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The role of information in postgraduates' decision-making cycle.

McNicholas, Carolyn


Carolyn McNicholas



The global market for international postgraduate students is becoming increasingly competitive as more institutions offer Masters level courses and universities need to increase revenues. The UK Government and universities want to stop the declining trend in market share of international students and have ambitious plans to attract these students to the UK. Understanding the decision making and information searching processes of international postgraduates will help universities to support these students as they make their decisions and tailor their marketing communications strategies to raise awareness of the institution, increase applications and ensure postgraduates' satisfaction whilst at university. The aim of this study is to explore the role of information within the individual decision making cycle of international non-EU postgraduate students when selecting a business qualification and studying at university and evolve a decision making cycle model. The information requirements of international postgraduates at all stages of the decision making process from the time they recognised a need to study, through application and enrolment to graduation, were investigated. Influential members of the decision making unit were identified and their information needs explored alongside the factors that impacted on the decision making cycle. The methodological approach was underpinned by an interpretivist philosophy. A quantitative scoping study, based on the author's previous research, was used as an exploratory framework to help design the qualitative data collection. Under an inductive research approach 42 interviews were conducted with international non-EU postgraduates studying a business qualification in a post-92 English university. Thematic and Interpretative Phenomenological analysis were carried out on the full transcripts. A theoretical contribution is made by evolving a new conceptual model of the role of information in the decision making cycle of individuals when making a significant purchase decision; the Iterative Decision Making Cycle Model. The model is unique as it builds on models proposed by both marketing and consumer behaviour scholars, and Kuhlthau, a LIS academic, to create a new model which reflects the connectedness of individuals in the digital era. Kuhlthau's research is extended into a new context as the focus is on the postgraduate as an information seeker and their use of information when making a high involvement purchase decision. A new consumer Decision Maker and Information Searcher Typology is proposed. This study contributes to the body of knowledge in marketing and LIS as it helps individuals to understand the cyclical and iterative nature of the decision making cycle, the sequence of decisions made regarding the country, university and course and then city to study in and the significance of online sources including the university website, rankings and online reviews regardless of their credibility. There is a need to stimulate recommendations and information exchange amongst prospective, current students and alumni due to the influence of word of mouth information sources and communicate pertinent information to students, parents, agents and partner staff as important target audiences. Despite living in an information rich world there was a lack of rationality and informedness amongst certain groups of postgraduates when making these significant decisions and 'new', 'experienced' and 'connected' prospective postgraduates should receive tailored information as identified in the typology. Once at university information plays an important role in structuring expectations and contributing to the student experience and satisfaction levels of international postgraduates. Recommendations are made to the Government and universities on targeting prospective postgraduates and other influential members of the DMU, on tailoring the messages and media to be used when communicating with these target audiences and to provide the information required by postgraduates immediately post purchase and whilst studying at university.


MCNICHOLAS, C. 2020. The role of information in postgraduates' decision-making cycle. Robert Gordon University [online], PhD thesis. Available from:

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Jul 3, 2020
Publicly Available Date Jul 3, 2020
Keywords Information behaviour; Information-seeking behaviour; Search strategies; Information sources; Decision-making; Postgraduate students; International students
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