Tag Archives: HEIs

The service quality and performance of higher education institutions

This is an excerpt from one of my latest articles that was published in the International Journal of Quality and Service Sciences.

Higher education service delivery and the students’ learning experiences

Higher education institutions (HEIs) are expected to adapt to ongoing developments in their macro and microenvironments as they are usually operating with budget constraints (Camilleri, 2019). They compete for funding and for student numbers in a global marketplace (OECD, 2019; Hägg and Schölin, 2018; Tian and Martin, 2014). Very often, they are using the corporate language as they formulate marketing plans, set objectives to control their resources, and are becoming customer-driven (Lynch, 2015; Sojkin, Bartkowiak and Skuza, 2012; Naidoo, Shankar and Veer, 2011; Ng and Forbes, 2009). The logic behind these managerial reforms is to improve the HEIs’ service quality and performance (Rutter, Roper and Lettice, 2016; Mourad, Ennew and Kortam, 2011; Abdullah. 2006a).

The challenge for HEI leaders is to identify their students’ and other stakeholders’ expectations on service quality. The consumers’ perceived service quality is defined as the degree and direction of discrepancy between their perceptions and expectations (Quinn et al., 2009; Parasuraman et al., 1988). Quality is distinguished from satisfaction, in that, the latter is assumed to involve specific transactions. As part of the conceptualization, expectations are viewed as desires or wants of consumers (Zeithaml, Berry and Parasuraman, 1993).

Parasuraman et al. (1988) measured the individuals’ perceptions and expectations about service quality. Their SERVQUAL scales assessed service quality in terms of tangibility, reliability, responsiveness, assurance and empathy services (Brochado, 2009; Tan and Kek, 2004). In a similar vein, other authors noted that service quality comprises three significant dimensions; service processes, interpersonal factors, and physical evidence (Tsinidou, Gerogiannis and Fitsilis, 2010; Angell, Heffernan and Megicks, 2008; Oldfield and Baron, 2000). Notwithstanding, the HEIs’ physical evidence (that is associated with their tangible aspect) can also influence the students’ satisfaction levels (Wilkins and Balakrishnan, 2013; Ford, Joseph and Joseph, 1999).

The students are considered as the primary customers of tertiary education institutions (Quinn et al., 2009; Lomas, 2007; Snipes et al., 2005). Their expectations on the HEIs’ service performance plays a key role on their quality perceptions (Raaper, 2009; Brochado, 2009; Abdullah, 2006b; Hill, 1995). Students spend a considerable amount of time on campus, in lecture rooms, libraries, IT labs, canteens, sport grounds, et cetera (Hill, 1995). They will probably use the HEIs’ service facilities, technologies and equipment.

Ozkan and Kozeler (2009) maintained that the learners’ perceived satisfaction with higher education technologies is dependent on the quality of the instructors, the quality of the systems, information (content) quality and supportive issues. Hence, HEI leaders have to ensure that the tangible aspects of their higher educational services ought to be in good working order for the benefit of their users.

The provision of higher education services involves “person‐to‐person” interactions (Clemes et al., 2008; Solomon et al., 1985). The frontline employees (like faculty employees) can influence the degree of their consumers’ (or students’) satisfaction and experiences (Raaper, 2019; Ng and Forbes, 2009; Ford et al., 1999; Bitner et al., 1990). Both academic and administrative employees’ ability and willingness to deliver appropriate service quality will determine the students’ overall satisfaction with their higher education services (Tsinidou et al., 2010).

Oldfield and Baron (2000) contended that students rely on the non‐academic employees, including administrators and support staff, over whom the course management teams have no direct control. They pointed out that the students may not be interested in the HEIs’ organizational hierarchies, as they expect their employees to work in tandem. Therefore, the administrative employees should also communicate and liaise with the academic members of staff, to ensure that the students receive an appropriate quality of service. The course instructors should be evaluated in terms of their technical and interpersonal skills, consistency of performance and appearance (Camilleri, 2021; Angell et al., 2008).

Students want their lecturers to be knowledgeable, enthusiastic, approachable, and friendly (Voss, Gruber and Szmigin, 2007). The HEI leaders should be aware that their employees’ interactions with their students will have an effect on their satisfaction during their learning journey (Quinn et al., 2009). The members of staff represent their employer whenever they engage with students and other stakeholders (Voss et al., 2007). Therefore, HEI leaders ought to foster an organizational culture that represents the institutions’ shared values, beliefs, assumptions, attitudes and norms of behavior that bind employees to deliver appropriate service quality and the desired performance outcomes (Kollenscher, Popper and Ronen, 2018; Pedro, Mendes and Lourenço, 2018; Trivellas and Dargenidou, 2009; O’Neill and Palmer, 2004).

Measuring higher education service performance

The employees’ performance is usually evaluated against their HEIs’ priorities, commitments, and aims; by using relevant international benchmarks and targets (OECD, 2019; Brochado, 2009; Lo, 2009 O’Neill and Palmer, 2004). Generally, the academics are usually appraised on their research impact, teaching activities and outreach (Camilleri, 2021).

Their academic services, including their teaching, administrative support as well as the research and development (R&D) duties, all serve as performance indicators that can contribute to build the reputation and standing of their employer (Geuna and Martin, 2003). The university leaders should keep a track record about the age and distribution of their faculty members; diversity of students and staff, in terms of gender, ethnicity, race, et cetera.

In addition, their faculties could examine discipline-specific rankings; and determine the expenditures per academic member of staff, among other responsibilities (Camilleri, 2019). The quantitative metrics concerning the students’ performance may include their enrolment ratios, graduate rates, student drop-out rates, the students’ continuation of studies at the next academic level, and the employability index of graduates, among others (QS Rankin 2019; THE, 2019).

Moreover, qualitative indicators can also provide insightful data to HEIs on the students’ opinions and perceptions about their learning environment. HEIs could evaluate the students’ satisfaction with teaching; satisfaction with research opportunities and training; perceptions of international and public engagement opportunities; ease of taking courses across boundaries; and may also determine whether there are administrative and/or bureaucratic barriers for them (Kivisto, Pekkola and Lyytinen, 2017).

HEIs should regularly analyze their service quality and performance through financial and non-financial indicators (Camilleri, 2021; Lagrosen, Seyyed-Hashemi and Leitner, 2004). A relevant review of the literature suggests that the institutions ought to be evaluated on their organization; corporate governance, autonomy; accountability; system structures; resourcing and funding; consultation processes; digitalization; admission processes; student-centered education, internationalization; regional development; continuing education; lifelong learning qualifications; research, innovation and technology transfer; high impact publications, stakeholder engagement with business and industry; labour market relevance; collaborations with other HEIs and researcher centers; and quality assurance among other issues (OECD, 2019; EU, 2017; Lagrosen et al., 2004; O’Neill and Palmer, 2004; Cheng and Tam, 1997; Owlia and Aspinwall, 1996).

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) regularly reviews the current state of higher education systems in its member countries. Its benchmarking exercises are intended to scrutinize the performance of universities and colleges. OECD (2019) has used 24 domains to evaluate different aspects of the HEIs’ organizational performance. The following table features a list of 45 performance indicators that can be used to assess the HEIs’ resources and their key functions

qual HEI

There are different methodologies and key performance indicators that can be used to evaluate the service quality in higher education. The above metrics are used to compare the OECD countries’ HEI performance in terms of allocated resources, the provision of student-centered education, research and engagement. However, this scorecard and the quality of its outputs ought to be validated in different contexts.

There are other performance variables, including the pedagogical knowledge and experience of the course instructors, the HEIs’ working conditions, teaching methodologies and practices, the usage of education technologies, engagement with business and industry, et cetera, that were not featured in this scorecard. Perhaps, in reality it may prove difficult to measure qualitative issues. For instance, while HEIs may be willing to demonstrate their engagement with different stakeholders, currently, there are no mechanisms in place to monitor, report and assess their outreach activities.

The HEIs’ responsibility is to address the skill gaps and mismatches in their labor market (EU, 2017). The governments’ policy makers together with the HEI leaders need to address sector-specific skill shortages. Specifically, EU (2017) proposed that HEIs ought to: (i) better understand what skills are required by the prospective employers (ii) communicate to society, practitioners and policy-makers about what they are already doing to prepare graduates for the labor market; (iii) prepare students and influence their choice of study; and (iv) implement effective learning programs that rely on blended learning methodologies including traditional and digital learning approach.

Suggested citation: Camilleri, M.A. (2021). Evaluating service quality and performance of higher education institutions: A systematic review and a post COVID-19 outlook. International Journal of Quality and Service Sciences, 13(2), 268-281. DOI: 10.1108/IJQSS-03-2020-0034

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A SWOT Analysis of the Marketing Environment of Higher Education Institutions

This is an excerpt from a recent Working Paper.

How to Cite: Camilleri, M.A. (2019). The Internationalization of Higher Education in a Competitive Marketing Environment. Working Paper 0506-2019, Department of Corporate Communication, University of Malta, Malta.


Strengths

  • Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) raise their financial capital requirements by charging tuition fees to full time, part time and distance learning students; Government-funded HEIs may provide free or reduced tuition fees;
  • Many international courses are taught in English; The English language has become an important lever for international student mobility (ICEF, 2017);
  • Several HEIs provide work-integrated education; they deliver pragmatic, application-oriented programs. The students are may be expected to undertake industry placements as part of their studies. Therefore work-integrated education (WIE) may be a component of the HEIs’ curriculum.
  • Work-integrated education supports students to become all-round professionals with an appropriate level of operational experience. It equips students with a thorough understanding of the business and industry’s operations. WIE would usually take place in an organizational context that is relevant to the students’ future employment prospects. At the same time, the students would obtain communicative and transferable skills that will be valuable for their development. The focus is to help them acquire a range of valuable generic abilities, including people-skills through interactions with peers, subordinates and supervisors. After their working period, the students will be in a position to apply the theories that they have learnt in real-life settings. Hence, students develop their knowledge and skills in a professional environment, whilst increasing the chances of their employability prospects (Kolb & Kolb, 2005);
  • HEIs are increasingly establishing international collaboration agreements with other educational institutions, across borders. They enable student exchange programs and field trips. The classroom teaching is enriched with student exchanges and field trips that provide students relevant on-the-job training;
  • HEIs are building their alumni networks over the years. Many of their students have become business and industry professionals.
  • HEIs are often engaging with business and industry as they provide their consultancy and research services;
  • HEIs offer Executive Development Programs to industry practitioners, allowing them to update their skills, and to broaden their knowledge.

Weaknesses

  • Many HEIs are not managed as profitable organizations;
  • HEIs’ academic employees may become members in trade unions. The unions can use their bargaining power on the university’s administration;
  • HEIs can be slow to respond to the ongoing changes in the business and industry. They may need to adapt their curricula and courses to better meet the prospective employers’ requirements;
  • The HEIs’ academic members of staff may have long contact hours with their students (when compared to other institutions);
  • The HEIs’ academia are not always publishing adequate and sufficient research (when compared to other institutions);
  • The HEIs’ prospective students may be attracted to competitive institutions who are offering cheaper tuition fees. The international prospects will consider the HEIs’ locations and their living expenses;
  • The HEIs’ international marketing efforts may be focusing on limited catchment areas. They may be overlooking promising markets (Constantinides & Zinck Stagno, 2011).

Opportunities

  • HEIs may use educational technology to improve their students’ experience. Educational technologies could enhance the quality of online courses, particularly those that are offered to part-time, or distance learning students;
  • HEIs can utilize blogs, RSS feeds, podcasts, wikis, electronic fora, webinars, et cetera to reach their target audiences. They may use social media and word of mouth marketing by communicating student testimonials, online reviews and ratings, in order to attract students from different markets;
  • HEIs could incentivize their educators and researchers to participate in academic conferences and to publish their work in highly-indexed journals;
  • The setting up of research (or special interest) groups could improve collaboration and teamwork among the HEIs’ members of staff;
  • HEIs’ academics should be encouraged to become members in editorial boards of leading journals;
  • HEIs can offer high-level consultancy and professional advisory services to private and public organizations;
  • HEIs may organize international conferences and fora that can be used as a platform for insightful exchange amongst academics, industry practitioners and tourism policy-makers;
  • HEIs can engage with alumni by involving them in social events, webinars and continuous professional development programs;
  • Industry professionals can be invited to speak to students on specific subject lectures. These experts may help students gain a deeper understanding of the industry;
  • HEIs’ academia should be encouraged to share their research expertise with business and industry to pioneer developments. They should promote their research outputs (Duque, 2014; Parameswaran & Glowacka, 1995). Relevant research can enhance industry performance and influence policy making;
  • HEIs can extend collaborative agreements in many areas, with reputable education institutions;
  • HEIs can obtain quality assurance and accreditations from international awarding bodies, for their educational programs. The recognition of their courses would necessitate a thorough assessment of their leadership, curriculum programs and skills, assessment methods, project work, student placements, student support, feedback and resources, et cetera;
  • The HEIs’ international admissions pages should evidence their ‘global perspective’ and could highlight their extensive range of services they offer to international students. For example, their course prospectus should be available in different languages;
  • There is an increased demand for higher education from mature students as the concept of life-long learning is being promoted in developing and advanced economies;
  • There are still untapped markets in Asia where students can’t access quality education at home. There is a business case to attract students from Africa as the continent’s youth population is rising (British Council, 2018);
  • The HEIs’ international students could be used as brand ambassadors and should be featured in their digital media;
  • HEIs may be supported by student scholarships (from governments, foundations or NGOs) and sponsorships that may be donated by industry partners.

Threats

  • Many HEIs’ national governments have already decreased (or cut) their public funding to HEIs (Estermann, 2017; Estermann, Nokkala & Steinel, 2011; Hoecht, 2006; Maton, 2005). Therefore, HEIs may have to raise their capital requirements through tuition fees and fund-raising activities;
  • There is a very competitive environment (in the global market). HEIs are increasingly targeting international students from many markets;
  • Many countries (including developing economies) have improved (or are improving) their educational systems. However, there may be students who decide to go abroad because they believe that there is neither capacity nor high-quality education at their home country (ICEF, 2017);
  • The ageing populations in many parts of the world, their greater life expectancies, coupled with lower fertility rates, means that populations in many countries are getting older. At the same time, the 15-to-24-year-old cohorts are shrinking. This key college-aged demographic will peak in Asia somewhere around 2020. Then it will start a gradual decline from that high point (British Council, 2018);
  • There may be political, socio-cultural and legal factors affecting the marketing of HEIs. International students may face travel restrictions. Rigorous travel formalities including the issuance of national visas and immigration policies, can affect the students choice of their prospective HEI;
  • Reduced scholarships and student exchange programs from foreign governments can have an impact on the number of students who may afford international mobility;
  • A growing number of Asian students are choosing to stay within their own region to study, and students from other countries – including African nations– are adding Asian destinations to their list of attractive options. Asian countries, including China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia, among others, are increasing their capacity to absorb international students. Students and families are placing more emphasis on value, and on the return on investment from overseas education. Therefore, students may opt to study close to their home;
  • There are growing indications that major employers are placing less emphasis on reputable HEIs and their brand identities (ICEF, 2017).

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