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Chinese students' choice of major when considering higher education abroad: the case of Mainland China.

INTRODUCTION

With the economic globalisation and internationalisation of higher education, overseas higher education has become a popular issue around the world, and the option of pursuing higher education abroad has been a more fashionable choice among students who attend university. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Culture Organization (2010), there were over 2.96 million internationally mobile students at the tertiary level (ISCED 5 and 6) (1) around the world in 2008, about 12.5 times higher than in 1960 (238,000). At the same time, Mainland China has experienced a similar expansion in the scale of overseas students.

Mainland China launched the "open door" policy in 1978, and only 860 students studied abroad that year. After that, the market gradually became a dominant power affecting demand and supply in the field of education, and more students chose to do their higher education abroad. The number of students studying abroad reached 4,700 in 1987. In 1992, China launched the first guideline policy on studying abroad, that is, the 12-word guideline: "zhichi liuxue, guli huiguo, laiqu ziyou" (supporting students to study abroad, encouraging overseas Chinese students to return to China, and ensuring their freedom of going abroad and returning). One of the objectives of this guideline is to encourage Chinese students to study abroad. After 1992, there was a dramatic increase in the number of Chinese students who chose to study abroad for overseas degrees at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. According to the official statistics of the People's Republic of China's Ministry of Education, the number of Chinese students who studied abroad exceeded 10,000 in 1993, and showed very rapid growth from 2000 onwards (nearly 39,000), peaking at 180,000 students in 2008 (2)--an increase of over 200 times the number of students in 1978.

Why do so many Chinese students study abroad? Most related studies explore the question and consistently find that economic factors are one of the most important determinants, such as access to scholarships, expected economic returns and employment prospects. (3) However, existing research gives little attention to students' choice of academic programmes in the universities abroad. That is, which are the preferred majors of Chinese students and whether economic factors affect their choice of major. Therefore, this article attempts to determine if any patterns in choice of major can be discerned when Chinese students consider studying abroad, and the economic factors that affect their choice.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Most of the existing literature relates to choice of major of students admitted to domestic or local college, and shows that individual characteristics--gender, (4) academic ability, (5) family background such as parental education level and family income level (6)--significantly affect students' choice of major. Furthermore, certain economic factors also affect students' choices, such as the economic returns and probability of employment with respect to particular majors. (7) Most of them find that students wish to choose majors with higher economic return and better employment prospects in the domestic labour market.

With the growth in the number of internationally mobile students, a strong literature has been built up to explore the reasons why students choose to study abroad in specific countries, cities and universities, (8) but these studies do not investigate deeply into the choice of a major, e.g., which major students choose, and why they choose a specific major when considering studying abroad.

Ono and Piper studied the Japanese case, and found that studying for an MBA (Master of Business Administration) was the most popular choice among Japanese students who studied in the United States. (9) They also found that Japanese female students chose to study for an MBA in the US because they wanted to improve the chances of employment and career advancement in foreign companies in Japan. Maringe and Carter studied the case of Africa, and found that African students believed there would be good employment prospects in their host countries or in international organisations after obtaining a degree from the United Kingdom. (10) Pimpa studied the Thailand case, and found that information sources (e.g., recruitment agents) have had strong influences on Thai students' choices of courses when they are considering studying in Australia. (11)

Although all of the above studies revealed some important economic factors that affect students' choice of major when studying abroad, they did not explore to what extent and how the students' choices were affected by economic factors.

Relevant studies on Mainland Chinese students studying abroad focus on many factors that attribute to students' decision to study abroad, but still shed little light on the issue of major choice. Zheng did a survey about Tsinghua University (Beijing) students' intention to study abroad, and found that the most important factor that influenced students' intentions to study abroad was economic (29 per cent of those students confirmed this), followed by: educational factors (27 per cent), personal factors (15 per cent), social factors (13 per cent), cultural factors (9 per cent) and political factors (7 per cent). As for the economic factor, Zheng found that many students believed that people who studied abroad and returned to China (the returnees) with an overseas degree get a higher economic return and obtain greater employment opportunities in the domestic labour market than those who did their degree in China. (12) One of the important reasons is that China's labour market recognises and values overseas degree holders, and another is that the Chinese government launched a series of favourable policies to provide returnees with more job opportunities or economic benefits, such as housing, project subsidies or other good conditions to set up companies or enterprises.

Lei also did a survey on the intention to study abroad among Peking University's postgraduates, and found that the most important motivation was to obtain more opportunities for individual development. The study reflected the belief that overseas education enhances an individual's socioeconomic status and career development as overseas returnees benefit greatly from studying abroad, such as higher income, career advancement and positions. It also provided them a competitive edge over domestic degree holders in finding good jobs or getting promoted to key positions. (13)

Li and Bray analysed Mainland Chinese students' motivations to study in Hong Kong (N = 177) and Macau (N = 146), and also found that economic factors were important factors pulling the students to Hong Kong and Macau. Sampled students responded that they pursued the degree for future economic income (Hong Kong: 51.7 per cent; Macau: 77.2 per cent) and competitive ability in the employment market (Hong Kong: 45.2 per cent; Macau: 65.8 per cent), two of the three most important anticipated benefits from studying in Hong Kong and Macau. Although the economic motivation of Mainland Chinese students to study in Hong Kong and Macau varied slightly, almost half of the above respondents regarded economic factors as significant. (14)

Zhou et al. studied Mainland Chinese high school students' intention to study abroad. Using ordinal logistic regression and controlling for students' individual characteristics and family background, Zhou et al. found that the students' intentions were relevant to their expected economic return. Specifically, the higher the student's expectations of the economic return, the stronger their intention to study abroad. (15)

Some studies showed that, with the rapid economic development and marketisation of Mainland China, Chinese students' considerations to study abroad stemmed largely from a perspective of individual benefits, e.g., economic returns and career development. Wang categorised the overseas Chinese students into two generations: the old generation comprising students who studied abroad before the 1990s, and the new generation who went abroad after the 1990s. The old generation typically chose science and engineering as their field of study because they could secure scholarships easily and then find a good job in the host country. With the country's economic development and the increase of residents' income levels, the new generation of students tended to choose popular majors, e.g., business administration, finance and law, as a field of study since they could afford the cost of the education programmes and living expenses. (16)

A Chinese company surveyed (N = 428) Shanghai secondary school students' intention to study abroad, and found that information technology (35.8 per cent) was the most popular choice for the major, followed by management (24.6 per cent). Both finance and humanities each accounted for 20.0 per cent of the total sample. The reason why students took IT as the first choice when considering studying abroad was that they were aware of the rapid development of the IT industry in the coming years and that IT jobs would be available in the labour market. (17) If "management" and "finance" are combined together to form a new broader field of study "business and administration", the number of students who chose this field accounted for 44.6 per cent of the total sample, topping the ranks of all majors. However, the literature did not give an explanation as to why such a large percentage of students tended to choose "business and administration" as their major.

As the literature has shown, economic factors are very important considerations for Chinese students planning to study abroad. Choice of major, as one aspect of choosing to study abroad, may also be relevant to the economic factors. However, the previous literature does not link the economic considerations with students' choice of major when studying abroad. Therefore, this article attempts to construct the linkage between the students' choice of major with the economic factors they may consider.

THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK

Human capital theory considers education a form of human capital investment, which may increase a person's earnings in the future. (18) However, the traditional literature focuses extensively upon educational investment at different education levels, rather than in different fields or majors within the same level (especially in higher education). Actually, at the higher education level, choosing different majors may mean different economic returns or employment opportunities in the labour market in the future. Therefore, students' behaviour in choosing a major can be considered a kind of human capital investment.

In the first place, the economic returns to different college majors may vary, (19) so we may expect students to choose one major over another when studying abroad, in anticipation of a higher economic return. If students wish to increase the likelihood of higher returns to their overseas study, they should choose majors with a higher economic return. However, students usually make choices before they study abroad, and they do not exactly know the economic returns when they complete overseas study in the future. So they have to make choices on different majors according to their expected economic returns (EER). Fortunately, they can find out some information about earnings from overseas returnees or from television or newspapers. Therefore, theoretically, we may expect that students' choice of major when considering studying abroad will be affected by the EER of their overseas study.

In the second place, the employment prospects for different college majors may also be diverse. (20) We can expect that students choose a specific major as opposed to another when studying abroad in order to increase the chances of employment in the future. Therefore, if students desire better prospects for employment after their overseas studies, they should choose majors with good employment prospects in the future. However, students usually make their choice before they study abroad, and they also do not exactly know the employment opportunities in the future. So they make their choice of major according to the expected employment prospect (EEP) of the major. Therefore, theoretically, we may expect that students' choice of majors will be affected by their EEP following overseas study.

In this study, students' choice of major is considered as an investment in human capital and we assume that students' investment behaviours will be affected by economic factors, specifically, EER and EEP. The case of China is used to examine whether students' choice of major when considering studying abroad is significantly affected by these economic factors. Therefore, from the perspective of human capital, this article will contribute to the literature by focusing on the linkage between the students' choice and their economic considerations.

METHODOLOGY

In this article, the multinomial logistic regression (MLR) was used to construct a regression equation to find out which factors are correlated with students' choices of major, and the effects of economic factors on students' choices.

[MATHEMATICAL EXPRESSION NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]

where P([major.sub.i]) and P([major.sub.j]) denoted the probabilities of choosing the major i and major j respectively, [B.sub.0] denoted the intercept, [B.sub.1] to [B.sub.p] denoted the logistic regression coefficients, and [X.sub.i] to [X.sub.p] were the independent variables.

The MLR was used to analyse the research questions because the dependent variable in this model was a categorical variable (choice of major), rather than a continuous variable.

DATA

The data used in this study were from a project, "Seeking Higher Education Abroad: Student Choices and Reasons in China", which was funded by the Research Grants Council (RGC) of Hong Kong. (21) The project surveyed 12,961 senior secondary Year Three students about three months prior to their sitting for the national universities' entrance examinations in seven cities in China: Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, Shenzhen, Wuhan, Xi'an and Guiyang. These cities were sampled to represent a cross-section of cities with different development levels ranging from average to well-developed. Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Nanjing are the most developed big cities on the east coast of China; Wuhan is in central China, and its economic developmental level is on the second tier; Xi'an and Guiyang are western cities, and their economic development level is on the third tier (see Table 1).

Stratified cluster sampling by city and by school type was adopted for the project. In each city, 15 senior secondary schools--each school with three classes, and each class with about 40 students--were sampled (that is, each school had a sample size of 120 third-year students). Therefore, the total number of students sampled in each city was about 1,800. The school type was also considered in size sampling. The 15 schools in each city included six government-funded key schools, six government-funded non-key schools (including one vocational school) and three private schools. Using cluster sampling, all the students in a classroom were asked to fill out a questionnaire, and the response rate was 100 per cent. As some classes had more than 40 students, 12,961 effective questionnaires were in fact collected. Although all the students in selected classrooms were surveyed, some may not have had any intention to study abroad. Therefore, students who did not have overseas study plans were filtered out. The filtering process was determined by students' responses to a question in the questionnaire: "If an overseas university or college offers you a place without a scholarship, and if a domestic university or college offers you a place at the same time, do you still want to study abroad?" Students answered this question on a 6-point scale from "1" to "6", where "1" denoted "strongly do not wish to" and "6" denoted "strongly wish to". Only students who chose "5", denoting "wish to", and "6" denoting "strongly wish to" were selected to be included in the analysis. By this process, those who did not wish to study abroad were filtered out, and the effective sample size was whittled down to 8,814.

VARIABLES

Dependent Variable

In this study, the dependent variable was choice of major. In the questionnaire, we asked students, "If you want to study abroad, which major will be your first priority?". 14 majors were provided for students to choose from, including science, medicine, engineering, computer and software engineering, architecture, business administration, social science, law, journalism and media, education, humanities, foreign languages, arts and design and "other majors". The "other majors" category catered for students whose choice of major did not belong to any of the 13 majors listed. As the "other majors" category did not have any significance in drawing comparisons, students who picked "other majors" (n = 198) were eliminated, and the sample size was thus reduced to 8,616. There were in fact 13 majors that could be used to conduct the analysis. For convenience, we further grouped the 13 majors into six broader categories, namely science, engineering, medicine, business administration, social sciences, and humanities and arts. The science, medicine and business administration broad categories were basically the same original science, medicine and business administration majors; whereas the "engineering" broad category included three original majors: "engineering", "computer and software engineering", and "architecture"; the three original majors "social science", "law" and "education" were grouped into the "social sciences" broad category; and the four original majors, journalism and media, humanities, foreign languages, and arts and design, fell under the humanities and arts category. The most popular major in the six broader majors was business administration, which was used as the reference major to compare with the other five majors (see Table 2).

Independent Variables

In this study, we constructed a regression model. The independent variables in the model included expected economic return (EEP) to overseas higher education, expected employment prospects in the overseas labour market (EEPO), expected employment prospects in China's labour market (EEPC) and sources of information.

Expected Economic Return (EER)

Related literature has shown that EER is relevant to the decision-making when choosing field of study. As it is commonly known that study destination rather than field of study determines the living expenses of overseas education, the variation in tuition in different fields was insignificantly minute when comparison was made with respect to the high cost of overseas education as a whole and future lifelong earnings. So we argued that students' choice of major was independent of both the living expenses and the cost of studying overseas. Therefore, in this study, EER was operationally defined as students' expected annual earnings after graduation. In the questionnaire, students were asked, "If you plan to study abroad, how much annual earnings would you expect to get in the first year after graduation from an overseas university?". In this case, the log of students' expected annual earnings was used as the proxy of EER.

Expected Employment Prospects (EEP)

Related literature has shown that expected employment prospects are also relevant to the field of study. EEP, in this study, means students' expectations for future employment prospects overseas or their hometown's labour market. Hence, EEP was further categorised into EEPO (expected employment prospects in overseas labour market) and EEPC (expected employment prospects in China's labour market). In the questionnaire, students were asked to respond to the question, "If studying abroad, what are the attractions of overseas education to you?", for which 20 items describing the various attractions were listed. Students answered this question on a six-point scale ranging from "strongly disagree" to "strongly agree". Out of the 20 items, two items, (14) and (20), were related to expected employment prospects. Item (14), denoted "having opportunities to work in the host country", and indicated the attraction of working in the study destination following completion of overseas education, and was used as the proxy of students' EEPO. Item (20), denoting "come back to homeland after graduation, and there will be better employment prospects in China with an overseas degree", indicated the attraction of returning and working in China after overseas education, and was used as the proxy for students' EEPC.

Sources of Information

This variable represents where students get the information about overseas education. In the questionnaire, there were 11 options for students to determine how they obtained related information; students were then asked to rate the importance of the information sources, using a six-point scale, where "1" denoted "not important at all" and "6" denoted "very important". Based on related literature, this study included four information sources as independent variables: (i) information from school (the introduction to overseas education given by the high school the student attended); (ii) information from the media (radio broadcasts, TV stations and newspapers); (iii) information from agents who helped students apply to study abroad; and (4) the internet.

Controlling Variables

The controlling variables were gender, individual ability, family income level, parental education level and family location.

Gender was a binomial variable with only two values, male and female.

"Individual ability" was the student's academic ability. As we do not have their real academic achievement records, we asked each student to give us his perception of his place in the academic ranking at the school he attended and we used this perception as the proxy of the student's individual ability. We grouped the students' abilities into three levels: high (top 10 per cent in his school); middle (from 11 per cent to 50 per cent of the cohort); or low (below 51 per cent of the cohort).

"Family income" level was determined, as students do not know their exact family income, by using the student's perception of his family income in their local income level ranking as the proxy of the student's family income. We then assigned the family income level of each student into one of three levels: high, middle or low.

"Parental education" level referred to the average education level of the student's parents. We use the average years of schooling of each student's father and mother. We then defined the education level according to Mainland China's education system: college level (above 15 years), senior secondary education level (12 years), junior secondary education level (nine years), primary education level (six years) and illiterate level (zero year). Therefore, this variable was seen as a continuous variable.

"Family location" is where the student's family lives. The students were sampled from seven cities in east, central or west China, where Beijing was used as the reference city to compare with other cities.

"Class type" referred to the academic characteristics of the class in which students studied. Most students who do their senior secondary schooling (three years) in China are divided or grouped into two broad types of class when they are in the second or third year. One class type is science class (likeban, in which students' studies are focused on mathematics, physics, chemistry, etc.), and the other is humanities (wenkeban, in which students' studies are focused on Chinese, history and politics, etc.). As students can select the class type they would like according to their interests or their academic abilities, we expected this variable to predict students' choices with respect to science-related or humanities-related majors when considering studying abroad.

FINDINGS

Choice Patterns

By descriptive statistics analysis, business administration was found to be the most popular major among all six majors, accounting for 25.9 per cent of the total valid sample. Following close behind, the second most popular major was social sciences (accounting for 23.6 per cent). The third and fourth choices were engineering (18.8 per cent), and humanities and arts (18.6 per cent). The least two popular majors were medicine and science, accounting for 8.9 per cent and 4.2 per cent of the total valid sample, respectively (see Table 2). The descriptive characteristics of the variables in this study are shown in Table 3.

It can be seen from Table 4 that the constructed model includes economic factors, information sources, individual characteristics and family background.

First, the most important finding was that students' expected economic return (EER) had a significant impact on the choice of majors after controlling for individual characteristics, family background and information sources. With the increase of students' EER, they were more likely to choose business administration and engineering (there was no difference of choice between the two majors), but less likely to choose science (25 per cent), medicine (20 per cent), humanities and arts (17 per cent) and "social science" (11 per cent). This supports the fact that students responded to the labour market signals (i.e., earnings) which indicated that engineering and business-related majors usually had higher economic returns in developed countries. For example, in the US, the largest overseas students host country in the world, college graduates (full-time employed) with a bachelor's degree in the field of engineering (including civil/architectural engineering) earned the highest annual salary (USD52,000), and those holding a degree in the field of business also earned a high annual salary (USD41,000) in 2006. However, graduates with a degree in the field of social sciences and science earned a comparatively lower annual salary of USD30,000 to USD35,000. Therefore, students preferred to do a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Engineering, which provides additional empirical evidence for the view that choice of major depended on economic returns after graduation.

However, it is surprising to find that the probability of choosing medicine was lower than that of business administration. In developed countries, medicine (or the health profession) usually has a more attractive salary than a BA. For instance, in 2006, US college graduates holding degrees in the medicine field earned a salary of around USD45,000 a year, which was higher than the annual salary of business degree holders (USD41,000 a year). Theoretically, students who expect a higher economic return would choose medicine, but empirically, the choice result is on the contrary. We deduced that there were certain specific reasons for this. One was that medicine majors in many developed countries' (such as the US and Canada) higher education systems are done at the postgraduate level (MD or PhD). All the respondents we surveyed were secondary school students doing undergraduate studies first, and then applying for the medical schools after graduation. Furthermore, in North America, becoming a doctor requires at least 15 years of education and professional training which is a very long period of time for students to invest in. All these factors may decrease the students' probability of choosing medicine-related majors.

Second, the model demonstrated that the EEP (expected employment prospects) were also a significant factor correlated with the students' choice of majors. The EEP was divided into two kinds: EEPO (EEP in the overseas labour market) and EEPC (EEP in China's labour market). With increasing EEPO, students were more likely to choose business administration rather than science, while there was no significant effect of EEPO on the students' choice in other majors. With increasing EEPC, students were more likely to choose business administration rather than engineering, social sciences, or humanities and arts. These findings suggested that with the increase of EEP, regardless of which labour market (overseas or Chinese) students expected, students preferred to choose business-related majors. This may reflect Chinese students' general expectation on employment in the future, that is, doing a major in the business and administration field may offer more opportunities to find a major-related job than engineering or science majors, and also earn a better salary.

We also noticed that the effect of EEPC on students' choice of major is more significant than that of EEPO, because there were three pairs of majors that were significantly different among the total five pairs of majors with the effect of EEPC, [up arrow]but there was only one pair of majors that was significantly different from the effect of EEPO. This may suggest that students were more familiar with the labour market of China than that of overseas. It is easy for students to obtain related job information from the local market through newspapers, family or friends. Conversely, with a lack of understanding and awareness of the overseas labour markets, students found it harder to anticipate employment prospects in overseas labour markets.

Additionally, we examined the effects of information sources on choice of major. We found that with the increase of the importance of information from the school the students attended, students were 8 per cent more likely to choose engineering than business administration. Conversely, with the increase in the importance of information from agents, students were 7 per cent and 12 per cent less likely to choose engineering and science majors, but more likely to choose business administration. Therefore, it seems that Chinese high schools intended to encourage students to do science and technology majors, while overseas education agents attempted to persuade students to study business-related majors. However, we did not find any significant effects of media and the internet on students' choices.

In addition to the above-mentioned factors, other factors such as individual characteristics and family background also had significant effects on students' choices.

One of the findings showed that there was a significant difference in choice of major between males and females. Males were 3.1 times more likely than females to choose engineering rather than business administration; and males were 1.5 times more likely than females to choose science compared to business administration. Conversely, males were 51 per cent (1-0.49) less likely than females to choose humanities and arts compared to business administration, and males were also 45 per cent less likely than females to choose social sciences compared to business administration. Females were 33 per cent more likely than males to choose medicine compared to business administration. These results suggested that males prefer "hard sciences", e.g., science and engineering, while females preferred soft sciences, e.g., social sciences and humanities and arts.

Another finding demonstrates that students' academic abilities were also a significant factor affecting their choice of major. Compared with low ability students, high ability students were 95 per cent more likely to choose science rather than business administration; and high ability students were 21 per cent and 31 per cent less likely to choose social sciences and humanities and arts, respectively, rather than business administration. Compared with low ability students, middle-level students were 44 per cent and 33 per cent more likely to choose science and medicine, respectively, rather than business administration. This suggests that high ability students were more likely to choose hard sciences rather than soft sciences, because hard sciences demand higher requirements (entrance grades) than the soft sciences.

Family location also was also an attributing factor to significant difference in choice of major. Students from Beijing were more likely to choose business administration, while students from Nanjing, Xi'an and Guiyang preferred to choose science (about twice as likely to choose a BA). Compared to Beijing, students from Nanjing, Xi'an and Wuhan were more likely to choose engineering (from 1.8 to 1.3 times) rather than business administration. This implies that students from less developed cities (compared to Beijing) preferred to do science or engineering majors, while students from developed cities, like Beijing, preferred business-related majors.

Family income levels and parents' education levels were also significant factors. Students from high-income families were more likely to choose business administration rather than other majors, while those from low-income families were more likely to choose science, medicine, engineering or social sciences. With an increasing parental education level, students were more likely to choose business administration rather than engineering (6 per cent) and medicine (5 per cent). These two findings suggest that students from high socioeconomic status (SES) families preferred to do majors related to business, while those from low SES families preferred majors related to engineering or medicine.

It appears that students from both developed cities and high SES families were more likely to choose a BA, while those from less developed cities and low SES families preferred science and engineering, or medicine. This can be explained by the affluence of people in developed cities. They could well afford the higher tuition of a BA. As BA programmes typically do not offer scholarships and have higher tuition fees, people from less developed cities found it hard to afford to pay the tuition. So they had to turn to science or engineering, which were more affordable with lower tuition fees and which may award scholarships.

Class type was found to be an important factor associated with students' choice of major. Students from the science class (likeban) were more likely than those from the humanities class (wenkeban) to choose science (6.4 times), medicine (4 times) and engineering (2.5 times) compared to business administration, while they were less likely to choose social sciences and humanities and arts. This suggests that the science class students favoured hard science majors, while the humanities class students preferred soft science majors.

CONCLUSIONS AND DISCUSSION

The main purpose of this study was to examine patterns in choice of major among Chinese students when considering studying abroad, and the effect of economic factors on their choice of major.

This article adds to the literature regarding the pattern of choice of major when students consider studying abroad. Chinese students' most preferred choice was business administration, followed closely by social sciences. This finding is consistent with the findings of another survey on Chinese students' studying abroad (22) and the Japanese case. (23) The findings are also similar to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries' international students distribution by field of study, (24) which showed that in most OECD member countries, the percentage of overseas students in business, social science and law ranked first of the all fields of study (accounting for 20 to 55 per cent of the total international or foreign students enrolment in OECD countries) in 2008. This suggests that Chinese students had a similar choice pattern to other countries' students with their study plan, and also demonstrates that the survey results on choice pattern fitted the distribution of choice of major in practice.

On the effect of economic factors, a very important finding showed that students' EER to overseas higher education did make an impact. This finding not only adds to the literature by confirming EER's effect on choices of major when students go to colleges, as examined by Berger; Montmarquette, Cannings and Mahseredjian; Calkins and Welki; and Boudarbat, (25) it also added to the literature on EER's effect on choice of major when students consider studying abroad. This means that students' choice of major can be viewed as a kind of human capital investment, and students prefer to choose or invest in such majors with higher economic returns, such as business administration or engineering, in the labour market. This conclusion is also consistent with studies about Chinese students' choice of studying abroad. As can be seen from the literature, Chinese students' intention to study abroad is strongly relevant to their anticipated economic returns, (26) while the findings of this study added to this conclusion that Chinese students' choices of major when considering studying abroad were also significantly relevant to the economic factor.

Another economic factor, EEPC, was also found to have a significant effect on the choice between the business administration major and other majors. With increasing EEPC, students were more likely to choose business administration rather than engineering, social sciences and humanities and arts. Given the current economic development and globalisation, China's economy is increasingly integrating with the world economic system, and China's enterprises and companies need more highly-skilled business managers and administrators with a background in international education and also experience to cope with the global competition and to strengthen cooperation. Therefore, students may respond to the international labour market's signal (i.e., EEP) by their choice of majors such as business administration, which can be viewed as an investment in students' employment or career development in the future. (27) This conclusion is consistent with the case of Africa, which shows that African students who study in the UK prefer to choose majors with prestige in African countries' labour market, (28) because the students expect to become state leaders or administrators in those fields by studying in the UK.

This study also showed that some information sources (e.g., agents) had a significant influence on the students' choice of major, which is consistent with some conclusions from the Thailand case. (29) In addition, we explored the effects of other information sources that had a significant impact on students' choices, while two other information sources had no significant impact.

The controlling variables, individual characteristics and family backgrounds also bore significant effects on students' choice of major when considering studying abroad, and this is consistent with previous findings in the literature. (30)

POLICY IMPLICATIONS

These research conclusions have some implications for overseas education policy-makers and also for overseas higher education institutions.

With the rapid growth of China's economy and increasing affluence of the Chinese people, more and more senior secondary school students' intend to study abroad. According to the findings, if students expected a higher economic return, they were more likely to choose business administration rather than science majors; if they expected a better employment prospect in China after overseas education, they would also tend to choose business administration rather than engineering majors. However, from the standpoint of the state, rapid and sustainable economic development in the long run basically depends on the progress in science and technology, which can be expedited through knowledge transfer by returnees in science and technology fields. Hence, the students' choice regarding business-related majors stemmed chiefly from individual economic considerations rather than from a state's economic development needs. (31) Therefore, if the government wants to send more students to learn advanced science and technology from developed countries, and then have them return to contribute to the state's development, it should offer subsidies to students who choose science and engineering majors to match the countries' current needs of development.

The conclusions in this study also carry some implications for educational institutions that plan to export their higher education services to developing countries. Since students choose majors with higher economic returns or good employment prospects, overseas higher education institutions may develop more programmes in these majors. Given that some information sources, e.g., schools and agents, have a significant influence on students' choices, higher education institutions reaching out to developing countries should make good use of these information channels to exhibit their programmes in order to attract excellent international students from around the world.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

We would like to thank the Research Grant Committee of Hong Kong (RGC) for its grants (project no.: CUHK 4720/06H). We would also like to express our gratitude to the two anonymous referees for their comments and suggestions.

This article was also subsidised by "Beihang 'Weishi' rencai peixu jijin 'haiwai youxiu rencai' " (WEISHI Talent Cultivation Fund "overseas excellent talent" of BeiHang University) (project no.: YWF-11-03-H-003) and "Beihang yanjiushengjiaoyu fazhan yanjiu zhuanxiang jijin" (Postgraduate Education Development Research Fund of BeiHang University) (JFYS).

(1) ISCED stands for the International Standard Classification of Education, which was published by UNESCO in 1997, and ISCED 5 and 6 are the first and the second stages of tertiary education in the International Standard Classification of Education 1997. ISCED 5 does not lead directly to an advanced research qualification and ISCED 6 leads to an advanced research qualification.

(2) National Bureau of Statistics of China, at <http://www.stats.gov.cn/tjsj/ndsj/2009/indexch.htm> [8 Oct. 2009].

(3) David Zweig, Internationalizing China: Domestic Interests and Global Linkages (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2002); Zheng Xiaohui, "Qinghuadaxue benkesheng chuguo liuxue xianxiang yanjiu" (An Analysis on Study Abroad Phenomenon of Undergraduate Graduates of Tsinghua University), in Zhongguo gaodengjiaoyu duiwaijiaoliu xianxiang yanjiu (Research on China's Foreign Cultural Exchange in Higher Education), ed. Tian Ling (Beijing: Minzu chubanshe [The Ethnic Publishing House], 2003), pp. 199-237; Li Mei and Mark Bray, "Cross-Border Flows of Students for Higher Education: Push-Pull Factors and Motivations of Mainland Chinese Students in Hong Kong and Macau", Higher Education 53, no. 6 (2007): 791-818; Zhou Jinyan, Chung Yue Ping and Hung Fan Sing, "Quanqiuhua beijingxia jiaoyu bupingdeng: Zhongguo gaozhongsheng liuxue yiyuan yingxiang yinsu yanjiu" (Education Inequality in China under Globalisation: Economic Considerations in the Desire to Study Abroad), Qinghuadaxue jiaoyu yanjiu (Tsinghua Journal of Education) 30, no. 6 (2009): 28-35.

(4) Lois Joy, "Occupational Differences between Recent Male and Female College Graduates", Economics of Education Review 25, no. 2 (2006): 221-31;

(5) Elizabeth J. Jensen and Ann L. Owen, "Why Are Women Such Reluctant Economists? Evidence from Liberal Arts Colleges", American Economic Review 90, no. 2 (2000): 466-70.

(6) Karen Leppel, Mary L. Williams and Charles Waldauer, "The Impact of Parental Occupation and Socioeconomic Status on Choice of College Major", Journal of Family and Economic Issues 22, no. 4 (2001): 373-94.

(7) James V. Koch, "Student Choice of Undergraduate Major Field of Study and Private Internal Rates of Return", Industrial and Labor Relations Review 26, no. 1 (1972): 668-85; P.E.T. Lewis and Francis Vella, "Economic Factors Affecting the Number of Engineering Graduates in Australia", Australian Economic Papers 24, no. 44 (1985): 66-75;7 Mark C. Berger, "Predicted Future Earnings and Choice of College Major", Industrial and Labor Relations Review 41, no. 3 (1988): 418-29; Julian R. Betts, "What Do Students Know about Wages? Evidence from a Survey of Undergraduates", Journal of Human Resources 31, no. 1 (1996): 27-56; Leppel, Williams and Waldauer, "The Impact of Parental Occupation and Socioeconomic Status on Choice of College Major"; Claude Montmarquette, Kathy Cannings and Sophie Mahseredjian, "How Do Young People Choose College Majors?", Economics of Education Review 21, no. 6 (2002): 543-56; Ross Finnie and Mark Frenette, "Earning Differences by Major Field of Study: Evidence from Three Cohorts of Recent Canadian Graduates, Economics of Education Review 22, no. 2 (2003): 179-92; Charles A. Malgwi, Martha A. Howe and Priscilla A. Burnaby, "Influence on Students' Choice of College Major", Journal of Education for Business 80, no. 5 (2005): 275-82; Lindsay Noble Calkins and Andrew Welki, "Factors that Influence Choice of Major: Why Some Students Never Consider Economics", International Journal of Social Economics 33, no. 8 (2006): 547-64; Farley Ordovensky Staniec, "The Effects of Race, Sex, and Expected Returns on the Choice of College Major", Eastern Economic Journal 30, no. 4 (2004): 549-62; Joy, "Occupational Differences between Recent Male and Female College Graduates"; Jone Robst, "Education and Job Match: The Relatedness of College Major and Work", Economics of Education Review 26, no. 4 (2007): 397-407; and Brahim Boudarbat, "Field of Study Choice by Community College Students in Canada", Economics of Education Review 27, no. 1 (2008): 79-93.

(8) William K. Cummings, "Going Overseas for Higher Education: the Asian Experience", Comparative Education Review 28, no. 2 (1984): 241-57; Mary E. McMahon, "Higher Education in a World Market: An Historical Look at the Global Context of International Study", Higher Education 24, no. 4 (1992): 465-82; Philip G. Altbach, Comparative Higher Education (Hong Kong: Comparative Education Research Center, the University of Hong Kong, 1998), pp. 207-72; Hiroshi Ono and Nicola Piper, "Japanese Women Studying Abroad, the Case of the United States", Women's Studies International Forum 27, no. 2 (2004): 101-18; Nattavud Pimpa, "The Influence of Peers and Student Recruitment Agencies on Thai Students' Choices of International Education", Journal of Studies in International Education 7, no. 2 (2003): 178-92; Nattavud Pimpa, "A Family Affair: The Effect of Family on Thai Students' Choices of International Education", Higher Education 49, no. 4 (2005): 431-48; Li and Bray, "Cross-Border Flows of Students for Higher Education".

(9) Ono and Piper, "Japanese Women Studying Abroad, the Case of the United States".

(10) Felix Maringe and Steve Carter, "International Students' Motivations for Studying in UK HE: Insights into the Choice and Decision Making of African Students", International Journal of Educational Marketing 21, no. 6 (2007): 459-75.

(11) Pimpa, "The Influence of Peers and Student Recruitment Agencies on Thai Students' Choices of International Education".

(12) Zheng, "Qinghuadaxue benkesheng chuguo liuxue xianxiang yanjiu".

(13) Lei Jing, "Beijingdaxue shuoshisheng chuguoliuxue yixiang fenxi" (An Analysis on Intention to Study Abroad of Postgraduates in Peking University), in Zhongguo gaodengjiaoyu duiwaijiaoliu xianxiang yanjiu (Research on China's Foreign Cultural Exchange in Higher Education), ed. Tian Ling (Beijing: Minzu chubanshe (The Ethnic Publishing House), 2003), pp. 238-66.

(14) Li and Bray, "Cross-Border Flows of Students for Higher Education".

(15) Zhou, Chung and Hung, "Quanqiuhua beijingxia jiaoyu bupingdeng: Zhongguo gaozhongsheng liuxue yiyuan yingxiang yinsu yanjiu".

(16) Wang Xiaoying, "Zhongguo dalu haiwai liuxuerenyuan de xianzhuang" (The Current Situation of Overseas Mainland Chinese Students and Scholars), Dongnanyayanjiu (SoutheastAsian Studies) 5 (2001): 69-73.

(17) Wang Zhaojun, "Zhongxuesheng liuxue qingkuang diaocha" (A Survey of Secondary School Students' Intention to Study Abroad), Liuxuesheng (Overseas Students) 8--9 (2003): 56--7.

(18) Theodore W. Schultz, "Investment in Human Capital", American Economic Review 51, no. 1 (1961): 1-17; Gary S. Becker, Human Capital: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis with Special Reference to Education (New York: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1964); Jacob A. Mincer, Schooling, Experience and Earnings (New York: Columbia University Press, 1974).

(19) Finnie and Frenette, "Earning Differences by Major Field of Study".

(20) Betts, "What Do Students Know about Wages?"; Calkins and Welki, "Factors that Influence Choice of Major"; Robst, "Education and Job Match".

(21) Hung Fan Sing, Lo Naikwai and Chung Yue Ping, "Seeking Higher Education Abroad: Choices and Reasons of Students in Mainland China", Research project funded by University Grants Committee of Hong Kong (Research Grants Council), 2006/2007.

(22) Beijing International Education Institute, "Survey: More Chinese Students Considering Studies Abroad", at <http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/90001/90782/90873/6880405.html> [6 June 2010].

(23) Ono and Piper, "Japanese Women Studying Abroad, the Case of the United States".

(24) OECD, Education at a Glance (2010): 322-33.

(25) Berger, "Predicted Future Earnings and Choice of College Major"; Montmarquette, Cannings and Mahseredjian, "How Do Young People Choose College Majors?"; Boudarbat, "Field of Study Choice by Community College Students in Canada"; Calkins and Welki, "Factors that Influence Choice of Major".

(26) Zheng, "Qinghuadaxue benkesheng chuguo liuxue xianxiang yanjiu"; Lei "Beijingdaxue shuoshisheng chuguoliuxue yixiang fenxi"; Li and Bray, "Cross-Border Flows of Students for Higher Education"; Zhou, Chung and Hung, "Quanqiuhua beijingxia jiaoyu bupingdeng: Zhongguo gaozhongsheng liuxue yiyuan yingxiang yinsu yanjiu".

(27) Zheng, "Qinghuadaxue benkesheng chuguo liuxue xianxiang yanjiu"; Lei, "Beijingdaxue shuoshisheng chuguoliuxue yixiang fenxi"; Li and Bray, "Cross-Border Flows of Students for Higher Education".

(28) Maringe and Carter, "International Students' Motivations for Studying in UK HE".

(29) Pimpa, "The Influence of Peers and Student Recruitment Agencies on Thai Students' Choices of International Education".

(30) Jensen and Owen, "Why Are Women Such Reluctant Economists?"; Leppel, Williams and Waldauer, "The Impact of Parental Occupation and Socioeconomic Status on Choice of College Major"; Pimpa, "A Family Affair: the Effect of Family on Thai Students' Choices of International Education"; Joy, "Occupational Differences between Recent Male and Female College Graduates".

(31) Wang, "Zhongguo dalu haiwai liuxuerenyuan de xianzhuang".

Liu Yang (yangliu@buaa.edu.cn) is Associate Professor of Economics of Higher Education in the Institute of Higher Education at the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (BUAA). He obtained his PhD in Education from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. His research interests include higher education, overseas education and economics of education.

Hung Fan Sing (hungfansing@gmail.com) is a Visiting Professor of Economics of Education in the Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Sydney. He obtained his PhD in Education at the University of Sydney. His research interests include higher education and economics of education.

Chung Yue Ping (ypchung@cuhk.edu.cn) is Professor of Economics of Education in the Faculty of Education at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He obtained his PhD in Education at Stanford University. His research interests include economics of education, educational finance and higher education.
TABLE 1
DEMOGRAPHIC AND ECONOMIC INDEX OF THE SEVEN CITIES IN CHINA, 2007

City               Location in     Population
                      China        (million)

China Mainland                     1321.29
  Beijing        Northeast coast     16.33
  Shanghai       East coast          18.58
  Shenzhen       Southeast coast      8.62
  Nanjing        East coast           6.17
  Wuhan          Central China        8.28
  Xi'an          West central         8.31
  Guiyang        Southwest            3.57

City              Average resident       GDP per
                 annual income (RMB)   capita (RMB)

China Mainland         24,721             18,934
  Beijing              45,823             58,204
  Shanghai             44,976             66,367
  Shenzhen             387,98             79,221
  Nanjing              31,905             53,079
  Wuhan                22,999             35,500
  Xi'an                24,715             21,339
  Guiyang              22,581             19,564

Sources: National Bureau of Statistics of China, Beijing;
National Economy and Social Development Statistics
Communiques of Shenzhen, Nanjing, Xi'an, Wuhan and Guiyang.

TABLE 2
FREQUENCY OF STUDENTS' CHOICE OF MAJOR

                                    Frequency     %     Valid %
                                    (persons)

Valid     Business Administration   1,788        20.8    25.9
          Social Sciences           1,633        19.0    23.6
          Engineering               1,296        15.0    18.8
          Humanities & Arts         1,282        14.9    18.6
          Medicine                    617         7.2     8.9
          Science                     292         3.4     4.2
          Total                     6,908        80.2   100.0
Missing                             1,708        19.8
Total                               8,616       100.0

                                    Cumulative
                                        %

Valid     Business Administration    25.9
          Social Sciences            49.5
          Engineering                68.3
          Humanities & Arts          86.8
          Medicine                   95.8
          Science                   100.0
          Total
Missing
Total

TABLE 3
DESCRIPTIVE CHARACTERISTICS OF VARIABLES

                             N     Minimum   Maximum    Mean    S.D.

Gender                     8,616      0         1       0.46
  Male                     3,972
  Female                   4,644
Academic Ability           8,419      1         3       2.06
  High                     1,202
  Middle                   5,522
  Low                      1,695
Family Income Level        8,386      1         3       1.98
  High                     1,651
  Middle                   5,239
  Low                      1,496
Parental Education Level   8,412      0        16      12.154   2.806
Family Location            8,616      1         7       4.96
  Shanghai                 1,231
  Nanjing                  1,277
  Xi'an                    1,256
  Wuhan                    1,267
  Guiyang                  1,142
  Shenzhen                 1,331
  Beijing                  1,112
Class type                 8,560      0         1       1.44
  Science                  4,475
  Humanities               3,785
EER                        7,538      4       5.48      4.688   0.342
EEP in overseas            8,244      1         6       4.480   1.439
EEP in China               8,244      1         6       5.110   1.172
Information Sources
  School                   7,942      1         6       4.360   1.463
  Media                    8,011      1         6       4.540   1.408
  Agent                    7,930      1         6       3.970   1.597
  Internet                 8,026      1         6       4.730   1.344

TABLE 4
THE EFFECT OF FACTORS ON STUDENTS' CHOICE OF MAJOR

                            Science    Engineering   Medicine

                            Exp(B)       Exp(B)       Exp(B)

Gender
  Male                     1.477 **    3.089 ***     0.671 ***
  Female (ref.)
Academic ability
  High                     1.952 ***   1.007         1.124
  Middle                   1.435 *     1.026         1.296 *
  Low (ref.)
Family Income level
  High                      .556 **    0.797          .571 ***
  Middle                    .660 **    1.020         0.827
  Low (ref.)
Parental education level   1.012        .942 ***      .947 ***
Family Location
  Shanghai                 1.511       1.129         0.865
  Nanjing                  1.992 **    1.826 ***     1.26
  Xi'an                    2.132 ***   1.342 *       0.963
  Wuhan                    1.648       1.329 *        .584 **
  Guiyang                  2.001 **    1.311         1.351
  Shenzhen                 1.282       1.246         0.763
  Beijing (ref.)
Class type
  Science                  6.417 ***   2.479 ***     4.003 ***
  Humanities (ref.)
EER (log)                   .746 **    0.95           .803 **
EEP (Overseas)              .890 **    0.986         1.034
EER (China)                0.92         .910 **      0.997
Information source
  School                   1.021       1.082 **      1.036
  Media                    1.111       0.988         0.989
  Agent                     .879 **     .927 **      1.055
  Internet                 0.94        1.001         0.924
  N                                                  5,413
  R Square                                           0.255
  -2 loglikelihood                                   16,460

                            Social     Humanities
                            Science      & Arts

                            Exp(B)       Exp(B)

Gender
  Male                     0.550 ***   0.486 ***
  Female (ref.)
Academic ability
  High                      .786 *      .690 **
  Middle                    .959        .929
  Low (ref.)
Family Income level
  High                      .711 **     .823
  Middle                    .973        .845
  Low (ref.)
Parental education level   1.012        .973
Family Location
  Shanghai                 1.073       1.154
  Nanjing                   .873       1.157
  Xi'an                     .845        .894
  Wuhan                     .669 ***    .792
  Guiyang                  1.147       1.048
  Shenzhen                  .818        .841
  Beijing (ref.)
Class type
  Science                   .534 ***    .595 ***
  Humanities (ref.)
EER (log)                   .885 *      .830 ***
EEP (Overseas)              .984       1.036
EER (China)                 .928 **     .930 *
Information source
  School                   1.011       1.042
  Media                    1.046       1.053
  Agent                     .976        .991
  Internet                  .973        .944
  N
  R Square
  -2 loglikelihood

Notes: The reference major was business administration.

* Significant at .10 level, ** significant at .05 level,
*** significant at .01 level.
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Author:Yang, Liu; Sing, Hung Fan; Ping, Chung Yue
Publication:China: An International Journal
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Apr 1, 2013
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