Demographic Factors in the Evaluation of Service Quality in Higher Education: International Students' Perspective

Article excerpt

Abstract

The increasing number of international students studying in advanced countries has focused attention on service quality in higher education. Service quality is a subjective matter and hence its measurement is usually made from the perspective of students. This study adopts the conceptual framework proposed by Min, Khoon and Tan (2012) in which motives of the study, expectation, perception and satisfaction are highlighted as being the key elements of service quality. This study attempts to investigate the role of demographic factors in the evaluation of service quality. The study used the data from a survey conducted in a private higher education institution in Singapore. The results revealed that, among the demographic variables, gender, nationality and the present level of study are influential in the evaluation of service quality, but the age factor does not make any significant difference in the key elements of the service quality evaluation. Nationality is found to be the most influential factor in the motivation and evaluation of service quality. A demographic, the present level of study can also cause different levels of motives of study, expectation of service quality and satisfaction. Gender impacts more on the level of satisfaction of the service than on service quality. Thus, educational marketers are well-advised to deliver educational services based on demographic segments, particularly nationality groups and levels of study.

Key Words: Service Quality, Motives, Expectation, Perception, Satisfaction, Demographic Factor, Higher Education.

Introduction

Increasing globalization has significantly impacted on the nature and delivery of higher education. Nowadays, students the world over have opportunities to study abroad. Meanwhile, higher education institutions, both public and private, are expanding their market boundaries to cater to international students in addition to their traditional, local students. This trend reflects clearly the mobility of international students around the world and it is evident that many students enroll in other countries to attain higher education; in 2009, the number of tertiary students enrolled in institutions outside their countries of origin reached 3.7 million, of which 83% were studying in G20 countries (OECD, 2011). As the international students emerged as an important segment in the education market, especially of higher education, universities and colleges began to adopt the marketing concept and customer orientation in their efforts to recruit international students.

To attract foreign students to a higher education institution, the quality of education services provided to the students can be considered as an appropriate measure. Education is by nature a service industry and service quality is the key to the satisfaction of students and consequently to the success of education institutions. Due to the importance of service quality in the education industry, there were many studies investigating the important attributes and dimensions of service quality. Scholars attempted to develop models to measure and evaluate service quality, e.g. SERVQUAL and SERVPERF. A large number of studies were undertaken in the field of service quality of higher education using SERVQUAL model (Buttle, 1996).

Studies of service quality took place in many areas of services, including education services in which the quality of educational services is perceived and evaluated by students. In most studies, demographic aspect of service quality was considered and findings were drawn in relation to the demographic factors. In general, students? demographic factors can moderate the levels of expectation and perception of service quality. Different demographic groups of students such as age, gender and nationality can evaluate the service quality of educational services in different ways.

The earlier studies of demographic factors in service quality were conducted in the context of general students without paying particular attention towards international students. …