Student motivations to study abroad – An empirical study of vietnamese students in Uk

This study adapts Push and Pull Theory in educational tourism to explore and measure factors that make students studying abroad in addition to considering travel behaviours of them while being in UK. By using the survey data from 125 Vietnamese students currently studying in United Kingdom. Vietnamese students decide to study abroad to get a better education than domestic one, improve job prospects as well as have a better understanding of western countries’ culture. Quality of the course and university is also considered when making decision. Besides, pull factor related to destination is the last factor affect students’ motivations. When Vietnamese students study at the host country, they seem to travel frequently and stay longer per trip. Vietnamese students also prefer hotel/motel than youth hostel in terms of accommodation

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 Nguyen Tran Nguyen Khai. Journal of Science Ho Chi Minh City Open University, 7(4), 103-111 103 
STUDENT MOTIVATIONS TO STUDY ABROAD – 
AN EMPIRICAL STUDY OF VIETNAMESE STUDENTS IN UK 
NGUYEN TRAN NGUYEN KHAI 
International University – Vietnam National University HCMC - ntnkhai@hcmiu.edu.vn 
(Received: October 02, 2017; Revised: November 27, 2017; Accepted: November 29, 2017) 
ABSTRACT 
This study adapts Push and Pull Theory in educational tourism to explore and measure factors that make 
students studying abroad in addition to considering travel behaviours of them while being in UK. By using the 
survey data from 125 Vietnamese students currently studying in United Kingdom. Vietnamese students decide to 
study abroad to get a better education than domestic one, improve job prospects as well as have a better 
understanding of western countries’ culture. Quality of the course and university is also considered when making 
decision. Besides, pull factor related to destination is the last factor affect students’ motivations. When Vietnamese 
students study at the host country, they seem to travel frequently and stay longer per trip. Vietnamese students also 
prefer hotel/motel than youth hostel in terms of accommodation. 
Keywords: International student; Motivations to study abroad; Push and pull theory; Travel behaviours. 
1. Introduction 
Studying abroad is not a new 
phenomenon, especially in higher education 
level. In fact, Altbach and Teichler (2001) 
argued that the 21st century might be called 
the century of education. In the world of 
economic globalisation, the need for human 
resources which can work effectively in 
international environment becomes more 
essential (Vaicekauskas et al., 2013). 
Organisations hunt for employees who have 
linguistics capability (Tremblay 2005) as well 
as intercultural skills, international experience 
(Daly and Barker, 2005). Studying abroad is 
one of the most effective methods for 
graduates to equip themselves those skills and 
become more employable. 
There is no surprise that the number of 
students enrolled in tertiary education outside 
their countries of origin has witnessed the 
sustainable growth since 1975. Over 37 years, 
the increase was more than 560%, reached 4.5 
million of foreign students in 2012 (Figure 1). 
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation 
and Development (OECD) countries are 
considered as top destinations which have 
75% of all foreign students study in (OECD 
2014). In addition, EU countries hold the 
largest proportion with 48% of foreign 
students, followed by North America with 
21% and Asia with 18% (ibid). More 
specially, US, UK and Germany are top three 
countries of destination respectively and the 
top six countries which include top three and 
France, Australia, Canada occupy more than 
50% of the market (OECD, 2014). 
On the demand side, with the young 
population, fast economic growth and the 
value of education in societies, Asia is the 
region which has the highest number of 
international students studying abroad with 
53% of total (OECD 2014). In some particular 
host countries, the proportion of Asian 
students among international students is 
extraordinarily high such as 94% (Japan), 
93% (Korea), 82% (Australia), 73% (US), and 
70% (New Zealand) (ibid). In country level, 
China is leading country of origin of students 
studying abroad with 22% of the market. 
Table 1 shows the top ten sending countries of 
international students enrolled tertiary 
education outside their home nation. 
104 Nguyen Tran Nguyen Khai. Journal of Science Ho Chi Minh City Open University, 7(4), 103-111 
Figure 1. Long-term growth in the number of students enrolled in tertiary education 
outside their home countries 
Source: OECD (2014, p. 344) 
There are five objectives discussed in this 
study: 
 To explore contributing factors students 
base on to choose a destination to study. 
 To identify the relationship between 
contributing factors and the satisfaction of 
students while studying in UK. 
 To investigate the future intention of 
student after experiencing UK education. 
 To explain descriptively the travel 
behaviours of Vietnamese students. 
 To discover the differences and 
similarities in travel behaviours in terms of 
different characteristics such as gender, 
marital status. 
2. Literature review 
Push and Pull concept 
“Push and pull” concept has become the 
most common tool for educational researchers 
to explain the international student choice of 
country and institution (Wilkins et al., 2012). 
Students tend to study abroad because of the 
lack of capacity and opportunities in their 
home countries (Altbach, 2004), relatively 
lower educational quality, the unavailability 
of some particular subjects (Safahieh and 
Singh, 2006) as well as social and political 
issues (Maringe and Carter, 2007). Bourke 
(2000) in his research found that the most 
crucial reason that make student wish to study 
abroad is enhanced career prospects. The 
second significant factor is the chance to meet 
new friends and explore new culture. Chen 
(2007) supported that idea by suggesting one 
of the motivations is that the foreign degree 
could improve the job prospect and the chance 
to have better salary and promotions. 
On the other hand, some of the “pull” 
factors discussed frequently in many 
researches is likely related to academic and 
institutional aspects. For example, among all 
of push – pull factors in Chen’s study (2007), 
the academic factor which includes criteria 
such as the reputation of university/ 
programme, the quality of university/ 
programme and the ranking of university/ 
programme received relatively high scores. 
The finding was confirmed again by 
Abubakar and his colleagues (2010). 
However, with the aim of exploring travel 
behaviours, this research is going to focus on 
those factors students choose university that 
associated with destination. In general, the 
impact of country image on purchasing 
decision of any products or services has been 
investigated in various studies (Javalgi et al., 
2001). In addition, Cubillo et al. (2006) 
argued that the city image plays a role as 
important as country does in international 
students’ decision. In their suggested model, a 
destination factor could comprise weather, 
cost of living, international environment, 
development level, safety and security. 
Moreover, there are few more factors 
mentioned in other studies that are quite 
important, such as opportunity to live in a 
diverse culture (Mavondo et al., 2004), host 
country experience (Maringe and Carter, 
2007) or travel opportunities (Porumbu and 
Necsoi, 2013) 
Educational tourism – A lucrative 
tourism sector 
This market is estimated as a multi-billion 
dollar business by professionals and 
 Nguyen Tran Nguyen Khai. Journal of Science Ho Chi Minh City Open University, 7(4), 103-111 105 
academics (Chadee and Cutler, 1996). 
According to StudentMarketing (2014), the 
youth, student and educational travel market 
occupy more than 20% of all international 
arrivals and create US$ 194 billion in 2012. 
School breaks and holidays always offer 
university students the time to travel (Mattila 
et al., 2001). In detail, with around 20 weeks 
of free time for holidays each year and low 
rate of full-time employment (Davies and Lea, 
1995), university students have few 
commitments and high propensity for travel. 
There is a common bias that students or youth 
travellers have small budget and do not spend 
a lot during their trip but actually from the 
observation of the industry, they tend to stay 
longer, spend more and travel more frequently 
than average international tourist 
(StudentMarketing, 2014). Additionally, the 
market is estimated to reach 300 million 
arrivals by 2020 and value US$ 320 billion. 
VFR visits to international students – a 
significant source should not be neglected 
With the nature of international student 
staying away from home for long time, their 
participation rate in VFR (visiting friends and 
relatives) tourism as a host or traveller is 
relatively higher among university students 
than general population (Chadee and Cutler, 
1996, Michael et al., 2004). Michael et al. 
(2004) in their study also suggested 
considering the lifetime value of tourists since 
there is a significant positive relationship 
between VFR travel and repeat visitation. 
Furthermore, VFR travellers seem to take 
their visits in the off-season and lengthening 
the period of time at the destination 
(Noordewier, 2002; Hu and Morrison, 2002). 
3. Methodology 
3.1. Questionnaire Design and Data Collection 
To test the proposed model and the given 
hypotheses, quantitative approach was mainly 
applied and a questionnaire survey was used 
to collect data. All items in the questionnaire 
were set with the Likert Scale’s statement, 
basing on the five-point ranging from scale 1 
to scale 5, equivalent to “strongly disagree” to 
“strongly agree”. The target population is all 
Vietnamese students who are pursuing higher 
education degree in UK. According to HM 
Government (2013), UK welcomed 47,200 
international students to study higher 
education level from Vietnam, ranked 6th in 
top sending countries. 
This study applied convenient sampling 
technique. The data were collected by two 
ways: (1) questionnaires were delivered 
directly to the target respondents and (2) the 
link of online questionnaire was sent to 
respondents through emails. After completing 
data collection, there were 125 valid 
respondents in total. 
3.2. Data Analysis 
Firstly, to explore the correlations of 
independent and dependent variables and to 
examine the reliability and validity of them, 
the study conducted Exploratory Factor 
Analysis (EFA) and Reliability Test. 
Secondly, Multiple Regression were applied 
to find out the causal relationships between 
independent variables and dependent variable. 
Finally, descriptive analysis would be 
conducted to have an brief look at the travel 
behaviour of Vietnamese students when they 
are in UK. 
4. Research findings 
4.1. Profile of the Sample 
In total of 125 collected questionnaires, 
there are 44 male students (taking possession 
of 35.2%) compared to 81 females (taking 
possession of 64.8%). More than 60% of the 
respondents are participating in graduate 
programs (Master or Doctor degree) and 
around 40% is studying bachelor level or 
lower. When being asked whether students are 
having part-time job while studying, 49 
respondents said yes which means the 
majority (60%) completely focus on studying. 
This confirms previous researches about the 
potential of the international student market in 
tourism. With low rate of employment, 
especially full-time employment, international 
students have few commitments and high 
propensity for travel. 
106 Nguyen Tran Nguyen Khai. Journal of Science Ho Chi Minh City Open University, 7(4), 103-111 
In addition, respondents come from 
various universities throughout the UK. In 
detailed, there are opinions from 29 different 
universities from North to South of the 
country. 
4.2. Factor Analysis and Reliability 
The factor analyses (EFA) were 
conducted with Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin and 
Barltlett’s test of sphericity and Varimax 
Rotation of 24 items of independent variables. 
The research collected the results of the 
KMO measure of sampling adequacy for 
independent variables (KMO=.914). It was 
higher than the minimum value for a good 
factor analysis .60. Furthermore, Barltlett’s 
test of sphericity was significant (Sig.=.000), 
demonstrating the sufficient correlation 
between the variables. 
From the result shown in table 1, all 
independent variables were divided into 5 
different components, including Social 
Adaption, Destination Pull Factor, Course 
Quality, Push Factor, Study Support. Factor 
loadings of remained items were from .433 to 
.848, all of which were acceptable because of 
being higher than the level of minimum 
requirement at .40 (Hair et al., 2006). In 
addition, Cronbach’s coefficient alpha value 
above .60 was proved to be acceptable by 
Pallant (2007), as a result, Cronbach’s 
coefficient alpha values of all factors in the 
research were accepted. 
Table 1 
Factor Analysis and Reliability test 
 Factors/variables Factor loadings 
 1 2 3 4 5 
Factor 1: Social adaptation 
 The diversity of the city where my university is located .738 
 Range of student clubs and societies .718 
 Part-time employment while studying .656 
 Intention to migrate .604 
 Chance to travel .572 
 Make new international friends .527 
 The international student support service is helpful .499 
 There is no discrimination against me at this university .465 
Factor 2: Destination pull factor 
 Comfortable climate .832 
 Quiet- studious environment .788 
 Lifestyle of the country/ city .633 
 Exciting place to live .522 
 Relatively lower cost to pursue the degree .433 
Factor 3: Course quality 
 The quality of the program .848 
 The quality of the university .837 
 Qualifications recognised worldwide .536 
 Nguyen Tran Nguyen Khai. Journal of Science Ho Chi Minh City Open University, 7(4), 103-111 107 
 Factors/variables Factor loadings 
 1 2 3 4 5 
Factor 4: Push Factor 
 Overseas course is better than local .811 
 Improves job prospects/ chance of receiving a good salary 
and promotions 
 .656 
 Chance to get better understanding of Western countries .597 
 Improve language skills .568 
Factor 5: Study support 
 My profession requires an advanced degree .639 
 Safe (low crime) environment .592 
 General facilities at school - buildings and equipment .570 
Cronbach’s Alpha .842 .811 .835 .809 .641 
Eigenvalues 4.06 3.11 2.80 2.61 2.13 
Explained Variance (%) 17.65 13.51 12.17 11.37 9.26 
Cumulative (%) 17.65 31.17 43.33 54.70 63.96 
4.3. Factors affecting Dependent variable 
Pearson’s Correlation Analysis and 
Linear Regression Analysis were conducted 
three times to explore the relationships 
between independent and dependent variables, 
independent and mediating variables, 
mediating and dependent variables. 
Basing on the data’s result, it showed that 
three out of five independent variables are 
correlated with the dependent variable – 
Overall Satisfaction. The Push Factor seems 
to have most impact to the overall satisfaction 
with r=.357; p<.001, followed by Course 
Quality r=.326; p<.001), and Destination Pull 
Factor r=.167; p<.001. 
Figure 2. Causal relationship result 
4.4. Student travel behaviours 
Past travel experience 
When be asked for the number of 
holidays in UK in the last 12 months, only six 
students (less than 5%) reported they have not 
travelled yet. On the other hand, 30% of the 
sample said that they travelled more than 6 
times. It means that roughly they have at least 
108 Nguyen Tran Nguyen Khai. Journal of Science Ho Chi Minh City Open University, 7(4), 103-111 
one trip in every two months. 
Type of accommodation 
Regarding to which kind of 
accommodation that students usually use 
when travelling, 74 respondents indicated that 
they stayed in hotel or motel, 53 respondents 
would stay in Friend/ Relatives’ houses, the 
same amount of respondents also stayed in 
Backpacker, Youth hostel, and only five 
respondents would stay in Camp site. The 
result may contradict with the common sense 
that students generally seek to cheap 
accommodation (WYSE 2010). However, it is 
similar to what Huang and Tian (2013) found 
when they studied about Chinese students in 
UK. There are several possible reasons for 
why Hotel/ motel is the most popular choice 
although Field (1999) indicated that students 
are more likely to stay at friends and relatives’ 
houses. Firstly, Vietnam is very far away from 
UK and there are few students have relatives 
and friends in Britain. Secondly, B&B 
accommodation and camp site are types of 
accommodation which are not popular in 
Vietnam. 
Mode of transportation 
When being asked about mode of 
transportation students often use, Bus/coach 
(88 respondents) and train (79 respondents) 
are chosen the most and just only few students 
used to use rental car, motorcycle or taxi as 
their main mode of transportation when 
travelling. It is understandable while the 
public transportation in UK is well-developed 
and it is also convenient and relatively 
cheaper to travel across cities with this means 
of transportation. The rental car and 
motorcycle are not popular might due to the 
different side when driving between UK and 
Vietnam and there are not many Vietnamese 
young people who can drive car. 
Size of travel group 
The result when asking how many people 
respondent usually go with reveals that students 
seem do not want to travel alone. However, the 
big group is also not a preferred choice when 
only 4 respondents reported to go with a group 
larger than 6 people. 79 respondents indicated to 
go with 1-3 other people and 38 of them would 
go with 4-6 people. One possible factor might 
account for such finding is that it is fairly 
difficult to find accommodation to big group 
when travelling. Since majority prefer hotel-
type accommodation, a room for a group of 2-4 
traveller is easy to seek. 
Eating preference 
84% of respondent reported that they 
chose local home-style cuisine to try when 
travelling. 48% of them indicated fast-food 
restaurant as one of the options, followed by 
deli (24.8%), self-prepared meal (24%) and 
prestigious restaurant (16%). 
Table 2 
Travel behaviours 
Categories Frequency Categories Frequency 
Past travel experience 
 Not yet 
 1-2 times 
 3-4 times 
 5-6 times 
 >6 times 
6 
31 
31 
19 
38 
Transportation 
 Rental car 
 Bus/ Coach 
 Train 
 Aeroplane 
 Motorcycle 
 Taxi 
16 
88 
79 
53 
9 
13 
 Nguyen Tran Nguyen Khai. Journal of Science Ho Chi Minh City Open University, 7(4), 103-111 109 
Categories Frequency Categories Frequency 
Length of trip 
 One-day trip 
 1-2 nights 
 3-4 nights 
 5-6 nights 
 >6 nights 
18 
37 
49 
12 
9 
Size of travel group 
 Alone 
 1-3 people 
 4-6 people 
 >6 people 
4 
79 
38 
4 
Accommodation 
 Hotel/Motel 
 Backpacker, Youth Hostel 
 B&B Accommodation 
 Friends/ Relatives’ houses 
 Camp site 
74 
53 
27 
53 
5 
Eating preference 
 Fast-food restaurant 
 Home-style restaurant 
 Prestigious restaurant 
 Self-prepared meal 
 Deli 
60 
105 
20 
30 
31 
5. Conclusions and limitations 
With the large amount of Vietnamese 
international students currently studying in the 
UK (HM Government 2013), this study 
critically explores the motivation factors of 
Vietnamese students in deciding the 
university to study abroad and investigate 
their travel behaviours during the time being 
in UK. 
Firstly, there are three factors, destination 
pull factor (5 items), course quality (3 items) 
and push factor (4 items) were confirmed 
significantly have a positive relationship with 
the overall satisfaction (3 items). The social 
adaptation (8 items) and study support (3 
items) were rejected to affect the outcome. 
Many students would like to recommend their 
friends and relatives to study in the 
country/university (68% of respondents) or 
even travel to the city/country that they are 
living (73.6%) of the respondents. In addition, 
55.2% of the sample reported that they would 
like to come back to UK in the future after 
graduation. This could be a hint to the 
increasing of Vietnamese tourists in UK; 
therefore, any businesses in tourism an

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