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Reconceptualising the decision making process of postgraduate student course selection

Towers, Angela Elaine (2019) Reconceptualising the decision making process of postgraduate student course selection. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

The overall aim of this study was to review and evaluate decision making models and establish if they adequately reflect the journey of prospective full-time postgraduate students, in a contemporary media environment. Higher education has become much more competitive (Universities UK, 2016), and postgraduate students are an increasingly important income stream. They are also part of the millennial generation, highly influenced by their peers, technologically savvy and always digitally connected (Euromonitor International 2011). The literature review revealed that whilst general decision making models have developed to a more circular, less linear approach, within higher education, there has been little development. This highlighted a gap in knowledge regarding how millennial postgraduate students approach their course selection decision making. The methodological approach consisted of a social constructionist/interpretivist philosophy. Under an inductive research strategy, seven focus groups (50 people in total), and nine interviews were conducted. These consisted of UK, EU and International students, on marketing-related postgraduate courses, at one English post-92 University. Full transcripts were analysed using thematic coding. The results and discussion revealed a number of important points, and led to the construction of a new framework. The circular framework introduced an engage construct, as the research highlighted rational and emotional decisions, and that decisions do not always commence with a wide choice set. Five different application patterns were established, together with highlighting the importance of evaluating the students’ pre-purchase experience during the application process. Online forums, word-of-mouth/electronic word-of-mouth from past/existing students, family and friends are important influencers, as students considered postgraduate study from one month to four years prior to starting a course. Finally, three higher education specific touch point categories were developed: brand owned, partner, social/external.

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