Students' perceptions of service quality at two South African higher education institutions
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South African higher education institutions are facing increasing competition from both local and global competitors. This increasing competitive pressure has forced them to become aware of the importance of building and sustaining a suitable competitive advantage. Adding to this, South Africa’s economy, together with the world economies, has witnessed changing circumstances in relation to consumers’ needs, tastes and preferences. In this light, service quality has been recognised as a means to meet these challenges. As service industries play an important role in many economies around the world, the significance of providing an adequate level of service quality has emerged. Higher education institutions too are now being called upon to account for the quality of the services they provide. As service quality is a key strategic issue and a pervasive strategic force, the methods deployed in measuring service quality is of concern. Traditionally, higher education institutions used measures to account for the academic standards they provide, together with accreditation and performance indicators of teaching and research. However, from the viewpoint of their primary consumers, higher education institutions need to put measures in place to account for their students’ perceptions of service quality as well. Higher education institutions need to concentrate their attention on what the students feel is important in delivering the service. In measuring service quality from the perspective of the students, higher education institutions will be able to improve their service delivery processes, which will help to create consumer loyalty and, in the long-term, build a competitive advantage. The primary objective of this study was to provide a comparative view on the undergraduate students’ perceptions of the service quality delivered by two South African higher education institutions. The study comprised a literature review and an empirical study, and a descriptive research design was employed. The literature review focused on service quality. The literature review did not focus specifically on examining service quality from higher education institutions perspective but rather looked at service quality from the perspective of general service industries. In addition, in order to shape the literature on service quality, an introduction to services and services marketing was provided. Within the empirical portion of this study, quantitative research was applied using the survey method. Two South African higher education institutions formed the two sample groups in this study. A self-administered questionnaire was administered on the relevant first-, second- and third- year business and marketing management students of each sample’s respective faculties. The findings obtained from the main survey questionnaire are discussed in order to provide insights as to how students’ evaluate the service delivery of higher education institutions. Given the limitations and scope of the study, a balanced view of the two sample groups is provided in that the sample groups were split representatively. The recommendations provided in this study provide guidelines regarding the possible ways in which higher education institutions can market themselves in order to build a sustainable competitive advantage.