This paper attempts to provide a discussion on the choice of the field of study at the undergraduate level based on a research article that investigates the choice of subject and the factors affecting the choice . We discuss how student background and the motivations influence the subject choice. In doing so we have also discussed how the motivation is affected by the student’s social, economic and ethnic background. The implications of the result for policy purposes have also been discussed. We find that two issues like student’s ability and interests and the social contribution of a subject should be analysed in more details.
There are a number of issues relating to labor market and man power planning that has found interest with the researchers. The issues are important in terms of giving direction to policy making as well. The demand for labor in various sectors is created by the amount of activity going on in that area. The supply of labor for different segments of the job market should be a reflection of the demand. If there is excess supply of labor for particular area of activity the salaries for that kind of job will come down and so less number of people will want to acquire skill related to that area of activity. Thus labor market choices are also determined by the interplay of supply, demand and wages/salaries. In the real world this adjustment mechanism between supply demand and wages are not so simple. There are number of factors that determine the supply of labor in a particular sector. We can the root of supply determinant to the choice of subject that students make at the undergraduate level. As students of economics we may have the notion that this subject choice should depend on the salaries offered by different types of jobs. But there are a host of literature that have studied the determinants of the choice of subject at the degree course and found a number of socio-economic-ethnic and psychological factors behind this choice of field of study at the graduation level.
In this paper we attempt to review an interesting study on how the subject choice of undergraduate students are related to the labor market. The article is titled “Labour market motivation and undergraduates’ choice of degree subject” and has been published in the Brtish Educational Research Journal. The authors, Peter Davies, Jean Mangan, Amanda Hughes and Kim Slack has researched a very interesting and quite relevant issue in labor market study. Its relevance in terms of policy decisions is stressed by the fact that the government is contemplating on focusing the educational funding in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and removing funding on other subjects which are supposed to have limited social benefits. The study takes a multidimensional approach to investigate whether such a decision is justified based on the factors that determine students’ choice of subjects. In section II of this article we present a brief summary of the article. Section III provides a critical analysis of the article and we conclude our discussion in the last section.
The result of the subject choice in the undergraduate level in terms of the value it generates in the labor market is an important area of study on three respects. The percolation of proper information to the students is very important to empower them to make appropriate subject choices. The outcome in the labor varies for different subject. This information flow is very important when the student has to finance their undergraduate studies themselves without expecting any state subsidy. Secondly, some subjects are viewed as providing more social benefit than the others and receive more focus from the policy makers while a large proportion of graduates in a particular subject remaining unemployed is equally a matter of social concern. Thirdly, the subject choice also determines whether the society can be upwardly mobile by pushing lower social status to a higher one through appropriate subject choice than ensures a higher wage job and more social status.
The research tries to investigate three major concerns regarding subject choice. Firstly it studies how the student characteristics determine the extent to which the social and private benefits act as motivation for subject choice at the undergraduate level. Secondly, the paper explores whether a particular motivation behind subject choice declared by the student is based on sound labor market information on that motivation on the part of the student. Thirdly, it inspects whether student characteristics and motivation for subject choice has any bearing on the choice of ‘high wage premium’ subject.
The study has come out with interesting results. It has shown that Chinese students have a higher inclination to choose a subject based on salary motivation but students coming from low income families as well as mature students do not consider salary to be a determinant of subject choice. Non-White ethnic groups and mature students have a higher likelihood to base their subject choice on the basis of the contribution they can make towards the society.
The article has investigated the issue of subject choice from a number of angles. It has considered a number of factors that can act as motivation towards subject choice. It has also included detailed information about the student background. In this regard we it can be identified as a comprehensive study. The outcome also has important policy implication in indicating that salary is not the sole motivation for subject choice. Moreover the results indicate that subsidization of the study in some subjects will not increase student enrolment for these subjects as the motivation for subject choice and also other determinants of subject choice have a strong bearing on the number of students enrolling for a subject.
The study misses out on two relevant aspects of the issue. First of all the article is inspired by the government’s decision to concentrate the educational funds for the STEM subjects. The reason for such decision is the notion that these subjects are more valuable for the society. This perception needs a deeper investigation as to which subjects have a greater potential of creating opportunities to provide more value for the society. Secondly, the study does not include like a student’s ability in terms of intelligence, creativity, ability to create public relationship. Leadership quality etc. and personal inclinations induce the choice of subjects.
The study of the article was an inspiring experience. It has encompassed a number of issues that influence subject choice at the undergraduate level and the implication for such factors. It has come out with interesting results on how the ethnic background determines the motivation for choosing a subject. Though it does not contemplate much on the factors like student ability and inclination and the social value of the subjects, it privides valuable direction for future course of study in this field.
Davies, P., Mangan, J., Hughes, A., & Slack, K. (2013). Labour market motivation and undergraduates' subject choice of degree subject. British Educational Research Journal, 361-382.