Analysing service quality among postgraduate Chinese students

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Keynote presentation delivered by Bradley Barnes from the University of Sheffield at the 2011 BLA conference held in Sheffield from 13-15 July.


  • 1. Analysing Service Quality Among Post-Graduate Chinese Students
    Dr Bradley R. Barnes
    Associate Dean for Internationalisation,
    Professor of International Management & Marketing
    The Management School
  • 2. Background
    Chinese higher education industry is set to intensify
    Previously, institutions may have been able to obtain high returns for relatively little effort.
    Future most certainly will be tougher
    In response an action research process is adopted using a modified SERVQUAL instrument to investigate expectations and perceptions of service quality
  • 3. Introduction
    US and UK business and management schools growth in post-graduate Chinese students
    Hope of obtaining high quality education
    Rapid economic growth in China, traditional Chinese values associated with education
    Gravy train high-fee paying students
    Opportunities to expand their international operations further, international joint ventures foreign direct investment
    Local Universities also batting smarter
  • 4. Constraints
    Visa processing
    Reduced economic growth in China
    Fear of no job
    Competitive state of the Chinese higher education industry is set to intensify
    Previously high returns for relatively little effort, future certainly will be tougher
  • 5. Research Aims
    In response, analyse service quality among a sample of Chinese post-graduate students
    Better understanding that is expected among such students
    Map student expectations against perceptions and identify service quality gaps (bridge quality gaps improve perf)
    Locate areas of performance where improvements are needed
    Allocate resources, where better used
  • 6. Measuring Service Quality
    Berry (1995) service is important. Enhance value and can positively influence success
    A providers service can help to offset potential burdens, like having to pay a high price
    Parasuraman et al (1988) yielded a useful concept of ten potentially overlapping dimensions
    Further extensive statistical analysis revealed significant correlations between certain dimensions
  • 7. Measuring Service Quality
    Re-grouping of the original ten into five dimensions (tangibles, reliability, responsiveness, assurance and empathy)
    SERVQUAL represents a multi-item scale since its development has been widely used for measuring expectations and perceptions of service quality dimensions
    Consumers are required to select a response on Likert scales that range from strongly disagree to strongly agree.
  • 8. Measuring Service Quality
    Allows for the difference scores for each dimension to be calculated. Difference (P-E=Q)
    Where Q is negative a service gap exists
  • 9. SERVQUAL in HE
    SERVQUAL scale tends to have been largely ignored in HE
    Exception of Lampley (2001) who undertook research with doctoral students
    Very little (if any) service quality research has been concluded among post-graduate students
    Surprising bearing in mind their economic contribution, particularly the number of post-graduate Chinese
  • 10. Research Methods
    Action research approach
    Carr and Kemmis (1986)
    Strategic action susceptibly can lead to improvement
    Project evolves through a series of spirals
  • 11. Lewins Action Research Spiral
  • 12. Research Methods
    This line of exploration was undertaken for two reasons
    Firstly little had been concluded regarding the perceptions of Chinese students
    Multi-faceted research approach seemed more apparent
    Secondly, opportunity for triangulation (respondent triangulation and data triangulation; Gill and Johnson, 1991; Yin, 1994)
    Former for developing and testing the instrument
    Latter for obtaining a more rounded picture hard and soft data
  • 13. Research Process
    Literature Review
    Twenty two statements from the original SERVQUAL instrument were modified - PLUS
    The institutions facilities
    Such as library, computer services (Hill, 1995).
    Accommodation, sports facilities, catering, reprographics (Cuthbert, 1996; Aldridge and Rowley, 1998).
    location, campus layout (Ford et al 1999)
  • 14. Research Process
    The provision for guidance in terms of careers (Hill, 1995; Ford et al, 1999),
    Financial aid (Pariseau and McDaniel, 1997)
    Academic and personal guidance facets (Vidal et al 2003)
    Several performance related dimensions including value (Long et al, 1995) satisfaction and the willingness to recommend (ONeill and Palmer. 2001; Pariseau and McDaniel, 1997)
  • 15. Research Stages
    In depth personal interviews; Quality Manager, Marketing & Communications Manager, Director of Post-Graduate Programmes
    Two focus group discussions were also performed with four of the schools Programme Managers and four post-graduate Chinese students
    After each interview and focus group modifications were made to the instrument
    Framework was then later tested with a small sample of Chinese post-graduate marketing students
  • 16. Research Process
    Final instrument consisted of three sections
    First nineteen statements that were modified from the original SERVQUAL.
    Two subsequent dimensions were added:
    guidance (guidance and support elements provided),
    University (facilities that the university provides).
  • 17. Administering The Survey
    Collaborated with other teaching staff at the school
    Self administered survey at the beginning of a lecture
    Over a two week period towards the latter half of the second semester
    Opportunity to win a significant cash prize
    105 surveys were returned and 102 were sufficiently completed
    69.39% response rate, total number of post-graduate Chinese students
  • 18. Analysis of Findings
    Entered into SPSS
    Paired sample t-tests
    Factor analysis
    Multiple regression analysis
    Resulting data provided a second stage to reflect on the situation, how and why the statistical patterns occurred
    Inductive approach was considered appropriate
  • 19. Focus Groups
    Three follow-up focus group sessions
    Researcher and four Chinese post-graduate students
    Two in-depth one-to-one student interviews
    In summary, three action cycles were completed in this research process
    1 - Initially led to the development and refinement of the instrument
    2 - This led to the instrument being used to survey students
    3 - The resulting findings were used to undertake qualitative research and probe further
  • 20. Table 1a. Mean scores (and standard deviations) for the SERVQUAL dimensions
    P sdE sd P-E
    Prompt service4.91 (1.09)5.89 (0.97) -0.98
    Staff willing to help5.31 (0.93)6.09 (1.02) -0.77
    Prompt response to requests4.73 (1.19)5.59 (1.21) -0.86
    Instil confidence4.85 (0.97)5.64 (1.06) -0.78
    To be courteous5.09 (1.05)5.70 (1.11) -0.61
    Have knowledge5.36 (1.05)6.17 (0.82) -0.80
    Teach staff provide individual attention4.03 (1.45)5.25 (1.22) -1.23
    Support staff provide individual attention (mean for 7 and 8)
    Understand needs3.92 (1.44)5.31 (1.28) -1.39
    Have best interests at heart4.25 (1.31)5.26 (1.34) -1.02
    School has convenient hours4.03 (1.02)6.02 (0.99) -1.99
    School office has convenient hours (mean for 11 and 12)
    Modern looking equipment5.34 (1.07)5.71 (1.24) -0.36
    Neat employees5.49 (1.02)5.76 (1.04) -0.27
    Materials visually appealing5.07 (1.02)5.66 (0.99) -0.59
    Deliver services on-time5.09 (1.13)6.01 (1.05) -0.92
    Help to solve problems4.66 (1.16)5.91 (1.05) -1.25
    Perform right the first time4.74 (1.08)5.75 (1.00) -1.01
    Inform of events and services5.03 (1.31)5.91 (0.99) -0.88
    SERVQUAL TOTALS89.96108.9 -18.94
    SERVQUAL AVERAGE4.735.73-1
  • 21. Table 1b. Mean scores (and standard deviations) for the University and Guidance dimensions
    P sd E d P-E
    Reasonable accommodation / housing4.69 (1.22)5.76 (1.20) -1.08
    Adequate sports / recreation4.25 (1.40)5.61 (1.21) -1.36
    Campus suitably located5.50 (1.00)5.83 (1.08) -0.33
    Suitable campus layout5.20 (1.09)5.62 (1.12) -0.42
    Suitable library facilities5.62 (1.06)6.36 (0.94) -0.75
    Adequate books4.91 (1.45)6.37 (1.00) -1.46
    Adequate healthcare provision4.59 (1.30)5.64 (1.04) -1.05
    Adequate financial services 3.87 (1.38)5.37 (1.33) -1.50
    Suitable class sizes4.24 (1.69)5.92 (1.24) -1.69
    Appropriate level / difficulty of study4.95 (1.08)5.79 (1.15) -0.84
    Appropriate Masters programme work load4.90 (1.21)5.68 (1.34) -0.77
    Treated as a client4.48 (1.36)4.97 (1.44) -0.49
    Comfortable lecture theatres4.44 (1.60)5.99 (1.02) -1.55
    Adequate computing facilities5.32 (1.05)6.08 (1.04) -0.75
    Adequate study areas4.46 (1.56)5.96 (1.13) -1.50
    Adequate media support4.49 (1.49)5.94 (1.14) -1.45
    Suitable refreshment areas4.09 (1.59)5.30 (1.33) -1.22
    Reasonably priced refreshments3.45 (1.65)5.40 (1.39) -1.95
    Suitable career guidance4.68 (1.15)5.78 (1.15) -1.11
    Suitable academic guidance5.02 (1.16)6.00 (1.06) -0.98
    Guidance on personal matters4.17 (1.41)5.03 (1.32) -0.86
    Guidance on cultural issues4.26 (1.34)5.64 (1.14) -1.37
    Suitable induction 4.41 (1.31)5.43 (1.09) -1.02
  • 22. Expectations
    Just one single expectation item to be treated like a client fell below five
    Expectation (E) values among the Chinese post-graduate students were high per se
    I think it is because of the excellent reputation that the university has back home
    Its probably because we have no previous knowledge of a British University, and expect it to be super great
    Because we think education in the UK should be better than in China
    It was down to cost the high relative course fees in relation to other UK and Chinese institutions
  • 23. Perceptions
    Just three perception items below mid-point of 4
    Some disagreement among students in terms of the institution
    Understanding the needs of Chinese post-graduate students
    Providing adequate financial services
    Provision of reasonably priced refreshments
    Thirteen items exceeded five
  • 24. Perceptions (continued)
    The remainder fell close to mid-point
    When given the chance Chinese prefer to be neutral, they dont like to be divided one way or the other
    Perhaps its normal Chinese people may never say too many good things, even if it is really good
  • 25. Gaps
    As each has a negative value, service is falling short against consumer expectations
    Significant differences on all forty two statements
    The institution should take the appropriate measures on-board to bridge
    Qualitative research proved useful why such service gaps emerged????
  • 26. Gaps
    May be because of the high fees, we just expect too much. Also because we are the single kid at home we get exactly what we want and expect the full package here to be so much higher than in China
    The working hours are short here we have shorter contact time than in China. We pay so much and expect so much
    Because the British way of life is no compromise I am closed, I am closed were not open for you
  • 27. t valuep value
    Prompt service6.93.000
    Staff willing to help6.51.000
    Prompt response to requests5.14.000
    Instil confidence6.35.000
    To be courteous5.03.000
    Have knowledge6.37.000
    Teach staff provide individual attention7.21.000
    Support staff provide individual attention (based on mean for 7 and 8)
    Understand needs8.13.000
    Have best interests at heart5.84.000
    School has convenient hours10.84.000
    School office has convenient hours(based on mean for 11 and 12)
    Modern looking equipment2.36.020
    Neat employees2.20.030
    Materials visually appealing4.47.000
    Deliver services on-time6.29.000
    Help to solve problems8.64.000
    Perform right the first time7.75.000
    Inform of events and services5.64.000
    Table 2. Paired sample t-test statistics
  • 28. Table 2. Paired sample t-test statistics
    Reasonable accommodation / housing6.82.000
    Adequate sports / recreation7.69.000
    Campus suitably located2.70.008
    Suitable campus layout3.29.001
    Suitable library facilities5.95.000
    Adequate books8.69.000
    Adequate healthcare provision6.59.000
    Adequate financial services 8.89.000
    Suitable class sizes8.41.000
    Appropriate level / difficulty of study5.25.000
    Appropriate Masters programme work load4.36.000
    Treated as a client2.78.006
    Comfortable lecture theatres8.83.000
    Adequate computing facilities5.41.000
    Adequate study areas7.51.000
    Adequate media support7.56.000
    Suitable refreshment areas6.21.000
    Reasonably priced refreshments9.59.000
    Suitable career guidance6.95.000
    Suitable academic guidance6.80.000
    Guidance on personal matters5.54.000
    Guidance on cultural issues8.85.000
    Suitable induction 7.14.000
  • 29. Factor Analysis
    University and Guidance dimensions were excluded from this analysis
    Used to investigate SERVQUALs applicability within this particular cultural and educational context
    Extraction method used; a) eigenvalues being greater than one, b) factors accounting for a minimum 60% of the variance
  • 30. Factor Analysis (continued)
    Varimax Rotation was used with Kaiser normalization, tried and tested method that frequently yields simple structure (Norman and Streiner, 1997)
    Despite items seven, ten, fifteen and nineteen having bipolar loadings, in each case a marginally higher loading was apparent on a different factor, differences were small - retained items within t...


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