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What do international students really want? An exploration of the content of international students’ psychological contract in business education


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International students have a substantial presence in western business schools. Yet, research on international students’ experiences remains sparse. Following recent calls to understand the international student–educational institution relationship, we examine the content, formation, and fulfilment of their psychological contract. We conduct a qualitative study of international students in two Australian business schools with large international student cohorts. The findings indicate that international students use social and institutional sources to create the contract, which, when fulfilled, leads to positive educational and psychological outcomes. Our research contributes to the business and international education literature by identifying the key content of the contract. We also highlight the interconnected roles of three tiers of the institution – academic staff, business school and university – in fulfilling the contract. Knowledge of international students’ psychological contract will help business schools better manage the student–institution relationship and create a sustainable international student expansion strategy.
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Studies in Higher Education
ISSN: 0307-5079 (Print) 1470-174X (Online) Journal homepage:
What do international students really want?
An exploration of the content of international
students’ psychological contract in business
Sarbari Bordia, Prashant Bordia, Michael Milkovitz, Yaxi Shen & Simon Lloyd
D. Restubog
To cite this article: Sarbari Bordia, Prashant Bordia, Michael Milkovitz, Yaxi Shen & Simon Lloyd
D. Restubog (2018): What do international students really want? An exploration of the content of
international students’ psychological contract in business education, Studies in Higher Education,
DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2018.1450853
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Published online: 20 Mar 2018.
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What do international students really want? An exploration of the
content of international studentspsychological contract in
business education
Sarbari Bordia
, Prashant Bordia
, Michael Milkovitz
, Yaxi Shen
Simon Lloyd D. Restubog
Research School of Management, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia;
KPMG, Sydney, Australia
International students have a substantial presence in western business
schools. Yet, research on international studentsexperiences remains
sparse. Following recent calls to understand the international student
educational institution relationship, we examine the content, formation,
and fulfilment of their psychological contract. We conduct a qualitative
study of international students in two Australian business schools with
large international student cohorts. The findings indicate that
international students use social and institutional sources to create the
contract, which, when fulfilled, leads to positive educational and
psychological outcomes. Our research contributes to the business and
international education literature by identifying the key content of the
contract. We also highlight the interconnected roles of three tiers of the
institution academic staff, business school and university in fulfilling
the contract. Knowledge of international studentspsychological
contract will help business schools better manage the student
institution relationship and create a sustainable international student
expansion strategy.
International students;
business education;
psychological contract;
international education;
management education
International students have a large presence in western universities (Choudaha 2017). International
students spend £14 billion in the UK, AU$20 billion in Australia and US$30.5 billion in the US per year
(Dodd 2016; UK council of international student affairs 2014,2015). UNESCO data suggest that about
23% of international students enrol in business schools (LeClair 2011), with the numbers rising to 38%
in the UK (UK council of international student affairs 2015) and 60% in Australia (Australian Business
Deans Council 2015). Seizing the opportunity for expansion, business schools now engage in recruit-
ment via agents in international locations (e.g. China, India; Dodd 2016). Yet research on what stu-
dents expect and how business schools can provide for them remains sparse.
A psychological contract, defined as the subjective sense of expectations and obligations in a
relationship, provides a rich theoretical framework to understand student needs and expectations
in higher education (e.g. Bordia, Hobman, et al. 2010; Koskina 2013; Wade-Benzoni, Rousseau, and
Li 2006). Bordia, Bordia, and Restubog (2015) suggest that a positive socio-educational experience,
by way of fulfilled psychological contracts, is important for the viability of international student
© 2018 Society for Research into Higher Education
CONTACT Sarbari Bordia Research School of Management, Australian National University,
Kingsley Street, LF Crisp Building 26, Canberra ACT 2601, Australia
However, in order to provide a fulfilling experience, business schools must know the content of
the psychological contract, including specific needs/expectations of international students; this will
help business schools understand studentsgoals, why they have them and how they can achieve
them. Ultimately, international studentssatisfying experience is likely to include the perception
that business schools understand studentsgoals and support students in attaining them.
In this paper, we investigate the content of international studentspsychological contract (i.e. their
needs/expectations), along with the antecedents and consequences of that content. Specifically, we
interviewed international students on the content of their psychological contract, when and how that
content was formed, sources that influenced its formation and what happens when that content is
fulfilled or breached.
Our research makes several theoretical contributions. First, we provide empirical support for the
theoretical assumptions regarding phases of international student psychological contracts (Bordia,
Bordia, and Restubog 2015). Second, we present three broad sets of the content of international stu-
dentspsychological contracts: educational, career development and socio-emotional. Knowledge of
what international students want is the first building block towards providing them with a positive
educational experience. Third, we highlight three levels of the institution that play important roles
in contract fulfilment: academic staff, the business school and the university. Our research suggests
that while students may expect different elements from each level, the fulfilment of these elements
requires all three levels to work in an interconnected manner.
Finally, our research has practical implications for the recruitment and management of inter-
national students in business schools. Findings of the current research show that psychological con-
tracts are partly formed based on information provided through educational agents and universities.
Business schools can initiate active discussions with international students about their psychological
contracts in order for both sides to understand the opportunities and challenges they face, thus creat-
ing a stronger business schoolinternational student relationship. Our study also shows that the fulfil-
ment of a psychological contract leads to a satisfying educational experience and enhances social
and emotional well-being among international students. Satisfied students engage in positive
word-of-mouth communication with prospective international students, thus creating channels for
future recruitment of international students and reputational gain for the business school.
Theoretical perspectives
The psychological contract framework, originally developed for the organisational context, posits that
individuals have a sense of reciprocity in a relationship, based on which they assess what they owe
and what is owed to them (Rousseau 1995). Psychological contracts encapsulate needs, expectations
and obligations in a relationship. The content of the contracts includes individualsexpectations and
perceptions of mutual obligations (Rousseau 1995). Individuals create content based on several
sources, including past experiences, social networks and promises from the organisation (Rousseau
1995). Breach, a subjective evaluation, occurs when individuals perceive the organisation to have not
fulfilled its obligations (Morrison and Robinson 1997). Breach creates negative affective reactions
leading to negative attitudes and behaviours (Zhao et al. 2007), including a feeling of violation,
lower satisfaction, diminished performance, lack of trust and turnover (Bordia, Restubog, et al.
2010b,2014; Bordia, Restubog, and Tang 2008; Restubog et al. 2015).
The limited but important student psychological contract literature suggests that students have
similar psychological contracts with educational institutions. In business schools, Koskina (2013)
points out, students have implicit and explicit expectations from the institution, the fulfilment of
which lead to positive outcomes. Wade-Benzoni, Rousseau, and Li (2006) found that students in a
research setting expected some research-related clarity from supervisors, including research goals
and feedback. Fulfilment of psychological contracts led to higher well-being and satisfaction in
research students (Bordia, Hobman, et al. 2010). Despite these insights, little is known about what
international students want and how they create their psychological contracts.
In understanding the formation of psychological contracts, we invoke two additional theoretical
perspectives: signalling theory and social informational processing theory. Signalling theory posits
that individuals unfamiliar with an organisation interpret signals from the organisation to understand
its nature and reputation (Suazo, Martínez, and Sandoval 2009). Organisational documents and pro-
motional materials (e.g. websites, advertising, brochures) may signal certain promises. Social infor-
mation processing theory suggests that individualsexpectations are shaped by information
solicited from their social environments, peers, friends and family (Salancik and Pfeffer 1978). Com-
munication regarding the organisational context based on experiences of social contacts shapes indi-
vidualsperception of organisational obligations.
In the context of international students in business education, we explore what sources of infor-
mation are utilised by students to create a psychological contract. Do students seek information from
the institutions they are likely to enrol in? Do they utilise informal sources of information such as
friends or family? Do they consult other international students in the country of their chosen insti-
tution? Furthermore, we explore the specific elements of international studentspsychological con-
tracts. It is likely that international studentspsychological contracts will contain educational
elements. However, as international students enter a new culture, their psychological contracts
may include elements that would help them adjust in their host country. Based on the psychological
contract literature, we expect international students to react positively to a fulfilment of obligations
and negatively to a breach of contract. However, we know little about the nature of this experience:
for instance, what types of psychological contract elements are breached/fulfilled? How do students
react to a breach or fulfilment? What outcomes ensue from a breach or fulfilment for the students and
the institution? Therefore, in exploring the psychological contracts of international students in
business education, we are guided by the following research questions:
Research Question 1: What sources contribute to the formation of the student psychological contract?
Research Question 2: What is the content of the student psychological contract (i.e. what are the perceived obli-
gations of the institution)?
Research Question 3: What are the consequences of fulfilment and breach of the student psychological contract?
Fifty-seven international students from two Australian business schools were interviewed. These
business schools were chosen for their large international student cohorts. It is worth noting that the
majority of international students in Australian business schools are post-graduate, male, and come
from India and China. There were 29 participants from India; 9 from China; 3 from Bhutan; 2 each
from Bangladesh, Indonesia, Singapore and Sri Lanka; and 1 each from Afghanistan, Cambodia, Chile,
Germany, Japan, Korea, Malaysia and Vietnam. The majority of the participants were male (M= 47; F
= 10) and post-graduate students (3 undergraduates), representing the overall make-up of international
students in both business schools. There were 26 participants ranging in age from 25 to 30 years, 16
between 20 and 25 and 9 between 30 and 35. There were 2 students under the age of 20 and 4 over
35 years. Sixty-five per cent (37) of the participants had spent less than1 year in their current institution,
while 25% (14) had spent between 1 and 2 years and 7% (4) between 2 and 3 years; one student had
spent more than three years. Participants were interviewed to elicit the sources that lead to psychologi-
cal contract formation, content of contract, perceivedfulfilment/breach of contract and their outcomes.
Research assistants advertised the project in classrooms and approached students in common areas
(cafeteria, library, etc.). Interested students were asked to contact members of the research group by
email or phone to set up times for interviews. Semi-structured interviews were conducted and
included issues from the research questions. Participants were asked broad questions so as to not
inhibit their views on the topic. A protocol was created for the interviews. Sample questions included
How did you get to know about the university?;What were your expectations when you enrolled in
the university?;Why did you have these expectations?;What did you think of the universitys facili-
ties?;Do you discuss the university and your expectations with your friends & relatives?Research
assistants conducting the interviews also asked follow-up questions to clarify information. All partici-
pants except four agreed to be recorded. The recorded interviews were transcribed. The interviewer
took extensive notes for those interviews that were not audio-taped. The average time for interviews
was 25 minutes.
The data were analysed interpretively and iteratively to create themes (Miles and Huberman 1994).
The analysis included three stages. In stage one, the raw data were coded to create a preliminary
set of categories. For example, raw data describing participantssearch for information about insti-
tutions were collated under categories titled information-gathering before enrolmentand infor-
mation gathered during recruitment. In stage two, the categories were interpreted at a theoretical
level. Therefore, the two information-gathering themes were interpreted as sources that create
psychological contracts. In stage three, we attempted to thread the theoretical elements that
emerged in stage two. Hence, we found broad support for the phases of international student
psychological contract development and its outcomes (Bordia et al. 2015) while also finding specific
details for the nature of sources in the development, specific content and nature of outcomes of the
contract. The findings are presented below.
We present the findings of this research under four headings: sources influencing contract formation,
content, breach/fulfilment and outcome of breach/fulfilment of psychological contracts for inter-
national students in business schools. All sections are illustrated with verbatim quotations (including
grammatical anomalies from non-native English speakers).
Sources influencing psychological contract formation
This section presents the different sources from which international students formulated their
perceptions of institutional obligations. Participant responses indicated two phases: pre-enrolment
and recruitment. In the pre-enrolment phase, prospective international students gather infor-
mation from two broad sources: educational institutions and studentssocial network. Based on
their previous domestic or overseas experience, students framed institutional obligations from
their prospective institution (‘…in India, when you go to any administration staff, they dont
talk about this assignment paper, the room numbers, no. [Here] They talked us, I18, India). Stu-
dents also sought information from their social network, including friends, family and other stu-
dents who had experiences with business schools in Australia (I had a couple of friends who
had studied back in Australia they told me its very interesting and it is not theoretical at
all, its totally practical and you are going to learn a lot. So thats what I was looking forward
to after coming here, I6, India). Collectively, prior educational experience and information
from studentssocial network influenced their understanding of institutional commitments
towards them.
During the recruitment phase, participants developed their perceptions of institutional obli-
gations based on active promises from agents and university representatives at educational recruit-
ment events in their home countries on a variety of topics, including educational facilities,
financial arrangements, visas and initial adjustment processes (When the University representa-
tives went to New Delhi, India. So I met them face-to-face. It was a really good university,
which my counsellor told me . So they told me is one of the best Accounting, for accounting
courses, it is one of the best universities in Australia, I36, India). Such information helped students
develop perceptions about the institution. Some of these perceptions had to do with the quality
and reputation of the business school, the nature of the degree programmes, details of the edu-
cational content and pedagogy, the quality of teaching and academic staff members, monetary
arrangements to be made prior to enrolment, the types of support services and availability of
additional support from the institution.
Prospective students also engaged in the evaluation of signals provided by institutional brochures,
websites and newspapers advertisements. Information gathered from the above-mentioned sources
was the precursor for the development of psychological contracts. Using signalling theory, we further
analysed the types of signals that contributed to the content of the psychological contract. We found
that signals from institutions created perceptions of obligations in the minds of prospective inter-
national students. Some of these obligations may have been expected, as they were clearly tied to
the signals (e.g. details of degrees, financial costs). However, other obligations were subjectively inter-
preted by prospective students from those signals. Two types of signals were visible: reputational and
International students made their choices based on the reputation of the university and relevant
schools. One student stated, The reason why I applied for [name of university], my expectation is
because this university is a very prestigious university, high-ranking in the world and also in Australia
(I14, Malaysia). Another participant discussed his assumptions about the quality of academic staff
based on the reputation of the school:
the ranking of the [university] is obviously one of the top universities in Australia. So actually the ranking itself
does not tell me much. But I believe if a school has a high ranking, so there must be good teacher and
student involved in the university. So it means I can have better training from a high ranked school. (I4, Vietnam)
In addition, a student suggested that a well-presented website indicated a well-organised pro-
gramme of education (Well when I initially enrolled in this university I checked things from the
website. It was really [a] glamour[ous] one, very nice, everything looks like very much organised
(I32, India).
Students received information regarding computing facilities from the institutions website and
from communications with agents representing the university. One participant was later disap-
pointed to learn that students were only allotted a limited number of hours to use the Internet (I
searched some web pages of university and my counsellor told me they will have very good com-
puter facilities, I36, India). Perhaps the information regarding good computer laboratories signalled
the availability of generous hours of Internet allocation to this student, as the same student later went
on to say ‘…I am really frustrated about that computer quota(I36, India). Students also compared
their institution with other similar institutions. Facilities provided by other institutions signalled per-
ceptions of obligation from the current institution. One student stated, I dont know much about
other universities but they are providing [sports and recreational facilities] currently, but in ours
they are not providing like that(I38, India).
It is likely that the information gathered in the pre-enrolment phase provided the background in
terms of understanding the information collected during the recruitment phase. Participants may
have had a generalised psychological contract in the pre-enrolment phase, but much of the detailed
development of the psychological contract actually occurred during the recruitment phase. In terms
of Research Question 1, the participants in this study revealed that their psychological contracts were
formed from information gathered from sources such as friends, family and other students; prior
experiences in similar institutions; agents and university representatives; and formal institutional
communication via websites, brochures and advertisements.
Content of psychological contracts
This section examines the content of international studentsperception of obligations from the edu-
cational institution. Participants stated that the institution was obligated to provide educational facili-
ties that adhered to high standards in terms of content and quality of teaching (So from this MBA, I
am thinking of expecting to take some knowledge which I can really use it and I go to the depth of it,
I3, Bhutan). An appropriate selection of courses (‘…they are obligated to give me a good selection of
relevant course work, I1, Indonesia), support for individualised learning (I thought it would be more
consultative between the students and between lecturers, a lot more discussion, I9, Singapore) and
applicability of the degree in the workplace (I would like to learn more theories about business and
management, to merge it together with my practice, before, so that I will have a better understanding
of management and work in the future, I2, China) were also expected by the international students.
Students also needed some assistance with the development of their future careers and expected
the business school to help with part-time or casual jobs while they studied (they should provide
more assistance relating [to] casual jobs, I40, India). Students saw the business school as responsible
for networking and internship opportunities in relevant industries ([My expectations are to] build a
network in the area that I want to work for and work in, I4, Vietnam; Networking is one really impor-
tant thing for MBA studies, but the school doesnt really, they dont have anyone whos really into this
and there is no such thing officially. So this should be something the school could do about, like the
alumni, I2, China). In addition, providing career opportunities by way of internships or interviews was
included as part of psychological contracts (‘…so I think its the universitys sort of obligation to
provide more help because at least I think like its quite difficult to find a job if you are not [a] resident
here, I10, China).
Students expected to receive certain services that would lead to a better educational and social
environment for them. Appropriate support services such as Internet access (I had an expectation
that they at least will provide us an internet facility, I38, India); academic skills training (‘…when I
was in [another school at the university], and I enjoyed the service there [writing skill training
classes], so I expect that the [business school] should have the same service offered to its students,
I4, Vietnam); infrastructure conducive to learning and assessments (‘…last time when we had our
foundation on finance quiz, we had only chairs, no table. In the total room there are supposed to
be five tables but two tables were taken out and we had to sit on the chair, take our book and
then it was really uncomfortable doing quiz on. Thats basic facilities which we expect from a business
school where we pay like thousands of dollars for fees, I21, Bhutan); sports and recreational facilities
(we should have a playground, because we are still students, we love to play cricket, I39, India) and a
multi-cultural social environment (‘…you know its an international environment. So have a lot of
people from other countries were you can interact,I45, India) were seen by participants as insti-
tutional obligations.
Other services that would create a better environment for international students included assist-
ance with accommodation searches (‘…some people are getting the very cheap rate rent, some
people are getting the most expensive places so if they [institution] are co-ordinated given
those information they [students] may have get a good accommodation, I46, Sri Lanka) and monet-
ary assistance in the form of scholarships (‘…if you have 10 Chinese students, 5 like Indonesian stu-
dents and you give all the five Indonesian students scholarships and only one or two to the 10
Chinese students, then its not kind of balance they should increase the proportion among
Chinese students of applying scholarships and provide more for a large proportion, I2, China). Stu-
dents also expected the institution to provide them with reduced-price books and other educational
accessories (‘…dont expect them to consider everything, but they should consider some things, like
books should be not so expensive, I37, India). Free Internet services came up as a recurrent obligation
in this category. Students commented on the need for unlimited Internet access for social ([name of
university] should provide more of internet facilities for students because you see there are many
overseas students who are coming here so they need to get in touch with their parents and I
think the easiest way is the email, I44, India) and educational (when you expect all the students to
check through your learning resources when you have to search everything so internet should
be free, I51, India) reasons. To summarise, in terms of Research Question 2, international students
psychological contracts are likely to include a range of elements pertaining to education, career
and socio-emotional issues.
Fulfilment and breach of psychological contracts
This section presents the responses regarding participantsperceptions of (un)met institutional prom-
ises. We first present fulfilment and then breach. Participants stated that they found that the academic
standards met their expectations (I had expectations that I am going to learn lot of things which I think
pretty much fair, no complaints about that, I33, India). The administrative and academic staff were
helpful (‘…the staffs were very approachable, I remember one incident where it was like my first seme-
ster so its a total different culture for me and coping with all the courses and all I had this difficulty
in submitting an assignment but the lecturer was really, really good, kind enough, he understood
my things …’I3, Bhutan; Whenever you go to them, like handing assignments with administration
office theyre quite nice and efficient. They will help you when you have troubles like late submission,
they will tell you what to do, I2, China), and the infrastructure and support services of institutions were
conducive to learning (Library facilities I think really good, I44, India). Finally, participants perceived
the institutions as appreciative of multiculturalism (I am getting so many different cultured students
over here. I am mixing with them and making friends, I47, India).
Students are likely to react more strongly to breach of content in a psychological contract based
on the particular contents relative importance to them. Therefore, a breach of some important
content, such as a free Internet quota, may lead to significant negative feelings because of its relative
importance in maintaining contact with friends and family in other countries to avoid a sense of social
isolation. Such feelings are reflected in the following participants comment:
I am an international student, I have to talk to my parents, I have to chat to them, I have to read their messages
There should be some provision for international student. We have provided $24000 for two years, what they are
doing? They cannot provide us free internet access? (I36, India)
Others stated that some academic staff fell short of their expectations (I find that there is sort of
quite big variation in terms of teaching quality, I10, China). Some students also felt that domestic and
international students did not interact with each other (Although we are studying in Australia, actu-
ally I dont know too much Australian friends! Because my classmates were really busy. After class
they just disappear and we dont have time to talk, to chat, its like yeah you dont know much
local people. This is kind of strange and kind of pitiful, I2, China). Still others were frustrated with
class timing (If you are a part-time student you will have classes in the evening but if you are a
full-time student I think you, you expect classes in the afternoon, in the morning, I8, Chile).
Outcomes of fulfilment and breach
We first discuss the outcomes of fulfilment, followed by those of breach. An interesting feature in this
study was that participants rarely dwelled too long on obligations that had been fulfilled (And then
regarding classes I am satisfied, that like we are having class three hours altogether, its fine, but we
need more interaction like with the university …’, I42, India). Breach, however, elicited more reaction.
The organisational literature also suggests that obligations that are fulfilled may sometimes go unno-
ticed (Morrison and Robinson 1997).
Outcomes of fulfilment
Some of the outcomes of fulfilment of psychological contracts included satisfaction with educational
content and teaching, support services, state-of-the-art technology, orientation programmes and the
universitys general environment (They have the staff from Academic Learning Centre teach you how
to write essay, teach you how to reference things we were informed when we were in our country
so we expected that, and they fulfilled it It helped me a lot, I22, Cambodia). One participant
expressed relief that his expectation of developing a social network in a new cultural context was
fulfilled (I made great friends from other countries, which you know, I had a doubt, you know that
as to how I will be able to interact with them, but the coordinators and the student mentors were
very helpful, you know and we just got along really good, I45, India). Although not perceived as
an initial obligation, a participant was pleasantly surprised at the security provided by the university
in taking students back home after office hours (‘…the security here is more better than what I
expected. They are twenty-four hours and they are sending back home after six [pm] . because
it is late, yeah thats a very good one, where I came from its not you [take] transport by yourself.
Yeah, that I never expected, but thats very good, I52, Malaysia).
Interestingly, one respondent who experienced fulfilment also stated clearly that it was the insti-
tutions obligation to meet these perceptions:
I find everything good enough till now. Because the faculties are really good, they are helping me, the learning
connection [a unit made up of academic and psychological counsellors], everything given for the referencing
thing, the assignments, the research book is really good, the data IT system is more advanced than our, my
country. So its good enough, like I am getting used to the more IT system. I am getting knowledge under uni-
versity, our professor, like our program director, everyone is very helpful. They are helping us for the accommo-
dation but still I know the university should provide all these things. (I47, India)
Participants also expressed a sense of priority in terms of fullment of certain elements in psychologi-
cal contracts (Ind that the classes are done in a professional manner. There is nothing lacking there,
which is the most important thing, I48, India).
Outcomes of breach
Some were frustrated with the allotment of hours of Internet access, while others were disappointed
with the lack of assistance in part-time job searches (I feel frustrated because they told me that we
cannot do anything, you have to adjust in this [internet] quota, I36, India; Initially I was feeling really
down because I didnt get any help from the University to get a job, I30, India). Participants reacted
negatively if there was any increase in tuition fees (It was horrible because I knew my parents cant
raise that much money all of a sudden, I33, India). Another interesting aspect of this breach was that
it was based on comparisons with the fee structure of other globally reputed universities, as the same
participant said
if I compare with my recent tuition fee I am about to pay, its like nearly about paying Oxford University, so I
was thinking like I should go to some better place, because this is a place like middle of nowhere. (I33, India)
One participant stated that breach led to lower performance and ultimately resulted in negative
word-of-mouth communication to others (I was really frustrated [about the course content] from
the beginning and that had an impact on my performance;‘…Well the effect it can have is you
are not happy with it. And once you are not happy that can have a bad effect in the sense of
word-of-mouth, I7, Bhutan).
Breach of psychological contracts led to negative emotional outcomes, and some participants
stated that they felt they were not valued by the university (Do they care for me? Its all about
care of a student. Do they care for me or are they just taking sacks of money and then, done, I18,
India). Participants spoke of the violation of specific elements of the contract. For example, one par-
ticipant reported disappointment at the inability to secure accommodation (Over the last three
semesters Ive applied every semester but never got the result, I dont know why thats very dis-
appointing, I2, China). The Internet quota restriction created feelings of frustration (It takes five
minutes to download- piss me off!, I18, India). The negative affective outcomes of breach are consist-
ent with meta-analytic results in the workplace context (Zhao et al. 2007).
Therefore, in terms of Research Question 3, participant responses revealed that fulfilment of
psychological contracts impacted student satisfaction positively and enhanced a sense of well-
being. Breach, however, led to feelings of violation and to a diminished sense of well-being. Next,
we discuss our findings in terms of their theoretical and practical implications.
Business schools benefit from international students in two main ways. First, international students
create significant revenue for business schools. For example, international students in Australian
business schools spend AU$5.3 billion per year, and they pay fees that are 20% higher than domestic
students (Australian Business Deans Council 2015). The international student cohort worldwide is set
to rise to 3.8 million by 2024, with Indian and Chinese students contributing 35% of that growth, with
the USA, the UK and Australia remaining as popular destinations (MacGregor 2013). Such increased
revenue is often impossible in domestic markets given limited population growth. Second, a core
activity of business schools is to prepare their students for a globalised workplace where individuals
from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds are expected to work together. International stu-
dents allow business schools to build a diverse environment within an educational context, thus pro-
viding the opportunity for all students to develop a global mind-set, one that is invaluable in the
contemporary workplace. However, such advantages come with greater responsibilities towards
the well-being of international students. One way of fulfilling such responsibilities is by engaging
with international student psychological contracts. Given the nascent state of research on inter-
national students in business education, little is known about student needs and expectations.
Knowledge of what international students want is at the heart of creating a successful and sustain-
able international studentbusiness school relationship.
We synthesise the findings of the current research to present three dimensions of the international
student psychological contract: educational, career-development and socio-emotional (Table 1). For
each category, we present the likely sources of contract formation. We then discuss the content of the
contract in terms of short- and long-term expectations. The short- and long-term presentation of the
content is of relevance because business schools can initiate a discussion of some of the short-term
elements of the content (e.g. selection of courses, accommodations) before the student commits to
the institution or soon after arrival at the institution. This is likely to create a more realistic
Table 1. Content of international student psychological contract (PC).
Educational content Career development content Socio-emotional content
Element of PC:
Selection of
Effective teaching
Internet quota
Source of
Element of PC:
Part-time jobs
Source of
Both university
and business
Element of PC:
Internet quota
Sports and
Source of
University and
University and
Element of PC:
standards that
facilitate future
Source of
Element of PC:
Industry placement
upon completion
of degree
Source of
Business school
Element of PC:
Source of
University and
University and
psychological contract that can be fulfilled and to provide a positive experience to students at a time
that is most uncertain for them (just prior to, and upon, arrival). The long-term elements of the
content may be shaped by the fulfilment/breach of the short-term elements. The long-term elements
are pivotal to the overall success of the international student experience (e.g. educational experience,
industry placement) and are likely to have a lasting effect on individuals well after their student
experience is over. Some elements are both short and long term because of the ongoing nature
of the relevance of these elements (e.g. scholarship). Elements may appear in more than one cat-
egory, as students may expect them for more than one reason (e.g. Internet quota for education
and social reasons).
We also suggest the structural level of the institution that is likely to be responsible for fulfilment/
breach: academic staff, business school and the university. Our classification of organisational levels is
primarily based on our understanding of the Australian university and business school structures (in
consultation with some key administrators) along with some mention of the organisational levels in
the data. Our research illustrates that some elements require all three levels to collaborate in order to
provide students with a fulfilling experience. Finally, we present the outcome of fulfilment/breach for
each category.
Educational features
Students formed the initial educational content of their psychological contract based on educational
institutions at home or in other international locations. These elements were then corroborated
during the recruitment phase with active promises from university representatives, agents and evalu-
ation of signals from the institution. In the short term, international students may expect an adequate
selection of courses and advice on course selection. They may also expect effective teaching, includ-
ing advice on assessments, as well as adequate internet access to conduct research for assessments.
International students may hold the university (for internet quotas), the business school (for course
selection) and academics (for effective teaching) responsible for the fulfilment of the short-term edu-
cational elements.
In the long term, international students may expect a good standard of education that will help
them with their career goals. This element of the psychological contract is likely to be directed
both at the university and the business school, as status and institutional ranking at both levels
are likely to convey educational standards to prospective employers. Fulfilment of both short- and
long-term educational elements led to a satisfying educational experience, while breach resulted
in feelings of frustration with the institution. Educational performance was negatively impacted,
and in extreme cases, this led to termination of the degree.
Career development features
International students often sacrifice work and career opportunities in their home countries in order
to study in the host country. The financial requirements of studying in a foreign country necessitate
the consideration of short- and long-term career options in the host country. Students formed some
initial career-related content of their psychological contracts from communication with their social
network in the pre-enrolment phase, followed by discussions with institutional representatives in
the recruitment phase. In the short term, students may expect the business school and the university
to provide them with advice on part-time jobs, including career counselling on job applications,
potential employers, minimum wage and taxation-related requirements.
In the long term, international students may expect business schools to advance their employ-
ment opportunities through alumni and industry engagement. In some countries (e.g. India),
business schools organise industry interviews on campus for the graduating cohort. Students from
such countries may expect similar services in other business schools. In addition, networking oppor-
tunities with alumni is an important aspect of many MBA programmes, and students may have
specific expectations of meeting prospective employers in such events organised by the business
school. The fulfilment of career development content led to a positive psychological experience,
while breach had a negative impact on well-being.
Socio-emotional features
This category had the most varied elements of psychological contracts regarding services with the
potential to create a positive socio-emotional environment for students. The socio-emotional
content was formed during the pre-enrolment and recruitment phases. Both institutional and
social sources influenced this content. Most elements related to services from the institutions, the
fulfilment of which was likely to create a better social and emotional environment in which inter-
national students could thrive. In the short term, international students expect the university and
the business school to provide them with appropriate accommodations, an Internet quota, rec-
reational facilities, a multi-cultural environment and information on scholarships. While accommo-
dations and sports and recreational facilities have the potential to be both short- and long-term
elements, it is likely that as international students become familiar with the city, they will be able
to avail themselves of these facilities. Therefore, these elements may be more important in the
short term than in the long term.
However, some elements such as scholarships and a multi-cultural environment may be ongoing
in nature. Scholarships not only provide a short-term financial respite but also allow prospective
employers to judge the educational standard of the student in comparison to peers. Therefore, scho-
larships are likely to be a long-term element of a psychological contract. In terms of multi-cultural
environments, when international students come to the host country for the first time, a multi-cul-
tural environment allows them to feel culturally safe. International students learn about the new
culture from individuals who have acculturated shortly before their arrival. In the long term, a
multi-cultural environment helps international students maintain contact with their original
culture, thus facilitating re-entry into their home culture upon graduation. Both the university and
the business school are likely to be responsible for the fulfilment of these elements. Fulfilment of
socio-emotional features led to enhanced well-being, while breach impacted well-being negatively.
Below we present the theoretical and practical contributions of the paper.
Theoretical contributions
The psychological contract approach provided us with a theoretical lens through which to investigate
international studentsneeds, expectations and perceptions of institutional obligations, along with its
antecedents and consequences. The success of the business schoolinternational student relation-
ship depends on the business school knowing what international students expect from them.
While psychological contract theory has been applied before in terms of an empirical investigation
in the educational setting (Bordia, Hobman, et al. 2010; Koskina 2013; Wade-Benzoni, Rousseau,
and Li 2006), to the best of our knowledge, this is the first empirical paper to focus on international
students. Koskina (2013) suggests that students have a combination of transactional, relational and
ideological elements in their psychological contracts. Our research extends this line of inquiry by the-
orising about the content categories of international studentspsychological contracts. We highlight
three categories of content that international students are likely to expect from business schools:
educational, career development and socio-emotional. We identify the short- and long-term
nature of the content, the fulfilment of which can lead to short- and long-term outcomes. We
present the institutional levels that are responsible for the fulfilment of the content. Our findings
suggest that the majority of the responsibility falls on the business school and its academics, with
some responsibility falling on the university. Given that most of the content of psychological con-
tracts is geared towards the business school, and that international students are likely to spend
more time there, it is possible that these students will also hold the business school responsible if
university-related expectations are not met and may expect the business school to lobby the univer-
sity on their behalf for better conditions.
Furthermore, our research highlights the interconnectedness in sharing responsibilities towards
international students from three tiers in an educational institution. In Figure 1, we show how the
three tiers academic staff, the business school and the university are interconnected in terms
of their responsibilities towards contract fulfilment. The data suggest that the academic staff are
responsible for providing effective teaching. However, effective teaching is related to effective
course selection and the presence of appropriate educational standards for course entry, both of
which are the responsibility of the business school. Moreover, effective teaching is linked with effec-
tive learning on the part of the student, which is likely to occur if the student has the ability to
conduct effective literature reviews via adequate computer and Internet access, which is a univer-
sity-level responsibility. Part-time jobs, industry placements and scholarships are likely to be respon-
sibilities shared by the business school and the university because all three are dependent on the
reputation, ranking and overall standards of both the business school and the university. Accommo-
dation, sports and recreational activities, and a multi-cultural environment, all university responsibil-
ities, are likely to affect a students well-being, which in turn will impact his or her educational
achievements. Therefore, the success of an individual students learning and psychological contract
fulfilment, academic staffs teaching, as well as business schoolsand universitiesreputation are inter-
connected and are likely to affect each other.
Our research is linked to several important areas of higher education research. Choudaha (2017)
documents historic trends of international students and suggests that institutions currently recruit
international students in a bid to innovate. In terms of institutional benefits, we believe that
Figure 1. Interconnected nature of responsibilities towards international students.
international students help business schools innovate financially and also by internationalising the
institution. In terms of benefits for international students, Zhou et al. (2008) present several strategies
for international student adaptation. Our research suggests that business schools can facilitate adap-
tation by heeding the content of psychological contracts. The fulfilment of educational, career and
socio-emotional needs of international students leads to a satisfying experience. Finally, in terms
of the physical and psychological safety of international students, Brown and Jones (2013) suggest
that racism towards international students is likely to bring disrepute to universities and hinder
the local economy. In this line of thinking, we present a wide spectrum of international students
needs and expectations, the breach of which is likely to stunt business schoolsability to recruit
and to reduce their financial and reputational gains.
Our research suggests that psychological contract formation and status (i.e. fulfilment/breach) are
not static, one-time events. Psychological contracts are formed and evaluated throughout the edu-
cational journey. Students begin with a preliminary contract, which is tempered by social and insti-
tutional comparisons, to form a more lasting psychological contract. International students also
prioritise elements of their contract, and the fulfilment/breach of some elements has more of an
effect on them psychologically and educationally than do others. The psychological contract litera-
ture has broadly assumed that all breaches of contract have a similar magnitude of effect. Our
research presents a more nuanced picture in terms of the effects of fulfilment/breach.
Practical contributions
This study has several practical implications for business schools. Effective management of student
psychological contracts will provide international students with a positive learning experience, a
sense of well-being and a positive social environment. Knowledge of international studentspsycho-
logical contracts can help educational providers create marketing and recruitment materials so as to
generate realistic perceptions of institutional promises. If agents working on behalf of business
schools are provided with, and are able to disseminate, accurate information about the business
school, students are likely to build realistic psychological contracts, hence ensuring fulfilment.
Business schools can demonstrate an interest in international studentsperceptions by inviting
them to contribute to ongoing discussions about their needs/expectations. This will help create a
positive reputation for the institution as one that is caring towards its international students. In
the current environment, where students have many business schools to choose from, a nurturing
reputation may indeed be eye-catching for prospective students.
Limitations and further research directions
The main limitation of this research is that it is based on cross-sectional data. Future longitudinal
investigation can examine how and when international students modify their psychological con-
tracts. Recent research suggests that employees actively repair psychological contracts damaged
by breach (Bankins 2015), and international students may do the same. International students are
not a homogenous group and come from different cultural, educational, social and economic back-
grounds (Bordia, Bordia, and Restubog 2015). Business schools also differ based on national and cul-
tural contexts. Our data had a large percentage of Indian students, and therefore, the content of the
contract may be germane to the context. However, we wish to emphasise that the sources of contract
formation, broad content categories and outcome of fulfilment/breach are likely to remain relevant
even if the specific content of the contract changes.
There has been an unprecedented growth of international students in recent times, and the numbers
are forecasted to increase. Western-based business education has become a globalised commodity
desired by citizens of several countries. With this immense opportunity for business schools comes
the responsibility of providing international students with the best possible educational, social and
psychological experience. International students make several commitments towards the business
school by way of finances and socio-educational adjustments. Business schools can reciprocate by
understanding international studentsexpectations and nurturing their students academically,
socially and psychologically. We do not wish to suggest that all expectations must be met.
However, an open dialogue will help students modify their psychological contracts towards a realistic
and attainable one, ultimately leading to a satisfying experience.
The authors would like to thank Dr Ezaz Ahmed, Ms Pronoma Mukherjee, Mr Abhirav Bansal and Mr Muhammad Zaidi for
their assistance at various stages of the paper.
Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.
This research was partially supported by the Australian Research Council Grants [DP1096037, DP130104138] awarded to
the authors.
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This article analyses the changes in international student mobility from the lens of three overlapping waves spread over seven years between 1999 and 2020. Here a wave is defined by the key events and trends impacting international student mobility within temporal periods. Wave I was shaped by the terrorist attacks of 2001 and enrolment of international students at institutions seeking to build research excellence. Wave II was shaped by the global financial recession which triggered financial motivations for recruiting international students. Wave III is being shaped by the slowdown in the Chinese economy, UK’s referendum to leave the European Union and American Presidential elections. The trends for Wave III show increasing competition among new and traditional destinations to attract international students. The underlying drivers and characteristics of the three waves suggest that institutions are under increasing financial and competitive pressure to attract and retain international students. Going forward, institutions must innovate not only to grow international student enrolment but also balance it with corresponding support services that advance student success including expectations of career and employability outcomes.
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Applications of social exchange theory in organizational research have tended to ignore the resource context and its impact on a focal dyadic social exchange. Integrating insights from the social exchange theory and the conservation of resources theory, we examine the role of resource availability in the social exchange of resources. The type of social exchange we focus on is the psychological contract. Specifically, we examine the antecedents and consequence of breach of employee obligations to an employer. We test our predictions using multisource data obtained from employees over three measurement periods in Sample 1 and matched triads (employee, supervisor, and coworker) in Sample 2. We found that family–work conflict (FWC) and breach of employer obligations are positively, while conscientiousness is negatively, related to employees’ perceptions of breach of their obligations. Conscientiousness moderated the FWC–breach relationship: Employees low on conscientiousness have a stronger positive relationship between FWC and breach of employee obligations. Breach of employee obligations is, in turn, negatively related to employee career progression (a job promotion over the following year in Sample 1 and supervisor-rated promotability in Sample 2). Findings highlight the interconnected nature of demands, resources, and obligations and that dyadic social exchange obligations should be examined in the context of other demands.
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Psychological contracts are dynamic, but few studies explore the processes driving change and how employees influence them. By adopting a process approach with a teleological change lens, and drawing upon the sensemaking and coping literatures, this study positions individuals as active and adaptive agents driving contract change. Employing a mixed methodology, with a four-wave longitudinal survey (n = 107 graduate newcomers) and qualitative interviews (n = 26 graduate newcomers), the study focuses on unfolding events and develops an “adaptive remediation” process model aimed at unraveling contract dynamics. The model demonstrates how breach or violation events trigger sensemaking, resulting in initially negative employee reactions and a “withdrawal” of perceived contributions, before individuals exercise their agency and enact coping strategies to make sense of, and adapt and respond to, these discrepancies. A process of contract “repair” could then occur if the coping actions (termed “remediation effects”) were effective, with individuals returning to positive exchange perceptions. These actions either directly addressed the breach and repaired both it and the psychological contract (termed “remedies”) or involved cognitive reappraisal of the broader work environment and repaired the contract but not the breach (termed “buffers”). The results highlight the unfolding, processual nature of psychological contracting. Copyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
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Despite the surge in research on the psychological contract over the past two decades, there has been little integrative research that has examined psychological contracts in conjunction with legal contracts. We address this shortcoming by presenting a framework for understanding the differences between psychological contracts and legal contracts in the United States. This is done by presenting definitions and examples of psychological contracts (i.e., relational and transactional) and the two forms of legal contracts: (a) express (written and oral), and (b) implied (quasi-contract and promissory estoppel). In addition, by utilizing signaling theory [Rynes, S.L. (1991). Recruitment, job choice, and post-hire consequences: A call for new research directions. In M. D. Dunnette & L. M. Hough (Eds.), Handbook of industrial and organizational psychology, (pp. 399–444). Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.], we describe the means by which human resource practices such as recruitment, training, performance appraisal, compensation, and employee handbooks can create psychological and legal contracts. We conclude by proposing directions for future research and implications for practicing managers.
The authors develop and test a moderated mediation model that accounts for employee emotions (psychological contract violation), employee motivation (revenge cognitions), employee personality (self-control), and context (perceived aggressive culture) in the relationship between psychological contract breach and workplace deviance. In Sample 1, involving 146 hospitality workers and their peers, the authors found support for a conditional indirect effect of psychological contract violation in predicting workplace deviance via revenge cognitions for those employees who perceive a high as opposed to low aggressive work culture. In addition, they found that at high levels of perceived aggressive work culture, the conditional indirect effects of psychological contract violation in predicting workplace deviance via revenge cognitions were statistically significant for those employees with low as opposed to high self-control. These results were replicated in Sample 2 using an independent sample of 168 hospitality workers in a different cultural context. Overall, the results suggest that self-control and perceived aggressive culture, taken together, influence the enactment of deviant acts. Implications for research and practice are discussed.
Despite their significant presence in western business schools, the needs and experiences of international students have not been adequately reflected in the business education literature. We draw upon psychological contract theory – used to understand employer–employee relationships – to develop a novel theoretical model on the international student–business school relationship. Based on a review of psychological contract and international education literatures, we propose that students perceive a variety of institutional obligations arising from explicit and implicit promises made by business schools. Fulfilment or breach of these obligations will impact upon students' educational performance and satisfaction. We also examine ways in which students' cultural orientation might moderate the psychological contract process.
Theoretical concepts of culture shock and adaptation are reviewed, as applied to the pedagogical adaptation of student sojourners in an unfamiliar culture. The historical development of ‘traditional’ theories of culture shock led to the emergence of contemporary theoretical approaches, such as ‘culture learning’, ‘stress and coping’ and ‘social identification’. These approaches can be accommodated within a broad theoretical framework based on the affective, behavioural and cognitive (ABC) aspects of shock and adaptation. This ‘cultural synergy’ framework offers a more comprehensive understanding of the processes involved. Implications for future research, policy and practice are explored.
Adopting a multifoci approach to psychological contract breach (i.e., breach by the organization referent and breach by the supervisor referent), the authors propose a trickle-down model of breach. Results from three studies show that supervisor perceptions of organizational breach are negatively related to supervisor citizenship behaviors toward the subordinate, resulting in subordinate perceptions of supervisory breach. Subordinate breach perceptions are, in turn, negatively related to subordinate citizenship behaviors toward the customer and, ultimately, customer satisfaction. The findings demonstrate the interconnected nature of social exchange relationships at work and draw attention to the effects of breach for other employees and customers.
The psychological contract held by an employee consists of beliefs about the reciprocal obligations between that employee and his or her organization. Violation refers to the feelings of anger and betrayal that are often experienced when an employee believes that the organization has failed to fulfill one or more of those obligations. This article provides a model outlining the psychological sensemaking processes preceding an employee's experience of psychological contract violation. It also identifies factors that affect those processes with the aim of encouraging future empirical research.