Factors influencing secondary school students' decisions to enter higher education : implications for higher education capacity in the Sultanate of Oman
The major goal of this study is to investigate the factors influencing Omani secondary school students' decisions to enter higher education, and the implications of such decisions for higher education provision. A number of economic, sociological, psychological, demographic and institutional variables, derived from previous literature and from analysis of labour market conditions in Oman, were incorporated in the conceptual framework guiding the research. A questionnaire, developed to suit the Omani context, was distributed to cluster samples of final-year public secondary school students, stratified by gender and specialisation, in 6 educational regions (N= 1950, valid returns= 1830). These were followed by semi-structured interviews with 42 volunteer students and telephone interviews with 4 decision-makers in the Ministry of Education, to discuss emergent issues. Government and non-government documents and statistics on higher education capacity and labour market demand were analysed. Of the factors, Human Capital Theory appears to be the most influential factor on students' decisions. Students' self confidence in their ability, parents' and family influence, and students' own attitudes and perception towards higher education followed. External factors of the labour market and school were considered less influential and friends least. Moreover, students' specific motivation was shaped and largely determined by the characteristics of the Omani work environment. Mediating effects of gender, specialisation and region were discovered. Current capacity of higher education does not meet either students' aspirations or the labour market demand. However, inequities in capacity, combined with the traditional Omani disdain for certain types of work, complicate the issue. Resolving the problem, therefore, requires not only expansion of higher education capacity, but also adjustment and redirection of demand. Additionally, adjusting educational demand will necessitate addressing disparities in salaries and employment conditions between the public and private sectors. Theoretical and policy implications are highlighted and specific recommendations address the latter.