PRIVATE HIGHER EDUCATION IN SOUTH AFRICA

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CHAPTER 4 RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS

“Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and to think what nobody else have thought” (Szent-Gyorgyi, n.d.)

INTRODUCTION

In the previous chapter, the literature concerning quality, service quality and TQS as the departure point for the development of a TQS framework was reviewed. In addition, this research was anchored in the organisational realities of PHEIs in South Africa as portrayed in Chapter 2.
Chapter 4 describes and defines research and its purpose as well as the research scope, including the primary objectives, secondary objectives and significance of this research study. The compelling case for the selection of the target population is explained and it also justifies the research paradigm and argument, as well as the methodologies and techniques adopted for this study. In this study, the research design incorporated the integration of both qualitative and quantitative data. Therefore, a mixed method research design, more specifically an exploratory sequential mixed methods research design was followed.
The chapter continues by explaining the mixed methods design in terms of its strengths and challenges, rationale, sequential phases, data emphasis and integration. It also elucidates the two stages (qualitative Stage 1 and quantitative Stage 2) by focussing on the sampling procedure, data collection, data analysis and the validity and reliability of the data for each stage. Attention is also given to the procedures pursued in seeking informed consent of the participants. This is followed by an explanation of the instrument development process as an intermediate stage between the quantitative and qualitative stages. The remainder of this chapter focusses on the limitations and delimitations of the study, and the chapter concludes with a discussion on research ethics.
The main themes of this chapter are depicted in Figure 4.1 belo

DEFINING RESEARCH AND ITS PURPOSE

Walliman (2011) explains that the term ‘research’ is used incorrectly when just collecting information with no clear purpose, or reordering facts or information without interpretation, or when referring to an activity with little or no relevance to everyday life. Thus, to understand the true meaning of ‘research’, it is essential to reflect on some of its characteristics. First, in research, data are collected systematically. Second, data are interpreted systematically. Third, the purpose of research is clear, namely to find things out (Saunders et al., 2016). The research process therefore comprises several activities or steps and is “a systematic process of collecting, analysing, and interpreting information– data – in order to increase our understanding of a phenomena about which we are interested or concerned” (Leedy & Ormrod, 2015:20). More specifically, according to Cooper and Schindler (2014), business research is the process of planning, obtaining and disseminating relevant information in order to take appropriate action, which in turn, will maximise organisational performance. Business research follows the standards of the scientific method namely systematic and empirically based procedures for producing research that is replicable. The characteristics of the scientific method include a clearly defined purpose, a planned and detailed research process, high ethical standards, the reporting of limitations and findings that are presented unambiguously (Cooper & Schindler, 2014). A more simplistic explanation of research is provided by Salkind (2012:3), who says, “research is a process through which new knowledge is discovered”. He further contends that high-quality research is based on the work of others, can be replicated, is generalisable, is logical and tied to a theory and is undertaken for the betterment of society.
The aim of research is to find things. Based on this fact, research can be classified in three broad groups, namely exploratory studies, descriptive studies or explanatory studies (Saunders et al., 2016). Exploratory studies are valuable in order to discover what is happening, to gain insight into an interesting topic and to assist in the understanding of a problem or phenomenon. Although both qualitative and quantitative methods are applicable, research is usually conducted through literature searches, in-depth interviews with experts on the subject or focus group interviews. Descriptive studies try to find answers to the questions ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘when’ and ‘how’ and aim to gain an accurate profile of events, persons or situations. This type of study could be an extension of a piece of exploratory research, or a forerunner to such research. The third classification, explanatory research, attempts to explain the reasons for the phenomenon, which the descriptive study only observed, and studies the relationships between two or more variables (Cooper & Schindler, 2014; Saunders et al., 2016). The current study followed the exploratory approach.
Research can further be differentiated according to the chosen research strategy. According to Saunders et al. (2016), a research strategy is the general plan of how to answer the research question (or meet the research objectives). Research strategies can range from a so-called qualitative approach to a quantitative approach, as well as a mixed methods approach. These can be done in sequence or combined. The research strategy selected is dependent upon the nature and type of the problem, the nature and availability of data, and the researcher’s control over actual events (Pellissier, 2007).
The following section describes the research scope of the current study

RESEARCH SCOPE

The research scope summarises the focus of the study by describing the research problem, primary and secondary objectives as well as the significance of the research. The compelling case for the identified target population selected for inclusion in the current research will also be explained. The motivation for the research originated from the researcher’s experience and interest in service quality improvement in PHE. As indicated in Chapters 1 and 2, both practitioners and academics have recommended further research on the development of industry-specific frameworks and models to improve service quality, especially in public and private HE. The research scope determines the research design and methods, and this will be described in the remainder of this chapter. The purpose of the study is discussed next

Primary objective

Service quality is a challenge for any enterprise, but it is of particular concern for PHEIs and one of their key challenges due to the increasingly competitive, marketing-oriented and highly regulated environment. In this environment, these institutions have to function, survive and compete, not only with one another, but also with public institutions of HE; hence, the problem – competition is on the increase and PHEIs need to find new ways to compete if they wish to survive in this dynamic service industry environment. Further to this, PHEIs focus on service quality at a strategic level but not necessarily on structure or a service quality management system. As a result, the problem is the lack of a scientifically sound and holistic system to manage, improve and maintain service quality by means of a broad TQS framework. The need to develop a TQS framework for implementation and application could therefore be the differentiating factor for success.
The primary purpose of this study was to address the problem regarding service quality in PHE by developing an industry-specific TQS framework (as a potential basis for an established TQS model) for PHEIs in South Africa. The framework (as a tool) will contribute to the need to manage service quality of PHEIs on a holistic and strategic basis

Secondary objectives

The following secondary objectives were formulated in support of the primary objective:
to provide a conceptual analysis of TQS within the context of organisational theory;
to identify broad TQS dimensions based on a literature study to be incorporated in a conceptual framework for TQS in PHEIs in South Africa;
to analyse PHEI stakeholders’ perceptions of service quality and service quality dimensions;
to make a significant contribution to PHE literature and sustainability in South Africa; and
to make a significant contribution to service quality for all stakeholders of PHEIs

Significance of the research

With regard to the primary and secondary objectives, the significance of this research study was twofold. Firstly, the research foresaw filling the areas that had not been addressed by literature. As such, this research study was a pioneering effort in the development of a TQS framework for PHEIs in South Africa. Secondly, the research envisioned adding to the current paucity of literature on PHE in South Africa. To date, the PHE sector has received little attention nationally. Bezuidenhout and De Jager (2014) confirm the notion of a very limited body of knowledge regarding PHEIs in South Africa. Dirkse van Schalkwyk and Steenkamp (2014a) support the statement by Bezuidenhout and De Jager (2014) and declare that research on PHEIs in South Africa is extremely limited. Finally, it is envisaged that the entire study with the TQS framework at the core will contribute to service quality and the eventual sustainability of PHEIs

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Target population

As indicated in Chapter 2, there are currently 125 registered PHEIs in South Africa (Department of Higher Education and Training [DHET], 2017c). Of the 125 institutions, 16 offer up to a master’s degree of whom 12 can be classified as business schools (of the others, three are theological colleges and one an arts college) and only four up to a PhD (two of whom are theological colleges). Six institutes were purposively selected for this study to represent the target population. According to Saunders et al. (2016), a researcher may redefine the population as something more manageable. This is called the target population, and is often a subset of the population, which is the focus of the research study.
The selected institutes can be equated with private universities (offering up to master’s and doctoral degrees). However, legislation in South Africa prohibits PHEIs to call themselves universities. The compelling case for the inclusion of the selected six PHEIs (with 13 campuses or PHEI sites) in this research study were the following:
South Africa’s leading PHEIs have committed to improving the quality and positioning of the sector in the country by formalising a PHE association. For the purpose of this research study and to protect the anonymity of the PHEIs, this association will be referred to as the “Private higher education quality association”
(PHEQA). The PHEQA was formed based on the need for a unified voice on the quality alternatives that PHE could offer students, society and the South African economy. The aims of the PHEQA are to:
− build trust in and awareness of the PHE sector;
− increase access to HE; and most importantly; and
− to ensure that its members deliver on quality and relevance promises. The six PHEIs selected for this research study were the founding members of the PHEQA (since 2017, more PHEIs have joined the association).
The directors of the six PHEIs welcomed this study and were convinced that it would add value in the long term to the PHE industry in South Africa. Furthermore, the PHEQA provided access and support for such a comprehensive study, such as making available lists with names and contact details (sampling frame) of all possible participants for inclusion in the research study.
The student profile of the six PHEIs was aligned with other PHEIs (second language, mostly previously disadvantaged students).
The six PHEIs have a national footprint in South Africa (concentrated in Gauteng, the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal as depicted in Figure 2.5) as well as one delivery site in Windhoek, Namibia.
At the time of this research, the six PHEIs had a large number of students and lecturers in excess of 8 000.
All of these institutions offer qualifications up to a master’s degree (one institute also offers a PhD while four are in the process of developing PhDs).
The six selected leading institutions boasted business-oriented strategies with entrepreneurial university cultures.
At the time of this study, two of the institutes were part of international education groups with PHEIs in the Americas, Europe, Middle East and Africa, Asia Pacific and South Asia. In addition, a third institute was part of a JSE-listed company.
All six selected PHEIs were registered with the DHET and their programmes were accredited by the CHE.
The research approach and design that were applied in this research study are discussed in the next sectioN

RESEARCH APPROACH AND DESIGN

According to Leedy and Ormrod (2015), a research design offers the structure or plan used to collect and analyse data. In addition, Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill (2016) assert that the research design is the general plan for the research. It contains clear objectives, states the reasons for the selection of a particular organisation or department for the research, identifies the sources from which data will be collected, and explains the research constraints and ethical issues.
With reference to the research problem, the PHE sector in the service industry was chosen and focussed on in order to have a high level of internal validity. The PHE sector in South Africa was chosen due to general service quality challenges in HE and the fact that service quality is perceived as essential for sustainability and gaining a competitive edge in this ever-evolving environment. Furthermore, service quality plays an important role in high-involvement industries where there is high interaction between customers and the service provider (Sureshchandar et al., 2001b). The PHE sector in South Africa is large enough to represent all the critical dimensions of TQS. Although the framework could possibly be applied to the service sector as a whole, it was designed specifically to address TQS in the PHE sector in South Africa

Research paradigm

The broad approach, frame of reference and body of thought are fundamental to the research process followed. According to Ponterotto (2005) and Saunders et al. (2016), ‘research philosophy’ and ‘research paradigm’ are broad terms referring to a viewpoint of the development of knowledge and the nature of that knowledge. The research philosophy that the researcher follows contains vital assumptions about his or her view of the world. These assumptions reinforce the research strategy, tools, instruments and methods used in a study. In addition, Morgan (2007) highlights the terms ‘worldviews’ and ‘shared understandings of reality’ as synonyms for paradigms, and he defines a paradigm as a system of beliefs that influences the methods of research and interpretation of the evidence collected. The current study was grounded within the pragmatic philosophical assumption or research paradigm. Creswell (2014:294) defines pragmatism as:
[A] worldview or philosophy arises out of actions, situations, and consequences rather than antecedent conditions (as in post-positivism). There is a concern with applications – what works – and solutions to problems. Instead of focusing on methods, researchers emphasize the research problem and use all approaches available to understand it.”
Pragmatism originated in the late nineteenth to early twentieth century from the work of historical figures such as Peirce, James, Mead and Dewey to contemporaries such as Murphy (1990), Patton (1990) and Rorty (1990). Pragmatism as a worldview is concerned with applications and solutions to problems. It is angled toward ‘what works’. Multiple methods or pluralistic approaches are often highly possible and appropriate within one study, but one single point of view can never give the entire picture and multiple realities may exist (Creswell, 2014; Saunders et al., 2016). The researcher emphasises the problem and uses all available approaches to understand the problem; thus, supporting the mixed method approach adopted in this study (see section 4.4.2). According to Creswell (2014:39–40), the pragmatic worldview offers the following philosophical foundations for research:
“Pragmatism is not committed to any one system of philosophy and reality. This applies to mixed methods research in that inquirers draw liberally from both quantitative and qualitative assumptions when they engage in their research.
Individual researchers have a freedom of choice. In this way, researchers are free to choose the methods, techniques, and procedures of research that best meet their needs and purposes.
Pragmatists do not see the world as an absolute unity. In a similar way, mixed methods researchers look to many approaches for collecting and analyzing data rather than subscribing to only one way (e.g., quantitative or qualitative).
Thus, for the mixed methods researcher, pragmatism opens the door to multiple methods, different worldviews, and different assumptions, as well as different forms of data collection and analysis.”
Pragmatism is therefore a philosophical belief that the truth or value of a theory (e.g.
TQS) depends on its practical value

Research arguments

In research, there are two contrasting approaches or arguments that can be adopted, namely induction and deduction. The inductive approach involves the development of theory based on the observation of a specific event or empirical data (Saunders et al., 2016). In the current study, a deductive process was followed, which is “a form of argument that purports to be conclusive – the conclusion must necessarily flow from the reasons given. These reasons are said to imply the conclusion and represent a proof” (Cooper & Schindler, 2014:66). In order for deduction to be correct, it must be true and valid. The reasons for the conclusion must therefore be true and the conclusion must flow from the reasons. Supporting this, Saunders et al. (2016) assert that in the deductive approach, literature is used to identify ideas or theories that will be tested by means of data. Hence, a theoretical framework can be developed and tested with data. Saunders et al. (2016) add that deduction has several significant characteristics:
it is the search to explain causal relationships between variables;
a highly structured methodology is followed to facilitate replication;
quantitative (and/or qualitative) data are collected;
the researcher is independent of the study; and
the concepts need to be operationalised so that the facts can be measured quantitatively

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Methodologies and techniques

A variety of research methods are available to address problems. As mentioned in the previous section, Creswell (2014) identifies pragmatism as the paradigm for mixed methods research. The mixed method approach selected for this study was therefore in line with the research design in terms of the pragmatic paradigm, adopting a highly structured approach using qualitative and quantitative methods. Saunders et al. (2016) refer to qualitative data as facts expressed through words whereas quantitative data is based on meanings derived from numbers. Similarly, Leedy and Ormrod (2015) on their part argue that qualitative data involve the in-depth analysis of a phenomenon and cannot easily be reduced to numbers. In contrast, quantitative data are information that is expressed in numbers. The overall methodology is replicable and the vigorous process to obtain quantifiable observations leads to a very specific deductive process in developing a TQS framework.
This study therefore followed a mixed methods (quantitative and qualitative) research approach because it involved collecting, analysing and interpreting both qualitative and quantitative data and assimilating conclusions from the data (Leedy & Ormrod, 2015; Saunders et al., 2016). The reasons for choosing a mixed methods approach was in line with the suggestions by Leedy and Ormrod (2015):
(1) Triangulation: a more convincing and valid case can be made for conclusions based on both quantitative and qualitative data.
(2) Completeness: a research problem can be addressed fully only when both quantitative and qualitative data are collected and analysed.
(3) Complementary: the quantitative phase of the research project can compensate for weaknesses in the qualitative phase of the research project.
(4) Development of appropriate research tools: the interviews in the qualitative phase can guide the setting of questions for the quantitative survey.
Furthermore, Creswell (2014) is of the opinion that, at a general level, the strength of a mixed method study is greater than either a single quantitative or a qualitative approach and it minimises the limitations of both approaches. At a practical level, it is ideal for researchers who have access to both qualitative and quantitative data. In addition, Leedy and Ormrod (2015) argue that a mixed method design might produce a more significant contribution to the field of research than a limited investigation could possibly do. Moreover, Saunders et al. (2016) mention that the use of mixed methods may enhance the credibility of a study and produce more complete knowledge leading to greater confidence in the conclusions. Creswell (2014) warns that, despite the strengths attributed to the mixed methods research design, it is a complex and time-intensive design requiring extensive data collection and analysis of both qualitative and be presented to explain the details and flow of research activities (see Figure 4.2).
There are different schools of thought or approaches relating to mixed methods research. One such an approach is proposed by Plowright (2011). This approach completely rejects the traditional separation between the terms ‘qualitative’ and ‘quantitative’ and refers to ‘narrative’ and ‘numerical’ data. It proposes a fresh view of what data are and how it can be used. Reference is made to the application of an integrated methodological approach known as ‘Frameworks for Integrated Methodology’ or FraIM. This approach also proposes a radical alternative in that the research philosophy does not determine the methodology applied, but rather that the methodology determines the philosophy employed. According to Plowright (2011), this is a ‘liberating’ approach that frees the researcher from past constraints, and paves the way for future research. Bearing in mind Plowright’s integrated methodology (see Plowright, 2011), the more traditional and accepted mixed methods approach, specifically the exploratory sequential mixed method design as proposed by Creswell (2014), was selected for this study.
There are numerous ways in which quantitative and qualitative methods can be combined. As indicated, the exploratory sequential mixed method design was applied in this study and comprised two stages. The first stage used qualitative methods and the second stage, quantitative methods. Qualitative data provide a foundation for a more structured quantitative study (Leedy & Ormrod, 2015). Similarly, Creswell (2011) refers to this type of mixed method design as the exploratory sequential design. First, the topic is explored quantitatively followed by building a quantitative phase. In many cases, an instrument is developed between the phases that are used for data collection in the second, quantitative phase. Hence, this design has also been referred to as the instrument development design and the quantitative follow-up design (see Creswell, 2011). The purpose of the exploratory design is to generalise the qualitative findings of a few respondents (Stage 1) to a larger sample in the second, quantitative stage. The exploratory sequential mixed method design followed in this study is discussed in more detail in section 4.5.
Two basic research methods have developed over the last 100 years, namely the longitudinal and cross-sectional methods (Salkind, 2012). The longitudinal method studies a single group of people over a certain period, whereas the cross-sectional method examines several groups of people at one point in time (i.e. in the form of a ‘snapshot’) (Cooper & Schindler, 2014; Leedy & Ormrod, 2015; Salkind, 2012; Saunders et al., 2016). Table 4.1 indicates the advantages and disadvantages of the cross-sectional method

TABLE OF CONTENTS
PAGE
DECLARATION
ABSTRACT
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
DEDICATION
TABLE OF CONTENTS
LIST OF TABLES
LIST OF FIGURES
LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS AND ACRONYMS
CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION – OVERVIEW OF THE PROJECT PLAN
1.1 INTRODUCTION
1.2 BACKGROUND
1.3 PROBLEM STATEMENT
1.4 RESEARCH OBJECTIVES
1.5 RESEARCH FRAMEWORK
1.6 RESEARCH APPROACH AND DESIGN
1.7 EXPLORATORY SEQUENTIAL MIXED METHODS RESEARCH DESIGN
1.8 DELIMITATIONS
1.9 RESEARCH ETHICS
1.10 PROJECT PLAN AND PROCESS
1.11 CHAPTER OUTLINE
1.12 CHAPTER CONCLUSION
CHAPTER 2 PRIVATE HIGHER EDUCATION IN SOUTH AFRICA
2.1 INTRODUCTION
2.2 HIGHER EDUCATION IN SOUTH AFRICA
2.3 PRIVATE HIGHER EDUCATION IN SELECTED COUNTRIES
2.4 PRIVATE HIGHER EDUCATION IN SOUTH AFRICA
2.5 CHAPTER CONCLUSION
CHAPTER 3 SERVICE QUALITY MANAGEMENT
3.1 INTRODUCTION
3.2 QUALITY AND QUALITY MANAGEMENT
3.3 SERVICE QUALITY
3.4 TOTAL QUALITY SERVICE
3.5 A THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK FOR TQS FOR PHEIs IN SOUTH AFRICA
3.6 CHAPTER CONCLUSION
CHAPTER 4 RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS
4.1 INTRODUCTION
4.2 DEFINING RESEARCH AND ITS PURPOSE
4.3 RESEARCH SCOPE
4.4 RESEARCH APPROACH AND DESIGN
4.5 EXPLORATORY SEQUENTIAL MIXED METHODS RESEARCH DESIGN
4.6 OUTLINE OF THE RESEARCH PROCESS
4.7 STAGE 1: QUALITATIVE RESEARCH
4.8 INTERMEDIATE STAGE: INSTRUMENT DEVELOPMENT
4.9 STAGE 2: QUANTITATIVE RESEARCH
4.10 LIMITATIONS
4.11 DELIMITATIONS
4.12 RESEARCH ETHICS
4.13 CHAPTER CONCLUSION
CHAPTER 5 ANALYSIS OF QUALITATIVE FINDINGS (STAGE 1)
5.1 INTRODUCTION
5.2 DESCRIPTION OF THE DEMOGRAPHIC PROFILE OF THE PARTICIPANTS, FIELDWORK AND DATA ANALYSIS
5.3 DESCRIPTION OF THE FINDINGS
5.4 FINALISATION OF INSTRUMENT DEVELOPMENT
5.5 CHAPTER CONCLUSION
CHAPTER 6 STAGE 2 – QUANTITATIVE RESULTS
6.1 INTRODUCTION
6.2 BIOGRAPHIC AND DEMOGRAPHIC DATA
6.3 CROSS-TABULATIONS
6.4 EXPLORATORY FACTOR ANALYSIS (EFA) APPROACH
6.5 CONFIRMATORY FACTOR ANALYSIS (CFA) APPROACH
6.6 OPEN-ENDED QUESTION ANALYSIS
6.7 CHAPTER CONCLUSION
CHAPTER 7 TOTAL QUALITY SERVICE FRAMEWORK FOR PRIVATE HIGHER EDUCATION INSTITUTIONS: CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
7.1 INTRODUCTION
7.2 RESEARCH OBJECTIVES
7.3 SYNTHESIS OF THE FINDINGS AND RESULTS
7.4 RESEARCH CONTRIBUTIONS
7.5 RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH
7.6 CONCLUSION
REFERENCES
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