University of York, United Kingdom
This mixed methods study aims to understand how government policy on higher education (HE) has influenced major choice at two public Ecuadorian universities. Giddens’ (1984) Structuration Theory is used to understand how structure (HE policy) has influenced agency (student prospects and access to desired majors). This paper presents findings on two research questions to understand the extent to which the Ecuadorian government’s message about the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects has influenced major choice of current Ecuadorian undergraduates (RQ1), and their motivations for major choice (RQ2). 128 first-year undergraduates (Arts and STEM university) completed an online survey on their motivations for major choice, and further exploration was done by interviewing 43 survey respondents. Data were analysed using SPSS and NVivo software. The survey results suggest that government policy was not the main influence of subject selection since the majority of respondents mentioned that government message had no influence in major choice. Nevertheless, from those who mentioned an influence, STEM students were almost twice as likely to report that government messages had influenced their decision. This may suggest that government assertions on the importance of STEM to the production matrix of Ecuador have yielded some influence on current students. Regarding main motivations, there is some consensus across subject areas and institutions. Relatives, friends and teachers were the main sources of influence. Lecturers’ academic profile and major uniqueness were mentioned by more STEM participants, while free-of-charge education was mentioned by more Arts respondents. Implications for HE policy makers will be discussed;with consideration of how a change in the paradigm that guides HE, from economic value to wellbeing creation, causes a change in the agency of HE prospects to pursue their wished majors.
Keywords: Buen Vivir, career decision-making, higher education, government message, change of the production matrix, STEM, mixed methods.
Intersectional inequalities and social exclusion