Motives for higher education: a study of the academic motivation of sixth-formers

Whitehead, Joan Margaret (1979). Motives for higher education: a study of the academic motivation of sixth-formers. PhD thesis The Open University.



The main aim of the research is to see if the extrinsic motivation model outlined by Hull and Skinner and the intrinsic motivation model outlined by Bruner, Hunt and Berlyne are appropriate for explaining behaviour within the area of academic motivation. The theory that differences in type of motivation are linked to social class (Swift, 1966) is also explored. The research concentrates on the reasons given by sixth-formers (in comprehensive schools in England and Wales) for staying on at school beyond the statutory leaving age.

In order to carry out the research, questionnaires were designed to cover the following areas: - pupils' motivation, pupils' perceptions of their parents' attitudes towards their own jobs, authority and the education of their children. Of necessity, therefore, much of the research is devoted to the problems of measurement within these areas. Information was also collected on the achievement of pupils, their aspirations for the future and their parents' occupations.

Analysis of the questionnaires (administered to over 700 sixth-formers) indicated that reasons for being in the sixth form can be divided into two broad groups; motivation derived from activities within the school system (intrinsic motivation) and motivation to be in the system derived from external influences (extrinsic motivation). Some pupils exhibit both. types of motivation while others appear to be motivated almost exclusively by one or the other. Girls are more intrinsically motivated than boys, and boys more extrinsically motivated than girls. There is no relationship between father's occupation or parents' education and pupil's achievement, aspirations or type of motivation. There is however a strong relationship between parents being dissatisfied with their jobs, being authoritarian and having authoritarian children with high extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is independent of social class and parental attitudes.

High achievers can be both intrinsically or extrinsically motivated (extrinsic motivation I), there is however a tendency for low achievement to be associated with a desire for money (extrinsic motivation ii).

Type of motivation is a fairly good predictor of aspirations, particularly for university-bound pupils, who have a high level of intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation I is associated with polytechnic-bound pupils and extrinsic motivation II with pupils who are entering full-time employment.

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