Academic journal article International Journal of Training Research

Understanding Motivation for Study: Human Capital or Human Capability?

Academic journal article International Journal of Training Research

Understanding Motivation for Study: Human Capital or Human Capability?

Article excerpt

Introduction

Why do people study at a tertiary level? In particular, why do many make the considerable effort needed to gain multiple qualifications? The latter is an increasing trend, with the proportion of working age people holding more than one tertiary-level qualification increasing from 18% in 2001 to 23% in 2009 (Fredman, 2012). In the document guiding the Australian government's policies in higher education and which makes some reference to connections with the vocational education and training (VET) sector (DEEWR, 2009), targets for increasing participation are set for reasons of both economic productivity and social inclusion. More flexible pathways between levels of tertiary study are seen here as a central means of broadening participation. This document and the reforms that have flowed from it, such as 'demand-driven' allocation of places in higher education and, to some extent, in VET, claims to be 'putting students clearly at the centre of its reforms' (p. 5). However, the actual motivations of students are remarkably silent, or as discussed below are simply assumed, here and in much of the policy debate.

This paper examines the motivations of students in undertaking tertiary education, with a particular emphasis on motivations related to undertaking multiple qualifications. The paper derives from work undertaken for the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER)-supported project entitled 'Vocations: Post-compulsory education and the labour market'. This project has a broad remit of analysing transitions in both education and the labour market and connections between these (Wheelahan, Leahy, Fredman, Moodie, Arkoudis & Bexley, 2012; Moodie, Buchanan & Wheelahan, 2012).The present paper has the broad focus of the project as its background while focusing on an area only briefly covered in the project, that is the reasons that people undertake tertiary study. The paper will firstly outline the dominant view of what drives student motivations, human capital theory, and will suggest problems with this view in its assumptions and explanatory power. It will present findings from the project related to student motivations, in particular motivations for undertaking multiple qualifications, and in discussing these and past research will suggest better ways to understand reasons for study.

Many recent studies relating to student motivations have argued that the assumptions that have underpinned policy and much research in education generally derive from a theory within economics known as human capital theory (HCT) (Schwab, 1996; Fevre, Rees & Gorard, 1999; Baptiste, 2001; Down, 2009; Loomis and Rodriguez, 2009; Allais, 2011). This theory understands education as a form of investment made in expectations of returns, closely analogous to the investments in money capital businesses make in for example new equipment and extra labour in order to later gain greater monetary returns. Interpretation of the theory influential from the 1950s to the 1970s emphasised the role of public investment in educational institutions in creating skills and knowledge that would aid national growth and productivity (Marginson, 1989, pp. 12-16). Quiggin (1999) defends such a version of HCT by pointing to empirical evidence, such as relationships between education spending and productivity growth, that support HCT more so than competing theories: screening theory, which sees education not creating anything so much as sorting individuals by innate ability and giving them appropriate credentials; and public choice theory (which sees much education policy as the result of the selfinterest of educators and bureaucrats).1

However, Marginson (1989) argues that in the context of the shift in economic policy in developed, particularly Anglophone, countries from Keynesian to neo-liberalism from the late 1970s, a version of HCT more focused on individuals became dominant, for example justifying the introduction of fees for higher education in Australia in the late 1980s. …

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