Introduction Students’ opinions about all aspects of academic life are now sought by educational institutions worldwide, generally, in the form of a satisfaction feedback questionnaire. It is this student satisfaction survey, within the context of student satisfaction in JRU Jose Rizal University. In the Philippines, Higher Education (HE) students were considered to be the “primary customers” of a University ,even before they were liable for the payment of “up-front” tuition fees. Students are the direct recipients of the service provided.
As if to confirm this status of the “student as customer”, the Commision on Higher Education (CHED) has introduced a National Student Survey. This survey is aimed at first year students to seek their views on a number of aspects of teaching, assessment and support provided by their university and its courses. The results will ultimately be used by the school to produce league tables of university performance. The position of a university in any league tables will impact ultimately on its image.
Image has a strong impact on the retention of current students and the attraction of potential students. Indeed recruitment and retention of students has been moved to the top of most universities’ agendas by CHED due to their desire to increase the JRU student population in line with Government targets. Poor retention rates may have adverse funding consequences for University . This paper takes the view that student satisfaction, retention and recruitment are closely linked.
Indeed, the survey questionnaire was designed around the concept of the service-product bundle. This concept is discussed in the next section. The service-product bundle The outcome of service delivery is a tangible product, and a “bundle” of goods and services as the product offering . The service-product bundle refers to the inseparable offering of many goods and services including what Jose Rizal University has to offer its students. This bundle consists of three elements: (1) the physical or facilitating goods; 2) the sensual service provided – the explicit service; and (3) the psychological service – the implicit service. For a university the facilitating goods include the lectures and tutorials, presentation slides, supplementary handout documents/materials and the recommended module text. It also includes the physical facilities such as the lecture theatres and tutorial rooms and their level of furnishing, decoration, lighting and layout as well as ancillary services such as catering and recreational amenities.
The explicit service includes the knowledge levels of staff, staff teaching ability, the consistency of teaching quality irrespective of personnel, ease of making appointments with staff, the level of difficulty of the subject content and the workload. The implicit service includes the treatment of students by staff, including friendliness and approachability, concern shown if the student has a problem, respect for feelings and opinions, availability of staff, capability and competence of staff.
It also includes the ability of the university’s environment to make the student feel comfortable, the sense of competence, confidence and professionalism conveyed by the ambience in lectures and tutorials, feeling that the student’s best interest is being served and a feeling that rewards are consistent with the effort put into course works /examinations. All of the above are based on students’ perceptions of the various parts of the service and the data is usually collected via some form of feedback questionnaire.
Why collect student feedback? (1) to provide auditable evidence that students have had the opportunity to pass comment on their courses and that such information is used to bring about improvements; (2) to encourage student reflection on their learning; (3) to allow institutions to benchmark and to provide indicators that will contribute to the reputation of the university in the marketplace; and (4) to provide students with an opportunity to express their level of satisfaction with their academic experience.
The last bullet point as the rationale behind the survey undertaken for the particular research project described in this paper. Keeping customers satisfied is what leads to customer loyalty. Research conducted by Jones and Sasser Jr (1995) into thirty organisations from five different markets found that where customers have choices the link between satisfaction and loyalty is linear; as satisfaction rises, so too does loyalty. However, in markets where competition was intense they found a difference between the loyalty of satisfied and completely satisfied customers.
Put simply, if satisfaction is ranked on a 1-5 scale from completely dissatisfied to completely satisfied, the 4’s – though satisfied – were six times more likely to defect than the 5’s. Customer loyalty manifests itself in many forms of customer behavior. Jones and Sasser Jr (1995) grouped ways of measuring loyalty into three main categories: (1) intent to re-purchase; (2) primary behaviour – organisations have access to information on various transactions at the customer level and can track five categories that show actual customer re-purchasing behaviour; viz, recency, frequency, amount, retention, and longevity; and 3) secondary behaviour – e. g. customer referrals, endorsements and spreading the word are all extremely important forms of consumer behaviour for an organisation. Translating this into university services, this covers intent to study at a higher level within the same institution, how frequently and recently a student used ancillary services, such as the library, catering and IT services, and lastly the willingness to recommend the institution to friends, neighbours and fellow employees. Issues impacting on student satisfaction Price et al. 2003) recently reported on the impact of facilities on undergraduate student choice of university. They surveyed a number of universities over two years in order to determine students’ reasons for selecting a particular university. The average results for the two years were fairly similar – the top eight reasons being; it had the right course, availability of computers, quality of library facilities, good teaching reputation, availability of “quiet” areas, availability of areas for self-study, quality of public transport in the town/city and a friendly attitude towards students.
Clearly, students’ perceptions of a university’s facilities are one of the main influences on their decision to enrol. Coles (2002) found that student satisfaction is decreased when class sizes are larger in earlier cohorts, and when students are taking compulsory core modules rather than optional modules. The quality of any of the service encounters, or “moments of truth” (Carlzon, 1989) experienced by customers forms part of their overall impression of the whole service provided, (Dale, 2003) and by implication, their impression of the organisation itself.
As Deming (1982) commented, most people form their opinions based on the people that they see, and they are either dissatisfied or delighted, or some other point on the continuum in between. In order to deliver high quality services to students, universities must manage every aspect of the student’s interaction with all of their service offerings and in particular those involving its people. Services are delivered to people by people, and the moments of truth can make or break a university’s image (Banwet and Datta, 2003).
In order to deliver total student satisfaction, all employees of a university should Ad here to the principles of quality customer service, whether they be front-line contact staff involved in teaching or administration, or non-contact staff in management or administrative roles (Gold, 2001; Low, 2000, cited in Banwet and Datta, 2003). In a recent survey conducted with 310 all male Saudi Arabian students attending the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Sohail and Shaikh (2004) found that “contact personnel” was the most influencing factor in student’s evaluation of service quality.
However, physical environment, layout, lighting, classrooms, appearance of buildings and grounds and the overall cleanliness also significantly contributed to students’ concepts of service quality. Galloway (1998) studied the role of the faculty administration office in one UK University on student perceptions of service quality. He found that it impacted directly on students and influenced their perceptions of the quality of the whole institution. The office performance also had a direct impact on academic and technical staff within the faculty.
These front-line staff in their turn had a direct impact on students, potential students and other clients. The main predictors of quality for students were found to be: . office has a professional appearance; . staff dress smartly; . never too busy to help; and . opening hours are personally convenient. Banwet and Datta (2003) believed that satisfied customers are loyal, and that satisfied students were likely to attend another lecture delivered by the same lecturer or opt for another module or course taught by her/him.
In their survey of 168 students who attended four lectures delivered by the same lecturer, covering perceived service quality, importance and post-visit intentions, they found that students placed more importance on the outcome of the lecture (knowledge and skills gained, availability of class notes and reading material, coverage and depth of the lecture and teacher’s feedback on assessed work) than any other dimension.
This supports the findings of Schneider and Bowen (1995) who deduced that the quality of the core service influences the overall quality of the service perception. For universities the core service delivery method is still the lecture. Overall Banwet and Datta (2003) found that students’ intentions to re-attend or recommend lectures was dependent on their perceptions of quality and the satisfaction they got from attending previous lectures. This is supported by the research of Hill et al. (2003) who utilised focus groups to determine what quality education meant to students.
The most important theme was the quality of the lecturer including classroom delivery, feedback to students during the session and on assignments, and the relationship with students in the classroom. Research by Tam (2002) to measure the impact of Higher Education (HE) on student’s academic, social and personal growth at a Hong Kong university found that as a result of their university experience students had changed intellectually, socially, emotionally and culturally. This growth was evidenced as students progressed from one year to another as their university career developed.
Is this also the case with student’ perceptions of service quality and satisfaction? A number of researchers have suggested that this might indeed be the case (Hill, 1995; O’Neil, 2003) although obtaining valid and reliable data to support such a stance is difficult. This study aims to determine if there are differences in those aspects of a university service that students consider important, as well as their satisfaction levels, associated with their year/level of study, i. e. first, second and third. Methodology
A quantitative survey was designed to elicit student satisfaction levels across the University’s service offerings. The questionnaire consisted of __ questions informed by previous research studies and subdivided into the various categories of the service product bundle including, lecture and tutorial facilities, ancillary facilities, the facilitating goods, the explicit service and the implicit service. At the end students were asked for their overall satisfaction rating and whether they would recommend the University to a prospective student.
The satisfaction questions were preceded by a series of demographic questions that would allow the sample population to be segmented. These included, interalia, questions regarding gender, age, level of study, mode of study and country of origin. Participation in the survey was entirely voluntary and anonymous. The length and complexity of the questionnaire was influenced, in part, by the balance between the quest for data and getting students to complete the survey. The questionnaire was piloted among 100 undergraduate volunteers.
The length of time it took them to complete the survey was noted and at the end they were asked for any comments regarding the validity and reliability of individual questions. They were also asked if there was anything “missing” from the questionnaire. Based on the feedback received a number of questions were amended and the design of the questionnaire altered slightly. It took on average 12 minutes to complete the questionnaire. In order to get as large and representative a sample as possible, we conduct survey question in first year student in all courses in were targeted.
Staff teaching these modules were approached and permission sought to utilise for a few minuetes of their lecture time in order to explain the rationale behind the survey and to persuade students to complete the survey in class. Generally this “personal touch” was successful in eliciting a good response. Over the course of the two weeks the survey was undertaken, only one person refused to complete the questionnaire. Researchers are divided as to whether or not determinants of satisfaction should be weighted by their importance because different attributes may be of unequal importance to different people.
In this study both satisfaction and importance were measured. There is no such thing as the perfect rating scale. However, some produce more reliable and valid results than others. Devlin et al. (1993) determined that a good rating scale should have, inter alia, the following characteristics: . minimal response bias; . discriminating power; . ease of administration; and . ease of use by respondents. In order to accommodate these characteristics, the rating scale contained five points with well-spaced anchor points representing the possible range of opinions about the service.
The scale contained a neutral category and the negative categories were presented first (to the left). Thus, undergraduates were required to respond utilising a 5-point Likert scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is very unsatisfactory, 2 is unsatisfactory, 3 is neutral (neither satisfactory or unsatisfactory), 4 is satisfactory and 5 is very satisfactory. This type of scale provides a common basis for responses to items concerned with different aspects of the University experience.
The importance that students place on each criteria was measured utilising a 5-point Likert scale, where 1 is very unimportant, 2 is unimportant, 3 is neutral (neither important or unimportant) 4 is important and 5 is very important. Respondents were asked to tick the box next to the number that represented their opinion on each item. A sample of 865 students from a total within the Faculty of 3800 was surveyed. The questionnaires were analysed using SPSS v. 11 and Quadrant Analysis conducted in order to determine those areas perceived as being the least satisfactory with the greatest importance rating.
Finally, respondent focus groups were assembled to discuss some of the issues that required more in-depth analysis and which, due to constraints of space and time, were not explicitly asked about in the original survey. Results A total of — questionnaires were returned, although not all had complete data sets. Table I details the demographic mix of the respondents. Based on all student responses, the most important (i. e. list of the top ten starting from the highest value) and least important (i. e. ist of the bottom ten starting from the lowest value) aspects of the University service are shown in Table II. As can be seen from Table II the most important areas of the University services are those associated with learning and teaching. Interestingly, given the recommendations of a Government White Paper (HEFCE et al. , 2003) that from 2006 all newly recruited university teaching staff should obtain a teaching qualification that incorporates agreed professional standards, the most important aspect of the service is the teaching ability of staff, closely followed by their subject expertise.
The consistency of teaching quality irrespective of the teacher is also considered by the respondents as important, recognising that teaching quality can be variable. The students also recognise the importance of the lecture and tutorial, which is not surprising given that for most universities that is still the core service offering and is very much linked to the teaching ability and subject knowledge of staff. Teaching and learning support materials were Table 1. 1 Demographic mix of respondents GenderMale Female46 54 NationalityHome(Filipino)
International89 4 Mode of StudyFull-time Part-time sandwich Level of studyLevel1 Level2 Level3 Note: Sandwich students are those whose program of study includes a year in industry Table 2. 2 Most important and least important aspects of service RatingMost ImportantLeast important 1Teaching ability of staffDecoration in lecture facilities 2Subject expertise of staffVending machines 3IT facilitiesDecoration in tutorial rooms 4LecturesFurnishings in lecture facilities 5Supplementary lecture materialsRecreational facilities TutorialsAvailability of parking 7Consistency of teaching quality irrespective of teacherThe layout of tutorial/seminar rooms 8White boardThe layout of lecture facilities 9The Learning Resources CentreThe on-campus catering facilities 10The approachability of teaching staffThe quality of pastoral support Note: Blackboard is a virtual learning environment that students can access off and on campus also ranked highly, particularly supplementary handout materials and the use of Blackboard for enhancing student learning.
These are mostly associated with the explicit service delivered to the students and the facilitating goods. With regard to facilities, students have ranked the importance of IT facilities very highly, reflecting the usefulness of connection to the Internet for research purposes and software packages for producing high quality word-processed documentation for coursework assignments and dissertations. This links well with the high ranking of the Learning Resource Centre where IT facilities can be accessed and books and journals ourced in “hard” copy or electronic copy. Table II also shows those areas of the service that students find relatively unimportant. These are mostly associated with the lecture and tutorial facilities and the ancillary services, for example, layout and decoration of lecture and tutorial facilities, catering facilities and vending machines. A further analysis was undertaken to determine whether different segments of the respondent population had similar or different rankings of the University services’ attributes with regard to importance and unimportance.
With regard to mode of study, Table III shows the rankings for students studying full-time with the University. Whilst acknowledging the fact that 80 per cent of the sample population is full time students, the rankings of those service aspects considered most important are very similar to those for the sample population as a whole, the only difference being that “supplementary tutorial materials” replaces “approachability of staff”.
Once again the majority of aspects considered least important are associated with the facilities and ancillary services When the views of Part-time students are considered, a number of interesting differences in their priorities are worthy of discussion. Table IV shows the rankings of service aspects for part time students. The IT facilities drops from third to tenth in their importance rankings, perhaps indicative of the fact that they have access to IT facilities at work and/or at home, thus rendering it less important relative to other aspects of service.
Blackboard (a virtual learning environment that allows teaching staff to make learning and other material available via the internet), on the other hand rises from 10th to 7th in importance indicating its usefulness as a teaching aid for students who do not attend the University on a daily basis and who may miss classes due to work or family commitments. Interestingly, the “helpfulness of technical staff” is considered unimportant, again reflecting their access to such help at work or a greater level of expertise on their part through working with IT on a daily basis. RankingMost importantLeast important Teaching ability of staffDecoration in lecture facilities 2Subject expertise of staffDecoration in tutorial rooms 3IT facilitiesVending machines 4LecturesFurnishing in tutorials 5TutorialsFurnishing in lectures 6Supplementary lecture materialsAvailability of parking 7Consistency of teaching quality irrespective of teacherRecreational facilities 8The Learning Resources CentreThe layout of tutorial/seminar rooms 9Supplementary tutorial materialsThe on-campus catering facilities 10BlackboardThe layout of lecture facilities Table III. Most important and least important service aspects for full-time students RatingMost importantLeast important Teaching ability of staffRecreational facilities 2Subject expertise of staffVending machines 3Consistency of teaching quality irrespective of teacherDecoration in lecture facilities 4Teaching and learning equipment in lecturesFurnishings in lecture facilities 5The Learning Resources CentreDecoration in tutorial rooms 6LecturesQuality of pastoral support 7BlackboardThe on-campus catering facilities 8Supplementary lecture materialsThe layout of tutorial/seminar rooms 9Supplementary tutorial materialsHelpfulness of technical staff 10IT facilitiesThe lecture facilities overall