Academic journal article Journal of International Students

Collectivists' Decision-Making: Saudi Arabian Graduate Students' Study Abroad Choices

Academic journal article Journal of International Students

Collectivists' Decision-Making: Saudi Arabian Graduate Students' Study Abroad Choices

Article excerpt

International student decisions to migrate for graduate degrees are not only made at the individual or family level but can be highly influenced and even driven, by employers and governmental entities. Adding to the complexity of college choice is how international graduate students select institutions that lack a global ranking or reputation. The perspectives of two commonly applied theories in international student mobility studies, push-pull (Mazzarol & Soutar, 2002) and human capital (Becker, 1993), focus mostly on private benefits to the individual and public benefits for the home nation state. However they fail to illuminate more nuanced or culturally specific reasons why individuals participate in study abroad and where they end up studying. Recent research within the international student mobility literature has looked at the influence of international study abroad scholarships funded by governmental programs (Perna, Orosz, Gopaul, Jumakulov, Ashirbekov, & Kishkentayeva, 2014; Perna, Orosz, Jumakulov, Kishkentayeva, & Ashirbekov, 2015). These programs are seen as governmental "intervention" that increases student participation in transnational higher education and play a role in student study abroad decisions (Paulsen, 2001; Perna, et al, 2015).

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has developed a successful government scholarship program through its commitment to the Saudi Arabian education systems by educating citizens overseas in needed fields of study. The KSA invests over $2 billion dollars annually to fund the main international scholarship program, The King Abdullah Scholarship Program (KASP). The King Abdullah Scholarship Program (active from 2005 - 2020) is an international scholarship program funded and run by the Saudi government to provide quality higher education for qualified Saudis, to bring about high levels of academic and professional standards, exchange culture with other countries and build up a qualified and professional Saudi staff and faculty (Hall, 2013). Additionally, many Saudi higher education institutions also fund their employees to study abroad for advanced degrees through institutional or employer sponsored scholarship programs (Higher Education Council of Saudi Arabia, 1997).

The Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission (SACM) administers all KSA scholarship programs and functions as the intermediary between U.S. institutions and their counterparts in the KSA (SACM, n.d.). As with all Saudi funded scholarships, students face a limit of which academic fields and degree types the government will cover and they have a return obligation, where recipients much return back to KSA after degree completion (Perna, et al., 2014). While these governmental funding programs are quite influential as in the case for Saudi students, they are not absolute influencers on institutional choice.

The KSA is the fourth largest sender of students to the U.S. for higher education for five years in a row, just behind China, India, and South Korea, and over 20% of these Saudi Arabian students are at the graduate level (Institute of International Education, 2015). Saudi students will continue to study in the U.S. in steady numbers at least until 2020 when the scholarship program is set to expire. Yet, even with the continuous rise in Saudi Arabian students studying at doctoral/research universities (DRU) in the U.S. since the scholarship programs began, limited published research exists on what influences these student's study abroad decisions as well as their national and institutional selections. While the Saudi Ministry of Higher Education maintains a recommended list of approved universities, this alone does not explain how Saudi students find their way to a DRU that lacks a worldwide reputation and is more teaching focused. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to explore Saudi student mobility at national, institutional, and personal levels related to their decision making about institutional choice. …

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