Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Editorial From: Quality Assurance in Education, Volume 23, Issue 1
The emergence of the focus on quality management in the quest to improve the quality and reliability of manufactured products began early in the past century, and the pursuit of ongoing improvement in all spheres of manufacturing continues today. It is no longer a novelty or a competitive advantage, but rather a qualifying criterion for remaining in business. The development of quality in the design and production of manufactured product has been followed by the search for an equivalent approach to the improvement in service quality. However, the nature of services is, of course, rather different from the nature of products. For example, while products are usually characterised by tangible features that can be measured and assessed, the nature of services is such that many of the features are intangible. Furthermore, many services are co-produced by a staff member of the service organisation and the customer of that organisation. The nature of services, therefore, presents challenges in the field of quality, quality management and quality measurement and improvement in relation to services.
To improve service quality, it is first necessary to be able to measure service quality. However, the complexity of the nature of services is such that measurement in this context is not as straightforward as measurement in the context of manufactured products. Furthermore, there is added complexity that results from the nature of the stakeholders in the education process. In many jurisdictions, there is significant government support for education, making both government and citizens stakeholders in education. Students who are involved in the co-creation of the service are also stakeholders and, in addition, they may also be making direct payments for the service, either upfront or in the form of a delayed repayment after completing their education. The service also has other important stakeholders in the form of professional bodies that wish to admit the education service co-creators to their membership and organisations that wish to employ appropriately educated people. Thus, the stakeholders of education are found in a number of areas and all have legitimate expectations of the outcomes of the education service provision.
The future challenge of knowledge-based work requires a well-educated population that will contribute to the future and bring innovation in products and services for the communities in which they live and beyond. Quality Assurance in Education is committed to improvements in education service quality provision and to the delivery of high standards to all stakeholders. This issue provides a variety of contributions to the quality of educational service provision debate.
In this issue, the first paper, by Paul Gibbs and Aftab Dean, focuses on the student experience and explores the issues that encompass the learning experience and the co-creation of the educational service. By collecting and analysing empirical data, the authors open up the debate relating to student satisfaction and student happiness. The authors suggest that profound happiness of students is a more appropriate aspiration for the outcome of the education experience than the more recognisable consumer-related ideas of satisfaction.
The second paper, by Melanie Birks, John Smithson, Glenn Harris, Chenicheri Nair and Marnie Hitchens, revisits the demanding issue of evaluation of the student experience. In particular, the authors report on the development of an internal survey instrument that would be fit for purpose in the review of the student experience. The approach required a new policy relating to the student experience of learning and teaching; the development of an instrument that was efficient to administer to improve response rates and provided appropriate feedback that was aligned with the needs of those charged with the responsibility to foster improvements in the student experience.
The third paper in this issue, by Monica Holmes, Lawrence Jenicke and Jessica Hempel, recognises that there many improvement tools and approaches to quality improvement available. The approach selected and the tools utilised must be carefully considered, particularly where a novel environment or context is being considered. The authors identify an approach based on Six Sigma and the associated tools and discuss the application of the approach and the tools in the education context. In view of the importance of information and communications technologies in the modern education setting, the authors embarked on a project to improve the performance of the information technology “help desk”. The experience of carrying out the project resulted in the authors reflecting on the need for a framework for the selection of projects aimed at improvement using the Six Sigma approach and associated tools.
The fourth paper, by Sami Kärnä and Päivi Julin, recognises that there are a number of facets to the student and staff experience of working in an education service provider, and each of these facets contributes to the overall perception of the experience. The authors focus on the facilities and facilities management aspects of the overall service provision on university campuses. In this case, it is both staff and students who have legitimate views about the facilities and the institution’s management of those facilities. The authors present an analysis of survey data that enables the responsible institutional managers to prioritise the provision and management of the campus facilities in order to improve the student and staff experience.
Hardeep Chahal and Pinkey Devi, in the fifth paper in this issue, draw attention to the issue of service failure and service recovery, an issue that has been extensively researched on the commercial supply of goods and services. These authors identify potential service failures in the teaching, learning and assessment spheres, as well as support features like infrastructure, computer and library facilities and administration. Some of the issues relate to individual service encounters where the recovery has the potential to be instantaneous, while other issues relate to infrastructure and capacity issues for which there may only be remedies based on capital expenditure.
The final paper in this issue is by Mazirah Yusoff, Fraser McLeay and Helen Woodruffe-Burton, who focus down on satisfaction among students of business and management disciplines. Using a survey instrument, the authors use survey data to identify a set of dimensions that are the drivers of student satisfaction in private higher education institutions in Malaysia. The authors identify some 12 factors that underpin students’ perception of service quality in the institutions and conclude that in cases where institutions take particular care in the management of these 12 factors, they can influence the student experience in a positive way.
In this issue, we have a set of papers that cover the full gamut of potential influences on the student experience. The quest to measure and improve service quality in the provision of goods and services has an analogue in the education sector that is akin to evaluating the student experience. The evidence suggests that this is a multidimensional undertaking that must take account of various measures of diversity, cultural and gender, as well as being discipline-dependent. In all cases, further research is identified, indicating that no comprehensive solution has been developed to measure and evaluate service quality in education services as reflected in the student experience. The Editorial Team presents these contributions to enhance understanding and appreciation of methods that are being deployed internationally to improve the student experience in the provision of education services.