namely intrinsic factors and extrinsic factors which lead students to choose a particular place for their tertiary education. The following paragraphs discuss the main reasons behind their decisions.

2.1 Previous Studies

Virak and Khorn (2008) emphasized that, in the late 1990s, the privatization of higher education in Cambodia came into existence and it was then available for the students who were unable to get the government scholarship. With this new private educational access, there were a lot of challenges for Cambodia to ensure its quality of higher education. Thus, Cambodia has to do well with the higher educational management because those higher educational institutions did not meet the required standard yet. By comparison with international academic standards, most higher education institutions are very small, with narrow, academic bases, and limited resources. These highlight the inadequacies of quality, efficiency, and national-level consistent system assurance.

Despite challenges and incoherent standardized systems, private higher education institutions in Cambodia received a remarkable number of students. According to Virak and Khorn (2008), the total enrolment of the undergraduate students in both public and private higher educational institutions has risen sharply from 25,080 in 2000-2001 to 75,523 in 2004-2005, and it continued to increase to 131, 639 in 2007-2008 academic year.

The statistics of HEIs by the Department of Higher Education of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport of Cambodia shows that at present there are a total of 80 higher education institutions, with 33 public and 47 private. Among those higher education institutions, there is a great difference in the number of students' enrollment in both private and public universities in the academic year 2009-2010 (statistics of HEIs by DoHE, July 23, 2010).

In a discussion about the factors that influence students' decision to study at a particular private higher education in Cambodia, Phirom (2010) has found four of the nine most influential factors that encourage students to go to private universities: "family influence, extensive use of English in academic programs, faculty with expertise and professional experience, and reasonable and affordable tuition fee" (p. 65).

According to Phirom (2010), family influence is one of the most influential factors that motivates or forces students to go to a particular higher education institution. Family members or relatives play important roles in recommending which university the students should choose including both public and private universities (Phirom, 2010). Family members or relatives are usually responsible for taking all responsibilities for all their children including giving the children ideas on their education choice (Phirom, 2010).

Phirom (2010) also emphasizes that extensive use of English is another common factor that attracts students to study at a particular private university. Students tend to appreciate any higher education institutions whose academic programs are mostly conducted in English by foreign or Cambodian instructors who can speak English well (Phirom, 2010). In addition, Phirom (2010) also mentions that "all the interviewees …explained that their respective university was able to employ both Cambodian and foreign teaching staff, who were fluent in English. English was also used in the teaching" (p. 66).

In addition, Quality of faculty is another attracting factor that draws students to study at a particular private higher education institution in Cambodia (Phirom, 2010). Students usually consider about the quality of the teaching staff by mostly appreciating instructors who have degrees from abroad with high English proficiency (Phirom, 2010). Likewise, private higher education institution with adequate financial researches, as Pit and Ford (2004) and Ford (2006) say, was able to employ teaching staff with high degrees; therefore, those universities can receive more attention from the students (as cited in Phirom, 2010, p. 66).

The fourth factor that influences students' decision to go to a particular private university was reasonable and affordable school fees (Phirom, 2010). Under this sense, usually poor students based their choice of university on two conditions: school fees and scholarship (Phirom, 2010). In the first group, students' choice was the result of reasonable and affordable school fees while the second group had to rely on scholarship (Phirom, 2010).

Through the study of Phirm (2010), the four above-mentioned factors have been figured out as the most influential dynamics that influence students' education choice in Cambodian educational context, and these underlying factors behind students' decision have been used mostly by private higher education institutions in Cambodia. In comparison with foreign educational context and attracting factors influencing students' decision in their tertiary education, some similar educational motivations have been found and illustrated as following.

According to the study of factors influencing the choices of prospective undergraduates conducted in Melbourne, Australia; James, Baldwin, and Mclnnis (1999) emphasized the field of study preference as one of the important attractions that simulates students' interest in a particular institution, and the students' choice in their tertiary education is motivated by the availability of interesting courses or majors the students want to take. This was illustrated that:

Applicants for courses in Business field stand out in terms of the relatively strong influence they attribute to consideration associated with a vocational, instrumentalist view of education. In choosing an institution, they are also more likely than applicants in other fields to be concerned to find study conditions that will fit in with their work commitments (James, Baldwin & Mclnnis, 1999, p. 45).

Further, the influence on school-leaver applicants is also influential and closely dependent of the ages of school-leavers from their secondary education. Students normally think about how old they are, when they will graduate if they continue the next step in their education and what course appropriate with when they plan to finish their education. Thus, it is a clear that students' choice in their subsequent must be consistent with their expected period of time, they hence prefer any institution whose courses' duration will be consistent with their expected period of time (James, Baldwin & Mclnnis, 1999).

Influences according the type of university chosen, as stated by James, Baldwin, and Mclnnis (1999), were also a reasonable indicator for students' education interest and choice. This was seen as an institutional status or category. In what category an institution was classified or recognized by a relevant accreditation committee was the logical explanation why students decide to enroll for their study at a particular university or college. This means an institution social recognition is an influential factor, from which a university or college can absorb students, especially those considering institutional identity as their top priority in their study choice (James, Baldwin & Mclnnis, 1999).

Most students' decisions in their education choice were affected and changed at the time of an educational offer by a university or college that was the cause of the decision at time of offer. Students were found changing their decisions immediately when they were offered reasonable incentives, motivations, or any forms of promotions at the time while they were deciding which university or college they should attend. They seemed to be more willing to accept any offer or make any easier decision in their education. Therefore, decision at a particular time of special promotion could be a stimulus that definitely encouraged students' intrinsic motivation to choose a university or college (James, Baldwin & Mclnnis, 1999).

Further, a similar study on "willingness to pay and preference private institutions" described a number of possible factors influencing students' choice of their higher education, in which willingness to pay was stressed as the most influential intrinsic motivation for students to choose their favorite university or college. The findings suggested that:

In addition to the students and family background, students' academic characteristics, students' subjective responses to tuition costs and to financial aid availability have a substantial linkage with student reference for private or public institutions. This study suggests that family and ascribed characteristics alone do not explain student preference for the type of postsecondary institution. Students' subjective responses to tuition costs and to financial aid availability are also directly related to student preference a certain type of postsecondary institution independent of student family background and academic characteristics. This suggests that the willingness to pay, not only the ability to pay, plays a direct role in student college choice decisions (Hu & Hossler, 2000, p. 685).

2.2 Conceptual framework

The main objective of this study is to explore the factors influencing students' decision to study at a particular higher institution in Cambodia. Basically, it investigates how each private university uses its own strategies to attract the students to study at the university and to satisfy the students' needs. Thus, this underlying conceptual framework is framed based on the marketing mix in higher education. In particular, Quester, McGuiggan, McCarthy and Perreault (2001) have described the four Ps as product, place, promotion, and price. However, since the four Ps strategy is not enough, such more marketing components in higher education as "packaging, partnership, programming, positioning, and people" must be added (Rudd & Mills, 2008, p. 41). Thus, this use of the conceptual framework in this study is to assist in organizing data and the analysis.

The term marketing was commonly used in business sector and mainly related to the concept of buying, selling, and advertising (Krachenberg, 1972). Through the period of time, the concept of marketing has evolved and become widely used in all forms of institutions (Kotler, 1972). In addition, marketing is also defined in a broader sense as a process in general management and society by which individuals get what they want by means of creating, offering, exchanging services and products with each other (Gibbs & Knapp, 2000). The above-mentioned marketing activities are defined as a marketing mix (Gibbs & Knapp, 2000).

Product: Quester, McGuiggan, McCarthy and Perreault (2001) have described the product as an area related to creating a good or right 'product' for the target market. Likewise, the product in higher education refers to all activities, experiences, facilities, services and dorms, classrooms, and other learning and teaching facilities provided by the university or college and used to serve the teaching and learning needs. When considering products, the concerned university or college has to take into account all "demand-generators" such as the location of the university or college, culture, history, and other recreational activities (Rudd & Mills, 2008, p. 45).

Price: Price is characterized as an important element of the marketing mix since it is always taken into students' consideration while they are deciding to choose a university or a college for their education. Overpricing educational services of an institution can also result in the decrease in students' enrollment or students' drop out since financially disable or poor students usually consider the affordable tuition fee first prior to their decision to study at a particular university or college. In this regard, price is seen as an important attraction to students' enrollment or continuation at a particular institution (Rudd & Mills, 2008).

Place: Place is a component in higher education marketing mix mainly referring to where education is provided. It can also be regarded as when or by whom the education is offered. Where, when and by whom education is conducted definitely contributes to encouraging students' decision to choose their education institution (Rudd & Mills, 2008).

Promotion: Promotion refers to various communication strategies that feign students' interest in a service or product. Thus, promotion in education plays an important role in simulating students' interest in attending a university or college, promoting the university's name recognition, and giving the university or college an exposure. Also, it involves selling, advertising, selecting staff, and managing sale. In promotion process, push and pull strategy is normally used to draw students' attention to study at a particular university or college (Rudd & Mills, 2008).

Packaging: Packaging is also considered as one of the important components in the marketing strategy. It is similar to partnership in which "…universities offer internships to their students, these internships are part of the program and generally cost nothing extra. They are included in the price of the course work. When combined with a partnership (articulation agreement), this creates a package" (Rudd & Mills, 2008, p. 49).

Partnership: Partnership refers to collaboration between at least two educational institutions that offer complementary services to each other. For this articulation agreement, students from an institution can transfer in at least 60 credits. For instance, students in community college can transfer in a university with at least 60 credits. That is, through this interconnection, partnership can be an attractive educational advertisement (Rudd & Mills, 2008).

Programming: Program is also an important cause of students' enrollment at a particular university or college. Flexible and available classes at the appropriate time can also simulate students' interest in the study. For instance, the new introduction of the available classes on Saturday and Sunday or in the evening opens doors to the working students since it leaves a large amount of time for them to pursue their work (Rudd & Mills, 2008).

Positioning: Positioning is the "market-niche" a university or college deserves. A university or college receives a large amount of students' interest because:

Creating an effective positioning strategy will facilitate better understanding between the target market and the college. When a student knows exactly what they are going to be receiving out of a college experience, they are more likely to stay in college and be satisfied with their college experience" (Rudd & Mills, 2008, p. 48)

People: People of higher educational marketing refers to the concerned university or college's staff. The employees of a university or college can be important marketing tools since students also want to know if their teaching staff are qualified. In this sense, it is important for the employees to make themselves known to the public by means of any possible strategies such university or college's accomplishment, publications, and other available connection to the public (Rudd & Mills, 2008).



This chapter explains the research design, tools/instruments for data gathering, sample size and sampling method, a description derived from the research tools, data collecting procedures, a plan to analyze data, ethical consideration, strength and also limitation of the research.

3.1 Research design

This research design is in compliance with qualitative research methodology. Creswell (1994) and Sanchez (2006) describes qualitative research as a type of educational research in which "researchers are concerned primarily with process, rather than outcomes or products…and are more interested in the meaning, how people make sense of their lives, experiences, and their structures of the world" (p. 145). Creswell (1994) also emphasizes that qualitative research is based on the participants' opinion; uses open, general questions; gathers data which consists mostly of words from respondents; analyzes and develops these words into themes. The qualitative researcher plays a vital role as a tool to collect data and also involves fieldwork, observation, interviewing or record behavior (Creswell, 1994). The important objective of qualitative research is to understand a phenomenon by looking at the entire picture rather than turning it into variables and using a holistic picture and in-depth understanding rather than numerically analyzed data (Creswell, 1994).

3.2 Tools/instruments for data gathering

Since the concept of factors influencing students' decision to study at a particular private higher education is complex and qualitative in nature, the researcher will use an important qualitative data collection method: interview. The researcher will divide the interview into two categories: interview with students and interview with students' parents.

3.3 Site, population, sample size and sampling method

The purposive sampling technique will be used in this study, choosing a private university in Phnom Penh. To ensure anonymity, the target university is referred as University A. The study is targeting year-one, semester-one students and those students' parents. The interview will non-randomly select about 10 year-one, semester-one students. 5 students will be selected from those with high academic record, and another 5 will be chosen among those with low academic performance. To identify outstanding or weak students, the researcher will ask the subject lecturer help select those students on the basis of their GPA, 5 with high grade point average ( 3.00 or above) and another 5 with low grade point average (below 1.00) as a result of year-one, semester-one final evaluation. Also, 6 students' parents will be selected non-randomly. 3 will be selected among highly educated families, and another 3 will be selected among poorly educated families since the researcher believe that the parents' educational background definitely affects the children's choice of a university of college. To identify if the students' parents are highly or poorly educated, the researcher will look at the students' application form or their personal biography kept by the university or college.

3.4 Data collecting procedures

Data will be collected from a private university, referred as University A, in Phnom Penh by means of two categories of interview, targeting 10 year-one students and 6 students' parents.

3.4.1 Interviewing students

The researcher will non-randomly select 10 year-one, semester-one students, 5 with high academic record and 5 with poor academic record. The students will be asked about what factors influencing their decision to study at the university and what expectations they are holding from their study after their graduation. Along the two major questions, there will be some more relevant questions about their background. The interview questions will be developed based on three important stages. First, interview questions will be designed based on consultations with experienced researchers. Second, previous studies and marketing strategies of higher education will be used as the basic structures to develop the interview questions. Finally, semi-structured interviews will be conducted along with some additional questions for respondents' clarification if necessary in order to collect more in-depth information.

3.4.2 Interviewing students' parents

In addition to the interview with the students, the researcher needs some more in-depth information from the students' parents. While educational status will also affect the answers, the researcher will choose the 6 parents from different educational background, 3 from highly educational background and the other 3 from poorly educational background. The researcher will use similar basic questions like those used in students' interview. However, some questions about background will be changed to fit with parents' status and some more in-depth questions will be added.

Plan to analyze data

Descriptive analysis method will be used in the data analysis stage. The study will be based on the findings from the interviews. The interviews will be transcribed and carefully analyzed for themes. The findings will be finally interpreted to illustrate possible factors influencing students' decision to study at a particular private university or college and also their expectations from their graduation.

Ethical consideration

The study will be conducted in a private university in Phnom Penh. There will be a letter from the MEd Program at RUPP to seek permission from the target university prior to data collection. The purpose and significance of the study will be attached with the permission-seeking letter and clearly explained to the university rector and all the participants. The rector will be asked to sign an approval for the study in the university. Likewise, the research participants (students and students' parents) will be asked to sign an agreement to indicate their willingness to participate in the study. The names of the participants or IDs and the university will be kept anonymous. No information concerning the interviewees' responses will be used other than the purpose of the study. Also, their participations in this study will be truly voluntary. While answering the questions, the participants can withdraw from the interview or skip any questions if they prefer to do so. After the publication of the final findings, a copy of the results will be given to the university.

Strengths and limitation of the method

The study will be conducted with several strengths. The researcher has a good network or access to the target university. Thus, the researcher will be able to collect the necessary information that might be needed in the study. With this facilitation, the researcher will be able to identify the 5 outstanding students and 5 weak students and 6 students' parents for the interview through the university administrative management. This will help the researcher collect reliable data.

However, this study will be limited by three factors. First, it will be a case study only, which will be conducted in only one medium-sized private university in Phnom Penh. Second, the study will target only 10 year-one, semester-one students and 6 students' parents. Thus, the findings will not be generalizable to other students or other private universities because the sample size is not large and not randomly selected. Finally, the sample selection of this one university might not ensure completely reliable findings.

In this sense, researchers, scholars, and students, conducting researches from these findings should be careful about making generalizations from this study. However, these findings will definitely offer the groundwork for other researches on private higher education institutions in Cambodia.

Pilot Study

To ensure success in the expected research plan and anticipate possible difficulties, the researcher will conduct a pilot study prior to the actual research. The researcher will select 4 students randomly for the students' interview and 2 students' parents to answer all the prepared questions as mentioned in the Appendix A. After they have answered all the questions, the researcher will learn if the students and the parents are able to completely finish all the questions in a set period of time, or the researcher will make any necessary changes to fit with the actual situation and also to ensure the expected result in the actual interviews.