Drivers to undergraduate students's perceived acquisition of agricultural practical skills through field attachment : The case of Gulu University
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Universities through field attachment play a leading role in developing graduates’ practical skill competencies especially in the field of agriculture. Several studies however, have observed the persistent mismatch between graduates’ skill competences possessed and the skills demanded in the labor market. This has continuously pushed Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to review and design effective evidence-based field attachment programs that address the disparities in students’ acquisition of skill competencies before they join the job market. As such, the direct and intervening mechanisms which facilitate students’ acquisition of soft and hard skills through field attachment need to be understood especially in the field of agriculture. The study sought: i) to establish the extent to which students perceived themselves to have acquired crop and livestock husbandry practical skills trained during field attachment; ii) to determine the factors that directly influenced students‘ acquisitions of crop and livestock related practical skills during field attachment; iii) to establish the COM-B factors that mediated between pre-placement preparation strategies and students‘ practical skills acquisitions field attachment. Using a cross-sectional study of 140 randomly selected Gulu University agricultural undergraduate alumni, data was collected on pre-placement preparation strategies, students’ pre-placement capabilities, placement opportunities, students’ perceived motivations, and their self-perceived gains in crop and livestock husbandry practical skills. Methodologically, the process involved principal component analysis (PCA); paired t-tests; and a bootstrapping-based procedure of the structural equation modeling (SEM). The paired t-tests results on the level of skills before and after the field attachment revealed that field attachment significantly (p<0.001) enhanced skill acquisitions for all crop and livestock husbandry related skills categories. SEM results revealed ‘perceived opportunities in placement context’, ‘students’ pre-placement capabilities’ and their ‘self-perceived motivation’ respectively significantly (p=0.001) enhanced students’ overall acquisition of crop and animal husbandry practical skills. Mediation path analysis showed that both ‘perceived opportunities in placement context’ and ‘students’ motivation’ significantly mediated pre-placement preparation strategies to students’ acquisition of crop and livestock husbandry practical skills. Future research and action by the University are highlighted to enable enhanced skills acquisition from field attachment.