Service Quality in Higher Education: A Comparative Study of Management and Education Institutions

Abstract

Liberalization of the higher education sector has increased the access of students to institutions of higher learning; students of today are far more informed and have more choices in terms of institutions to pursue their higher studies. In the age of competition, the institutions of higher learning need to understand the customers’ (students’) perceptions of service quality and identify the gap between their expectations and these perceptions. The paper studies the students’ perceptions of service quality in the present educational environment, using the modified service quality (SERVQUAL) instrument to measure five constructs: tangibles, reliability, responsiveness, assurance, and empathy. The study has been done on 500 students pursuing their post-graduation in management and education streams in 10 institutions located in the north Indian state of Haryana. A significantly negative gap is observed in the expectations and perceptions of the service quality of higher education, indicating a sense of dissatisfaction among the students.

Introduction

Higher education in India has witnessed a sea change in the last decade. From being a subsidized service to the masses, education services are becoming marketoriented with increasing participation of the private sector, especially in the higher education sector. The traditional set-up for imparting higher education, comprising of the colleges, universities and other institutions, is facing stiff competition from the institutions in the private sector. Over the years, inertia has crept into the traditional set-up and despite having the faculty with better qualifications and experience, their systems for service delivery have not responded to the fast pace of change encompassing the education sector. The strategic orientation of the government on the issues concerning higher education has been on increasing access and expansion, equity and inclusion, and, quality and excellence. In practice, this has resulted in additional infrastructure and creating new institutions, without a commensurate development of the systems to deliver better educational services. This has resulted in a mismatch between expected services and the services actually delivered thereby creating a gap. Higher education as a service can be said to be fulfilling the need for learning / acquiring knowledge and providing an intangible benefit (increment in aptitude, professional expertise, skills) produced with the help of a set of tangible (infrastructure)and intangible (faculty expertise and learning) means, where the buyer of the service does not get any ownership. Taking the SERVQUAL framework, the paper studied the service quality perceptions of the students and compared the service quality of the private and public sector institutions.

The biggest expansion in higher education in India has been in the disciplines of engineering & technology, management and education. The increased capacity of students’ intake has been rather too fast and many of the institutions have to compete with each other for student enrolments. They need to build their reputation by providing better services through quality equipment, physical facilities, employees, welltrained faculty, material (brochures or statements) and create a pull in the market. Interestingly, many institutions find that despite doing all these, they are unable to get a sufficient number of students onto their campuses, implying that there is a gap in their perceptions and the students’ perceptions of service quality. It is difficult to measure quality in comparison to goods as the specific standards cannot be determined due to involvement of human behaviour. The basis of the measurement was to evaluate the service quality by comparing customer expectation with their perception. The business of education demands new concepts and approaches in order to survive in an increasingly competitive and professional environment. Due to increasing complexity, specialization, competitive nature of the business, the requirement of service marketing has emerged. In the view of the changing needs of customers, a changing world, changing life styles, knowledge explosion, population explosion and technology innovations, there is a need for improvement in quality of services in the educational sector.

Traditionally this sector (education) avoided using even the word-of-mouth marketing; however, they are now seeking better ways to understand the segment and their customer, to ensure the delivery of quality services and to strengthen their positions amid a growing number of competitors. Education is a service industry. It needs to adopt techniques that help measure the quality of services and customer satisfaction. Ser vice quality has become a predominant focus of an advanced organization’s strategic plan. Increasing attention paid to service quality has resulted in more progress and profit in organizations. Higher education possesses all the characteristics of the service industry, i.e., intangible, heterogeneous, inseparability, variability, perishable, and the customer (student) participates in the process. Earlier research on service quality in higher education also often emphasized on the academic aspect more than the administration angle, concentrating on effective course delivery mechanisms and the quality of courses and teaching (Atheeyaman, 1997; Cheng and Tam, 1997; Soutar and McNeil, 1996; Griemel- Fuhrmann and Geyer, 2003). However, there is also an attempt to look upon the administrative side of higher education institutions as done in the study by Kamal and Ramzi (2002), which attempts to measure student perception of registration and academic advising across different faculties and other administrative services to assure positive quality service that compliments the academic.

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