THE CONSTRUCTS OF HIGHER EDUCATION SERVICE QUALITY

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CHAPTER THREE MODEL DEVELOPMENT FOR HIGHER EDUCATION SERVICE QUALITY

INTRODUCTION

As it is stated in chapter one, the second major purpose of this study is developing a model that could serve to understand service quality in the context of HE in general and in Ethiopian HE in particular. Although the study emphasises the Ethiopian HE, this chapter deals with the development of a structural model on the basis of literature and from a general point of view. The model portrays the direct and indirect hypothetical causal relations (1) between perceived service quality dimensions and other three service quality constructs and their respective dimensions, (2) between student characteristics and service quality constructs and (3) among the service quality constructs. Such an analytically constructed structural model is believed to theoretically verify the conceptual framework of the study. The conceptual framework describes higher education service quality as the process of service provision that not only meets the expected level of performance but also results in perceived gain, satisfaction and loyalty to the institution.
This chapter analytically determines the general service quality model that would help to explain service quality in the context of HE from a general perspective. Specifically, it strives to address the following sub-research questions theoretically:
RQ4.1: Does perceived service quality have a direct effect on satisfaction, perceived gain and loyalty?
RQ4.2: Does perceived service quality have an effect on loyalty mediated by satisfaction and perceived gain?
RQ4.3: Does satisfaction have a direct effect on loyalty?
RQ4.4: Does perceived gain have a direct effect on satisfaction and loyalty?
RQ4.5: Does perceived gain have an effect on loyalty mediated by satisfaction?
RQ4.6: Do demographic and non-demographic student characteristics have an effect (direct and indirect) on perceived service quality, satisfaction, perceived gain, and loyalty?
The theoretical answers to the above sub-research questions help to formulate a hypothesized structural model at a general level. The hypothesized model shows the analytically established causal relationship among the variables and constructs in the model.
Ensuring the fitness of the analytically established structural model to the context of EPHE is an overarching research question identified as RQ4. It embraces all the above sub-research questions and needs to be answered empirically in chapter five. The empirical answers to the above sub-research questions will enable the researcher to verify the hypothesized relationships among the variables and constructs. The empirical evidence specifies the magnitude that the dependent variable (both latent and observed) in the hypothesized structural model is accounted for by the independent variables. Examining the structural model invariance between different groups of students is another aspect of the model fit test. Research question RQ4.7 that states “Do two or more groups differ in their regression coefficients of the paths in the structural model?” addresses the structural model invariance test in chapter five.
Chapter three, thus, first addresses the effect of perceived service quality dimensions on satisfaction, perceived gains and loyalty and their respective dimensions (section 3.2). It then proceeds to look into the direct link between perceived service quality and its extensions (section 3.3), the relationship between perceived gains and satisfaction (section 3.4), satisfaction and perceived gains as precursors to loyalty (section 3.5), and the relationship between perceived service quality and loyalty mediated through satisfaction and perceived gains (section 3.6). Section 3.7 briefly discusses the effects of students’ characteristics on perceived quality, satisfaction, perceived gains and loyalty. Finally, section 3.8 concludes the discussion by presenting an analytically generated structural model of service quality within the HE context.

THE EFFECT OF PERCEIVED SERVICE QUALITY DIMENSIONS ON SATISFACTION, PERCEIVED GAINS AND LOYALTY

In chapter two an extensive review of literature was made to identify the dimensions used to measure perceived quality in HE. In this section, the discussion is extended to the effects of perceived service quality dimensions on the other service quality constructs and their dimensions. In this regard, different researchers have examined the possible effects of service quality dimensions on satisfaction, perceived gains, and loyalty. For instance, Marzo-Navarro et al. (2005) identified three dimensions of perceived service quality, i.e., the competence of teaching staff, efficient enrolment, and course organisation as determinants of overall satisfaction. Douglas et al. (2006) also measured student satisfaction in a UK university and reported that teaching and learning related factors are associated more with students’ satisfaction than the physical facilities. Douglas et al. (2008), as well, conceptualized satisfaction as positive (satisfiers) and negative (dissatisfiers) experiences with academic and support services and identified motivation, functionality, friendliness and socialization as satisfiers; responsiveness, communication and access as criticals; and attitude, management and tangibles as dissatisfiers.
The empirical findings of De Shields et al. (2005) also show that the students’ college experience has a direct and positive relation with satisfaction. Their findings also indicated that the faculty and class variables determined satisfaction indirectly mediated through the college experience. On the contrary, factors related to advising staff had no significant relation with the student experience and did not contribute to satisfaction. Butt and Rehman (2010) on their part investigated the determinants of student satisfaction and studied the respective influence of each determinant on the level of satisfaction in the higher education context. Their findings revealed that all the variables identified as determinants had a significant positive relation with satisfaction but their relative influence on the level of satisfaction varied. According to Butt and Rehman, teachers’ expertise is the most influential factor in the students’ satisfaction, whereas courses offered and learning environment are the next important factors. Classroom facility is the least important factor among all the variables. Finally, the researchers concluded that teachers’ expertise, courses offered and learning environment enhance students’ satisfaction in higher education.
Other studies examined the effect of perceived service quality dimensions on both satisfaction and loyalty. The work of Marzo-Navarro, Pedraja-Lglesias and Rivera-Torres (2005) is an example of such studies. The purpose of the research was to identify perceived service quality dimensions that have an impact on the satisfaction of students and loyalty – an intention to recommend the attended courses to others. The findings confirmed that teaching quality, enrolment efficiency, and course organisation have a direct impact on student satisfaction and an indirect impact on loyalty – mediated through satisfaction.
Similarly, Gbadamosi and De Jager (2008) first identified perceived service quality dimensions in higher education and examined the dimensions’ relationship with an intention to leave the university- disloyalty and overall satisfaction with the university. Of the dimensions identified, the researchers reported that internationalization, access and approachableness of services; being student focused, marketing and support; international student and staff; academic quality, and sports reputation and facilities were strongly but negatively correlated with intention to leave (disloyalty). On the other hand, the students’ overall satisfaction with the university was found to be an important correlate of academic quality, living arrangement (accommodation), and transport (location and logistics). Douglas and McClelland (2008) on their part reported that from 22 dimensions of perceived service quality in HE, only responsiveness, motivation, communication and usefulness from the teaching learning and assessment services; and responsiveness, access, friendliness and socialization from the support services are found to be important determinants of student satisfaction and loyalty.
Many other researchers have also identified HE experiences or service dimensions that have direct and indirect effects on perceived learning gains. For instance, the work of Abrantes, Seabra and Lages (2007) reveals that students’ interest in the courses, their positive feeling about the pedagogies employed and learning performance contributed directly to their perceived gains. On the other hand, factors like student-instructor interaction, instructor’s responsiveness, course organisation, and instructor’s likeability have an indirect but strong influence on perceived gains. Based on their findings the researchers concluded that “. . . instructors’ personal qualities and teaching characteristics (i.e., responsiveness, likeability, and instructional methods) strongly influence perceived learning [or gain].” (p. 963). This finding clearly shows that some of the service quality dimensions such as competence, courtesy, responsiveness, and empathy can determine the students’ perceived gain.
Pascarella et al. (2004) also confirmed that both academic and non-academic experiences in HE contributed to students’ learning gain despite the variations observed among students coming from the different family backgrounds. Pascarella et al. further recommended that higher education should provide students access to academic and non-academic experiences to facilitate their development and growth. Similarly, Li et al. (1999) studied the effects of students’ abilities at enrolment, quality of teaching, quality of curriculum, quality of advising and quality of lower division courses, and gender on the self-perceived gain (in critical thinking and communication skills). Their findings revealed that all the factors except the quality of lower division courses and gender affected self-perceived gain indirectly – mediated through academic integration and social integration. On the other hand, the quality of lower division courses, gender, and the mediating variables were found to have a direct effect on self-perceived gain. The researchers empirically confirmed that the factors considered in their model accounted for 13.5% and 25.3% of the variance in self-perceived gain. This finding implies that the dimensions of academic service quality and student characteristics have the potential to directly or indirectly determine the students’ perceived gain and its dimensions.
In sum, the discussions made so far clearly indicate that perceived academic and support service quality dimensions have some connections to satisfaction, perceived gain, and loyalty. The connections also extend to the dimensions of the respective constructs. These theoretical and empirical analyses partly verify the proposed framework of the study.

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DIRECT LINKS BETWEEN PERCEIVED SERVICE QUALITY AND ITS EXTENSIONS

This section examines the direct link between perceived service quality and its subsequent outcomes – perceived gains, satisfaction, and loyalty. Following the logical arrangement of variables in the proposed framework in chapter one, the discussion starts with the link between perceived service quality and satisfaction and proceeds to the links between perceived service quality and perceived gains and then to the link between perceived service quality and loyalty.

Perceived service quality and satisfaction

The efforts made to examine the link between perceived service quality and satisfaction are more abundant in the business and industrial contexts than in higher education. The studies conducted in the business context have shown almost consistent results that perceived service quality has a direct positive relationship with customers’ satisfaction. For instance, Johnson, Anderson and Fornell (1995) have developed and tested the structural validity of an alternative model that consisted of market-level expectations, perceived product performance, and customer cumulative satisfaction variables. From the results of their study, they concluded that perceived service quality positively influences customers’ overall satisfaction. Chang and Annaraud (2008) also examined the level of service quality and customer satisfaction in the context of a chain steakhouse in Taiwan. Their findings revealed that perceived service quality is one factor that has a direct positive relationship with customer’s satisfaction. Similarly, Anderson and Sullivan (1993) analytically developed a model that shows the antecedents and sub-sequences of satisfaction and then tested empirically in an industrial context. In the model, they included product expectation, product perception, and disconfirmation (the gap between perception and expectation – perceived product quality) as precursors of satisfaction. Their empirical evidence confirmed that perceived product quality positively influenced customers’ satisfaction.
The works of Loke, Taiwo, Salim and Downe (2011) corroborate the above findings. They examined the impact of perceived service quality dimensions on customer satisfaction in the context of telecommunication service and found a significant positive relationship between perceived service quality and customer satisfaction except in the area of tangibility. This finding implies that reliability, responsiveness, assurance and empathy have more significant and positive influence on customers’ satisfaction than the physical aspects of a service do.
There are, however, few studies conducted to examine the relationship between perceived service quality and satisfaction in the context of higher education. These studies usually extend the examination of links to perceived gains, loyalty and other related variables. Although these works demonstrate links with more variables, this section focuses only on the discussion of the link between perceived quality and satisfaction. The work of Duque and Weeks (2010) is among such studies. They first developed a conceptual model analytically for assessing undergraduate students’ learning outcomes (gains) and satisfaction. The model specifies academic quality, support service quality and student involvement as independent variables and learning outcomes/gains (cognitive and affective) and overall satisfaction as dependent variables. Then the researchers empirically tested seven hypothetical relationships between these variables taking different programmes into account and the results revealed that four out of the seven hypothesized relationships were significant in all the estimations, i.e., academic quality on satisfaction, support service quality on cognitive outcomes, student involvement on cognitive outcomes and cognitive outcomes on affective outcomes. Two out of seven relationships were significant in two estimations: educational quality on cognitive outcomes for geography and nursing students and cognitive outcomes on satisfaction for business administration and nursing students. Finally, the relationship of support service quality on satisfaction was significant only for the geography students. These findings imply that perceived service quality (academic and support) has a direct positive influence on both satisfaction and perceived gains despite some variations among the programmes studied.
Hartman and Schmidt (1995) considered alumni as participants of the study and found that both the perceived quality of the service provider’s performance and the perceived outcomes (gains) of performance influenced the alumni’s assessments of satisfaction with higher education. Although studies in the context of higher education are few, the existing findings have shown a strong positive relationship between perceived service quality and satisfaction (Petruzzellis, D’Uggento, & Romanazzi, 2006). Despite the observed consistencies in the relationships among the constructs, there exist some discrepancies among the studies with respect to the attributes used to measure perceived service quality, satisfaction, and perceived gains. This reality dictates the need to consider context relevant attributes of the service quality constructs in the examination of the relationships among constructs – a concern that will be addressed in chapter five.

Perceived service quality and perceived gains

The relationship between perceived quality and perceived gain is another area of interest in this study. Studies carried out to explore the relationship between these two variables are scarce. Some are available in the literature of student engagement and others in studies related to the effect of colleges on student learning and development. Findings in such studies show the likelihood of having a two-way relation between perceived service quality and perceived gain. For instance, the work of Wawrzynski, and Jessup-Anger (2010) indicates a direct link that goes from perceived gain to perceived quality. According to these researchers, students’ perception of university service quality is a result of their expectation and gain from campus experiences.
On the other hand, there is a considerable amount of empirical evidence about the link that goes from perceived service quality to perceived gain. The works of Tam (2004, 2007) are cases in point. According to Tam (2004), students’ involvement in different university experiences, as well as their interaction with the institutional environment, predicted outcomes or gain in a range of cognitive and affective attributes. Specifically, she claims that the quality of student involvement in the university activities was the most important determinant of self-reported gain.
Empirically, Tam (2004) found that students’ involvement in campus residential activities was positively related to the personal development gain (r = 0.34). Course learning experience was also found to be related to the general educational gain (r = 0.41) as well as intellectual gain (r=0.44). Her findings also confirmed that students’ experience with lecturers was significantly related to all aspects of gain and particularly to general educational development. Students’ involvement in campus residential activities was significantly related to the personal development gain (r = 0.34).
Tam (2004) has also compared the residential group and the non-residential group of students. The result generally indicated that students staying on campus reported more gain in all aspects of growth, particularly in personal development, than those staying off campus. The finding echoes the fact that development fosters when students feel part of a community that engages members in meaningful interactions with each other.
On the basis of her findings, Tam (2004) claims that university years are a time of student transformation in many aspects because students have reported gain not only in subject knowledge and in a range of cognitive and intellectual skills but also development in a broad array of value, attitudinal, psychosocial, and moral dimensions. As a result of their time and experience on campus, students have undergone changes and development, and have their lives enriched not just through intellectual stimulation but also socially, emotionally and culturally. Finally, Tam recommended that university managers and teachers need to shape the educational and interpersonal experiences and settings of their campus in ways that will promote learning. They also need to persuade students to become involved in their university activities as well as to exploit the various university settings and opportunities to their fullest. Tam advocates the importance of orienting institutional policies and practices towards developing a climate that promotes students’ active participation in their own university.
With the belief that university experiences are important contributors to students’ gain and satisfaction, Tam (2007) examined students engagement in academic and support services/activities (library, course learning, lecturers, clubs and organisations, computers, campus residence, and conversations) and their relationships with perceived gain and satisfaction. Her analysis shows that engagements in these activities, which are aspects of perceived service quality, have modest relationships with both perceived gain and satisfaction. This result confirms the claim that perceived service quality is directly linked to perceived gain and satisfaction.
Miller, Rycek and Fritson (2011) also reviewed the works of different researchers and concluded that good educational practices have strong links to post-occupational status and income, growth in leadership and job-related skills, development of critical thinking skills and other cognitive measures, openness to diversity and challenge. In other words, Miller et al. suggested that educational service can be perceived as quality as long as students have gained something relevant to their cognitive, professional, emotional, social and personal developments. On the basis of their literature review, Miller et al. further identified some practices that contribute to the different student gains. These include: (a) student-faculty contact, (b) cooperation among students, (c) active learning, (d) prompt feedback to students, (e) time on task, (f) high expectations and (g) respect for student and knowledge diversity, (h) quality of teaching received, (i) influential interactions with other students in non-course related activities and (j) a supportive campus environment.
These practices are some amongst the many attributes of perceived service quality discussed in chapter two and the analysis provides evidence that students who are engaged in such practices are likely to gain a lot. Strengthening the results of studies reviewed in this section, Duque and Weeks (2010) suggested that perceived service quality (academic and support) has a direct positive influence on perceived gain. On the basis of this argument, it seems possible to conclude that engaging students in purposeful educational and other campus experiences will result in highly perceived service quality and highly valued learning outcomes or gain.
Similarly, Zhao and Kuh (2004) operationally defined a learning community as a formal programme where groups of students take two or more classes together and they studied whether participation in a learning community is linked with student success, engagement in educationally purposeful activities, self-reported gain in a variety of desired outcomes of college, and overall satisfaction with their college experience. The result confirms that participating in learning communities is positively linked with student academic performance, engagement in educationally fruitful activities (such as academic integration, active and collaborative learning, and interaction with faculty members), gain associated with college attendance (cognitive, professional, general education, personal, social), and overall satisfaction with the college experience. More specifically the findings reveal that experience in learning communities (1) has a valuable effect on academic performance, (2) is associated with higher level of academic effort, academic integration, and active and collaborative learning, (3) is positively linked with frequent interaction with faculty members, engagement in diversity-related activities, and higher order thinking skills, the quality of academic advising and the degree to which the campus was supportive of their academic and social needs and (4) is positively linked with the students satisfaction with their college experience in general. Eventually, these results indicate the connections between experience in learning communities and students’ gain. Yet, the researchers specifically pointed out the positive association between experience in learning communities and student gain in personal and social development, practical competence, and general education with the effect size ranging from 0.36 to 0.48 for first-year students and 0.24 to 0.40 for senior students.
From the operational definition of participation in a learning community and associated relationships identified in the above research, it is possible to deduce that the term ‘participation in learning communities’ refers to the participation of students in academic and support activities which are largely determined by the quality of academic and support services rendered. Hence, participation in a learning community is concomitant to perceived service quality. Consequently, the reported link between participation in learning communities and different outcome variables implies the link between perceived service quality and those outcomes including perceived gain.
The analytical and empirical evidence presented so far stresses the importance of student engagement both in academic and support services in the overall development of students. In one way or another, quality of academic and support services rendered determine the kind and degree of students’ engagement, which in turn results in multifaceted gain. Logically, students’ gain is the consequences of high-quality service that provides opportunities for greater student involvement. Corroborating this fact, Astin (cited in Tam, 2004) suggested that a high-quality institution is one that facilitates maximum growth among its students and contributes to the educational and personal development of its students.
From the two major positions discussed in this section about the links between perceived quality and perceived gain, it seems possible to conclude that there is more evidence that favours the forward connection between perceived service quality and perceived gain than otherwise. Thus, founded on this analysis, it is possible to hypothesize that students’ perceived service quality has a direct positive relation with their perceived gain.

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Table of Contents
Acknowledgements
Dedication
Declaration
Abstract
List of Abbreviations and Acronyms
List of Tables
List of Figures
CHAPTER ONE: ORIENTATION AND BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY
1.1 INTRODUCTION
1.2 BACKGROUND: CONCEPTUAL AND THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK FOR THE STUDY
1.3 STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
1.4 AIM OF THE STUDY
1.5 SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
1.6 RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODOLOGY
1.7 CHAPTER DIVISION
1.8 DEFINITION OF KEY CONCEPTS
1.9 CONCLUSION
CHAPTER TWO: THE CONSTRUCTS OF HIGHER EDUCATION SERVICE QUALITY
2.1 INTRODUCTION
2.2 SERVICES RENDERED TO STUDENTS IN HIGHER EDUCATION
2.3 THE PRODUCTION PROCESS OF SERVICES
2.4 PERCEIVED SERVICE QUALITY AND ITS DIMENSIONS
2.5 CUSTOMER SATISFACTION IN HIGHER EDUCATION AND ITS DIMENSIONS
2.6 PERCEIVED GAIN IN HIGHER EDUCATION AND ITS DIMENSIONS
2.7 CUSTOMER LOYALTY IN HIGHER EDUCATION SERVICE AND ITS DIMENSIONS
2.8 STUDENTS’ CHARACTERISTICS AND THEIR INFLUENCE ON SERVICE QUALITY CONSTRUCTS
2.9 CONCLUSION
CHAPTER THREE: MODEL DEVELOPMENT FOR HIGHER EDUCATION SERVICE QUALITY
3.1 INTRODUCTION
3.2 THE EFFECT OF PERCEIVED SERVICE QUALITY DIMENSIONS ON SATISFACTION, PERCEIVED GAINS AND LOYALTY
3.3 DIRECT LINKS BETWEEN PERCEIVED SERVICE QUALITY AND ITS EXTENSIONS
3.4 THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN PERCEIVED GAIN AND SATISFACTION
3.5 SATISFACTION AND PERCEIVED GAIN AS PRECURSORS TO LOYALTY
3.6 THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN PERCEIVED QUALITY AND LOYALTY MEDIATED THROUGH SATISFACTION AND PERCEIVED GAIN
3.7 THE EFFECTS OF STUDENT CHARACTERISTICS ON PERCEIVED SERVICE QUALITY, SATISFACTION, PERCEIVED GAIN AND LOYALTY
3.8 CONCLUSION
CHAPTER FOUR: RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS
4.1 INTRODUCTION
4.2 RESEARCH PARADIGM, APPROACH AND DESIGN
4.3 POPULATION AND SAMPLING
4.4 INSTRUMENTATION AND DATA COLLECTION TECHNIQUES
4.5 DATA ANALYSIS AND INTERPRETATION
4.6 VALIDITY, RELIABILITY AND GENERALIZABILITY OF THE RESEARCH
4.7 ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS FOR THE STUDY
4.8 CONCLUSION
CHAPTER FIVE: RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
5.1 INTRODUCTION
5.2 QUALITATIVE AND QUANTITATIVE DATA ANALSES AND FINDINGS
5.3 DATA INTERPRETATION AND DISCUSSION OF FINDINGS
5.4 CONCLUSION
CHAPTER SIX: SUMMARY, CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
6.1 INTRODUCTION
6.2 SYNOPSIS OF THE STUDY
6.3 RESEARCH FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS
6.4 RECOMMENDATIONS
6.5 CONTRIBUTIONS OF THE STUDY
6.6 LIMITATIONS OF THE STUDY
6.7 AVENUES FOR FURTHER RESEARCH
6.8 CONCLUDING REMARKS
REFERENCES
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