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Review of the Article: “Labor market motivation and undergraduates’ choice of degree subject

The title of the article under review is “Labor market motivation and undergraduates’ choice of degree subject” and the authors are Peter Davies, Jean Mangan, Amanda Hughes, and Kim Slack. The purpose of the article is to identify the factors that influence undergraduate students’ choice of subjects and the labor market outcomes that arise from those choices. The article analyzes evidence of variation in labor market outcomes due to choice of undergraduate subjects. On this basis, data is analyzed, findings derived, and conclusions generated. In paper, the article is reviewed in terms of method used and findings generated with a view to provide a judgment regarding its value.

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The study begins with a review of literature on how choice of university course influences labor market outcomes. In this review, two strands of research are examined. The first one is the “graduate premia” approach, whereby earnings are analyzed based on subject of degree after taking into consideration all other factors. The second strand is “over-education”, whereby students report on the extent to which their jobs call for graduate attributes and their level of job satisfaction. The evidence adduced indicates that labor market outcomes indeed vary depending on subject (Montmarquette, Cannings and Mahseredjian 549).

The study was undertaken in the UK using the mixed-methods approach. Data was collected to examine the information needs of students during choice of university courses. Data was obtainaed through a survey questionnaire that was filled in by prospective university students who were in Year 13 (final year) in various schools and colleges. The study excluded those students undertaking foundation degrees and those who indicated that they would not apply to join university. Data collection took place between February and March 2010, and named contacts at the targeted institutions were used to distribute the questionnaires. The total sample size was 1384 (Davies et al. 367). Students were requested to use a four-point scale to indicate the importance they attached to each of six potential motivations for their university subject choice. Students were also asked to indicate the relative importance of 51 possible pieces of information in terms of relevance for decision-making. The data allowed the researchers to determine where there was consistency between the declared motivations of students and the information search behavior that they reported.

Results found that there were substantial variations in participants’ motivation based on background characteristics. There were also significant ethnic differences in participants’ decision making in regards to factors influencing their choice of university subjects. Moreover, students demonstrated consistency in their preferences and search for various information types and the reported sources of motivation. Expressed motivation towards annual salary was strongly associated with an assertion that salary information was very important to students when making a decision to apply for a university degree. Results also showed a tendency by all ethnic minorities to orientate towards high wage premium subjects.

The findings of this article provide crucial insights into how students are influenced by labor market outcomes in their choice of university degree courses, especially STEM subjects. One of these findings is that although policymakers have concentrated a lot on graduate premia, students’ motivations should also be put into consideration. The study also supports the widely prevalent assertion that STEM subjects bring about substantial social benefits, are critical for overall economic growth, and provide the highest salary potential for students. However, it has also found out that students who are not motivated to choose STEM subjects but rather by personal interests or some other factors are unlikely to seek information on the salary potential of STEM subjects. Lastly, the study found that student characteristics were significantly associated to the likelihood of choosing “high wage premium subjects”. Based on this review, I learned that educational policymakers need to redouble their efforts to encourage more students from lower socio-economic classes to choose courses with a high wage premium potential in order to promote social mobility. The article portends important future implications in terms of choice of strategies designed to influence students’ choice of university subjects and the role of market labor motivations.


Works Cited

Davies, Peter., Mangan, Jean., Hughes, Amanda., Slack, Kim. “Labor market motivation and undergraduates’ choice of degree subject.” British Educational Research Journal, 39.2 (2013): 361–382.

Montmarquette, Claude., Cannings, Kathy and Mahseredjian, Sophie. “How do young people choose college majors?” Economics of Education Review, 21.6 (2002): 543–556.


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