As means of mobility become increasingly widespread, globalization has led to the increase of international migration for education. In 2016, UNESCO found that the net flow of internationally mobile students bound for the US was 898,7271 with approximately 970,000 inbound and 72,000 outbound.2 The large quantity of students migrating to pursue higher education is a curious phenomenon, leaving many to wonder what inspires the decision. In 2013, there were 784,4273 inbound students to the US with 67,1534 from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates), constituting 8.56% of inbound international undergraduate students. At Texas A&M University, College Station (Texas A&M) the total percentage of international undergraduate students was only 1.60%.5 Comparing national percentages to those at Texas AA&M, we uncover a contrast; despite the large international student body across the US, only a small percentage choose to study at Texas A&M. It is crucial to understand the motives and factors that influence tertiary education migration trends and how they can be mediated.
One framework for understanding this form of migration is the push and pull hypothesis which considers the decision-making factors of high school graduates as attractive (pull) or repulsive (push). Push factors are conditions of the initial, country of residence that encourage graduates to study abroad due to the standard of living, economic, safety, or social factors that limit education potential. Pull factors refer to the advantages of choosing the destination country or institution that could be related to political, personal, monetary, geographic, or degree standard.
A previous study that attempted to analyze these factors considered variables of: quality of degree, convenience, and cost of the institution.6 However, it overlooked the contribution an individual’s upbringing, background, and personal virtues hold in the decision-making process, therefore limiting the decision of where to pursue an undergraduate degree to a product purchase. This perspective does not explore how personal factors of preference such as family influence, political circumstances, and community strength affect outcomes.
WE CAN LEARN TO CORRECTLY TAILOR THE UNDERGRADUATE SYSTEM TO... SATISFY STUDENT EXPECTATIONS
In this study, personally motivated factors and their weights among students traveling to and from the GCC countries were analyzed to understand the increasing international undergraduate migration movement. Through this study, we can learn to better tailor the undergraduate system to enhance an institution’s ability to satisfy student expectations, whether locally or abroad, increase attractive elements, and reduce the repulsion from academic institutions.
This analysis clarifies what factors may influence the trends of the international student body at Texas A&M. As a resident of Qatar and an undergraduate student at Texas A&M University at Qatar (Texas A&M at Qatar), I chose not to migrate for my undergraduate degree, but at least three quarters of the 120 students of my high school graduating class migrated to countries abroad. I hope to also use this study to understand what influenced so many of my peers to migrate outwards, and what could have potentially changed their decision.
Studies claim that it is crucial to know how a high school graduate decides whether or not to migrate.5 They take the decision making process of high school graduates as the purchase or usage of services, which limits the consideration of other factors that contribute to the decision to migrate for a higher education.
The previously noted study7 started with several non-hierarchical factors that could explain high school graduates’ migration decisions. These factors included quality of study, academic reputation, educational offers, cost, location, employability rates, and external influences. The conducted research revealed the main motivation to travel abroad was “seeking an international experience for a personal, academic, and professional development,” with the second strongest motivator as “academic reputation and quality.” However, it is important to note that particular research study was broad, having been conducted on a pool of students whose only commonality was having attended a public university in North Portugal.
In contrast, my research aims to analyze the GCC as countries of origin and destination for undergraduate students. Having the GCC as the base reference allows the creation of generalizations that apply to students that have not participated in my study but did migrate from or to the GCC. To aid in attaining more focused data, research was conducted in the form of interviews and a survey.
To understand and sample the local community and to extract the most influential factors of its decision making process, data collection was conducted with in-person first hand interviews at Texas A&M at Qatar. Two interviews were conducted. Both interviews were with current Texas A&M at Qatar Bachelor of Science students, one of whom we denote as “K,” a Kuwaiti national freshman studying chemical engineering, the other denoted “AB,” a Yemeni national junior in the petroleum engineering department. The names of both interviewees are left anonymous throughout the report.
To widen the scope of the study and increase diversity in collected data, a survey was released following the case studies. The survey was put together as an online Qualtrics survey and distributed on November 14, 2018 to undergraduate students at Texas A&M at Qatar by this project’s faculty mentor. To collect information from students abroad, the survey was forwarded to individuals through snowball sampling.
The survey questions were as follows:
- Did you seek a higher education (BS/BA degree right after high school? If not, why?
- What year did you enter an institution for a BS/BA degree?
- What country did you reside in before your BS/BA?
- If the country is different, what country did you travel to for a higher education (BS/BA degree)?
- Rank the following according to their importance in your decision making process
- Close proximity to family
- Reputation of institution
- Availability of desired major
- Cost of study
- General safety level of the area
- Familiar cultural/way of life
- Future employment opportunities
- Who was the most supportive of your decision?
- Who was the least supportive of your decision?
- Prior to beginning the BS/BA studies, what was the longest period you spent apart from your direct family? Pick the closest period. (never - one week - three months - six months - one year - > one year)
- If you are willing to participate in an interview for further data collection, please insert your email below.
THE “AVAILABILITY OF THE DESIRED MAJOR” WAS THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR
This study had a few limitations in its design. The seventh question had eight options from which an individual can rank the important factors that play into their decision. These options were based upon previous research8 and insight uncovered during the interviews. However, there potentially could be reasons not listed that rank higher on the scale of importance for different individuals. The line of research has not been restricted by the year at which members of the community entered an institution for higher education. The analyzed pool is considerably broad in that aspect as they range from 2010–2018, to ensure a variation in the findings and to connect why these respective decisions (migration) have been made. However, this could lead to variation in motive as the factors that caused a disadvantage previously may not exist today and vice versa.
The first interviewee, AB, stated that “I always knew I’m going to have to study in a university outside Yemen. Since my father knows that the education level [university level] is very bad in Yemen he wouldn’t let us study there.” Due to the local education level, political and economic instability, as well as the encouragement of his older siblings, who had each migrated for their undergraduate degrees, migration was not a question for AB, but more a matter of where to go. This concern was answered by the consideration to remain geographically close to family as he said, “I always had someone [family member] with me, and most often I had my mom there” emphasizing his wish for this to remain unchanged; moreover at the time of the interview, his brother, who encouraged him to study in Qatar, lived in Qatar.
The two case studies confirmed that students have different motives to migrate, but a generalization can be constructed: Migration, if not obstructed by unfortunate circumstances, is in search of the institution best known for the students chosen major with considerably increased proximity to family. The strength of this generalization was tested against a wider survey to further understand the extent of its application.
Thus far, four variables have been suggested to affect the decision of migration:
- Availability and quality of the institution and the desired degree
- Proximity to family and familiar environments
- Regional conflict
- Future plans and employment options
Furthermore, referencing the push and pull scheme, it appeared that K had shown more of a pull to Texas A&M at Qatar due to the degree standard being more promising than the one in his home country. AB presented a pull towards Texas A&M at Qatar for its attractive and promising study catalogue and the greater proximity to his brother. He also presented a push from his home country due to political instability and the general level of education.
The survey had a total of 60 respondents, aiding in uncovering a general trend presented by the accumulated total responses.
Figure 1 shows how many times each option was ranked under a certain level of importance. With the data from the survey, Table 1 was constructed highlighting the importance scale, the average, and the percentage under which each of the eight presented factors numbered in the seventh question fell.
From Table 1, the three most important factors in descending order by average are:
The findings of Table 1 reinforce the initial conclusion based off of the interviews. The “availability of the desired major” was the most important factor with over 71% of respondents placing it in their top three in ranking of importance. This was followed by “reputation of the institution,” and “future employment opportunities.” These results are an overview of the responses collected from individuals that entered university for a bachelor’s degree between 2011 and 2018 without any restraints on the country of origin or destination. The second phase of the study consisted of analyzing data by comparing individuals migrating to vs. from the GCC.
A similar table to that made for the overall respondents was created for respondents that migrated from the GCC as well to the GCC.
The first thing to compare between the groups is the percentage of importance and the average importance of the top three factors.
Table 2 shows the most important factors of migrating from the GCC as:
Table 3 shows the most important factors of migrating to the GCC as:
ACKNOWLEDGING AND UNDERSTANDING DIFFERENT CULTURES CAN PREPARE AGGIES TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY
With the push and pull hypothesis as an explanatory framework and considering the decision making process, it can be concluded that for students originating from the GCC, proximity to family is important. For institutions like Texas A&M with an increasingly diverse student population, it is critical to help international students create communities of diverse backgrounds and experiences. Taking the first step to create an inviting space for multiculturalism can encourage families to consider international institutions such as Texas A&M as not only a source for an undergraduate degree, but also as a welcoming community for students and their families. Creating diverse and inclusive communities pushes both the local and the migrating students out of their comfort zone to widen their perspectives and increase their Aggie experiences. In a world with increasing globalization, acknowledging and understanding different cultures can prepare Aggies to contribute to the international community.
Sara Adnan AlBanna ‘22
Sara Adnan AlBanna ‘22 is a Petroleum Engineering major with a minor in geology studying at Texas A&M at Qatar. Sara is proudly the first female engineer of her family and looks forward to setting many more firsts in her career. With prospects to expand her studies into Renewable Energy Engineering she is keen to aid her local and international communities in finding collaborative ways to reduce our collective carbon footprint.