Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Understanding Meaning and Characteristics of Civic Development in Higher Education

Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Understanding Meaning and Characteristics of Civic Development in Higher Education

Article excerpt


Higher education is a central part of youth life, and its job is to prepare young people to engage in civil society. It is also important in constructing competencies and helping young people to develop a civic identity. Thus, the aim of this study is to explore the meaning and characteristics of civic development among students in the higher education system. A qualitative study using a semi-structural interview is conducted to collect data from 12 international postgraduates of Universiti Putra Malaysia, and the data establishes that three distinct but connected themes-that is, civic knowledge, tendency, and engagement-are key aspects of civic development. The findings relating to these three themes underline the requirements for a civically engaged youth. The findings suggest that policy makers should redesign civic programs based on suitable methods by which to educate students in formal and informal manners.

Keywords: higher education, citizenship, civic responsibility, engagement, participation

1. Introduction

Civic development meaning in higher education is not clear but it is expected to be goal of any higher education institutions. In an educational sense, civic development refers to learning individual competences, knowledge, and beliefs as a result of educational practice. Students' concepts of civic development expand from a focus on obedience and support of the status quo, to a more critical appraisal, which incorporates the fact that citizens would be irresponsible if they blindly obeyed. However, the ability to become a developed citizen is dependent on knowing one's rights and responsibilities. This knowledge represents another relevant component of civic development (Galston, 2004; Zaff et al., 2011). To date, a number of studies have investigated civic capacities and motivations to develop civically (e.g., Hurtado, Engberg, & Ponjuan, 2003; Westheimer & Kahne, 2004). As reported by Annette (2005), there is a lack of understanding about the values of civic development, and the concept of a "civically developed person" has not been well defined with reference to the higher education system. The purpose of the present study is thus to discover the meaning and features of civic development. Thus, this study tries to answer these two questions: How do students see civic development? What are the main components of civic development among higher education students?

2. Civic Development

Fudge (2014) describes citizenship as rings of circles that expand outwards. In its simplest form, citizenship refers to members of the public who are honest, unselfish, and behave responsibly towards others (Ho, 2007). In addition, being a good citizen requires social and civic competence. Social competence entails an understanding of how people can ensure social well-being, and it is equally important to understand social practices and recognize cultural issues related to society. The main skill within to this competence is to communicate constructively in different environments, with the aim of collaboration. Civic competence, on the other hand, is based on the concepts of democracy, justice, and civil rights. It includes knowledge of current issues, values, and policies (Essomba, Karatzia-Stavlioti, Maitles, & Zalieskiene, 2008).

Matten and Crane (2005) identifies three definitions of citizenship: first, a legal definition that emphasizes rights; second, a philosophical definition that determines the relationship of an individual with the state (Deuchar, 2007; Maitles, 2005); and finally, a socio-political definition that stresses the set of practices undertaken by an individual in relation to society (Essomba et al., 2008). Heater (2004) defines a good citizen as an individual that is equipped with knowledge of public affairs, instilled with attitudes of civic virtue, and furnished with skills by which to participate in the political arena (p. 343). Such good citizenship can protect young people from risky behaviors, and is connected to good attendance, higher grades, self-esteem, motivation to learn, and political involvement (Eccles, Barber, Stone, & Hunt, 2003; Perez, Espinoza, Ramos, Coronado, & Cortes, 2010). …

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