Lithuanian students’ choice of university: a consumer value approach by Darija Bartkute

 

Increasing competition within the Lithuanian educational market has driven an analysis of the complex decision processes enrollees undergo when selecting a higher education institution (HEI). A number of factors have contributed to accelerating competition among HEIs in Lithuania, including the development of the market economy in Lithuania, the effects of HE policy changes over the past two decades, and the demands of attracting students at the international level. In the current competitive climate, attracting and retaining domestic enrollees is critical and heightens the need for insights into student decision-making and the sustainability of domestic marketing efforts, both of which have wider implications for the problem of student recruitment and retention.

To respond to increasing competition, education research has resorted to consumer value models to measure educational value from the point of view of the student as the main stakeholder group. Consumer behaviour factors affect student decision-making and are driven by the evaluation of costs and benefits resulting from an educational experience. An emerging consensus in the literature is that students’ behaviour is characteristically consumer-like in that it is driven by cost and benefit estimations of feasible alternatives, evaluation of the added value of a decision, and expected returns on educational investment. When students’ decisions are based on their perceptions of various HE alternatives, institutions have the capacity to shape these perceptions by analysing students’ wants and needs. Drawing on these observations, the article “Lithuanian students’ choice of university: a consumer value approach” addresses Lithuanian students’ choice of an HEI within Lithuania from the perspective of consumer value dimensions.

Student-client evaluations of competing alternatives are based on comparisons of value. The different weighting attached to the dimensions of value indicates that decision-making is driven by compromises and adjustment of action in accordance with the perceived benefits of educational experience. It is recognized that perceptions of value revolve around the image of the institution and professional interest. However, studies identify the increasing importance of financial aspects in HE decision-making. The different rankings of value dimensions shed light not only on country-specific preferences but also on common trends and developments in students’ perceptions of value.

An interesting fact emerging from this study is that, in the context of Lithuanian HEIs, choices are a likely result of vocational rather than economic or image-related preference. Knowledge to be gained and interest in the subject seem to surpass the awareness of labour market demands and the perceived reputation of an institution. The HE market in Lithuania is relatively undifferentiated, and institutions are focusing on brand development through the marketing of attractive study programmes. Although there is a disparity between epistemic value and monetary sacrifice associated with studies, the economic dimension of price/quality secures an important place compared to the other value dimensions. Increasing awareness of the financial aspect is an indication of more informed choices by enrollees as well as the financial constraints that individual choices impose on the decision-maker. Therefore, appropriate strategies should be developed to send messages about the value of the learning experience, stressing quality educational service and returns on monetary educational investment.

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