The disabled student experience: does the SERVQUAL scale measure up?

Published date01 February 2011
Date01 February 2011
AuthorElizabeth Vaughan,Helen Woodruffe‐Burton
Subject MatterEducation
The disabled student experience:
does the SERVQUAL scale
measure up?
Elizabeth Vaughan
Glasgow Caledonian University, Glasgow, UK, and
Helen Woodruffe-Burton
Cumbria Business School, University of Cumbria, Lancaster, UK
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to empirically test a new disabled service user-specific service
quality model ARCHSECRET against a modified SERVQUAL model in the context of disabled
students within higher education.
Design/methodology/approach – The application of SERVQUAL in the voluntary sector had
raised serious issues on its portability into this sector in general and its ability to measure the
experience of the disabled service user in particular. In consequence, a disabled service user-specific
service quality model – ARCHSECRET – was developed which led to this research being designed to
compare ARCHSECRET and a modified SERVQUAL model in terms of their ability to predict and
explain the variation in the service quality experience of disabled students in higher education.
Findings ARCHSECRET was superior to the modified SERVQUAL in terms of its overall
predictive power; ARCHSECRET key drivers were different and better in predictive power than those
of the modified SERVQUAL; and ARCHSECRET was found to be reliable and valid for the
measurement of the disabled student experience in higher education, while acting as a diagnostic tool
for the identification of service quality shortfalls.
Research limitations/implications – The reported research should be regarded as a pilot study
whose results are worthy of further investigation among larger samples of disabled service users.
Originality/value – It is held that the disabled service user-specific ARCHSECRET model has made
a positive contribution to the measurement of service quality within the context of disabled students in
higher education while demonstrating its superiority over the SERVQUAL scale which did not quite
“measure up”.
Keywords SERVQUAL, Disabledpeople, Higher education
Paper type Research paper
1. Service quality measurement
Quality is an elusive and indistinct construct (Parasuraman et al., 1985).
The attainmentof quality in products and services becamea pivotalconcern in the 1980s
but while qualityof tangible goods had been well describedand measured; Parasuraman
et al. (PZB) found that quality in services had at that time been largely undefined and
under-researched.This finding led to an extensive researchstudy by PZB (Parasuraman
et al., 1985) to put forwarda model of service quality which proposed that servicequality
is a function of the gap between expectation and perception of performance across
quality dimensions. The rest as they say is history. This exploratory research was
further developed and refined into a multi-attribute, five dimensional scale called
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
Received May 2010
Revised July 2010
Accepted October 2010
Quality Assurance in Education
Vol. 19 No. 1, 2011
pp. 28-49
qEmerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/09684881111107744
SERVQUAL in a series of publications (Parasuraman et al., 1990; Parasuraman et al.,
1991a; Parasuraman et al., 1991b; Parasuraman et al., 1993; Parasuraman et al.,1988,
1994a; Parasuraman et al., 1994b; Parasuramanet al., 1994c) which has led to it being the
most widely used measure of service quality but the most severely criticised. Buttle
(1996) provides a critique of the disconfirmation paradigm, role of expectations, process
orientation, dimensionality and the multi-attribute scale adopted by SERVQUAL.
2. A bespoke service quality model: disabled service users
Research undertaken in the public and voluntary sectors (Donnelly et al., 1996; Shiu,
Vaughan and Donnelly, 1996, 1997) had raised concerns about the portability of
SERVQUAL into a sector whose services had no close analogy with those of the
private sector. The application of the SERVQUAL model into the voluntary sector to
measure the disabled service user experience (Shiu et al., 1997) had necessitated its
modification to include three additional items encapsulated in a possible sixth
dimension of “Accessibility” of physical facilities and materials which was markedly
different to the “Access” dimension identified in the original SERVQUAL ten
dimensional model (Parasuraman et al., 1985). Shiu et al. (1997) found that “the facto r
loading patterns, representing the relationships between the underlying dimensions
and the survey instrument showed a very poor fit to that expected under the
SERVQUAL model”. Hence the results questioned the validity of the SERVQUAL
dimensions and underlying 22 item statements for measuring service quality in the
voluntary sector in general and the disabled service user group in particular. The study
(Shiu et al., 1997) concluded that there was a need for exploratory research to provide
insight into how disabled service users define and evaluate quality; the outcom e of
which could lead to the development of a bespoke service quality model to measure the
disabled service user experience of service quality in the voluntary sector, while
attending to the cited criticisms of the SERVQUAL model.
In order to develop the bespoke model, a qualitative research study was
undertaken to gain an insight into how disabled service users define and evaluate
overall service quality. Analysis of the transcripts using grounded theory produced
40 emerging service quality attributes across 12 hypothesised dimensions (Vaughan
and Shiu, 1997). A quantitative survey then followed designed to capture data on
expectations, perceptions and importance of the 40 identified service quality
attributes. The resultant data was analysed using principal component analysis to
determine the degree of redundancy in the 40 service quality attributes. This
revealed that 99 per cent of the variation (or information) in the data could be
explained by around 26 components/features. Hence, for the loss of a 1 per cent
amount of information, the survey instrument could potentially be reduced by 14
items (from 40 to 26). Correlation Analysis was also applied to determine pairs or
clusters of attributes considered conceptually similar by respondents. This resulted
in a multi-attribute scale comprising 26 attributes across ten hypothesised service
quality dimensions (see Appendix) for the measurement of service quality as
perceived by disabled service users in the voluntary sector. The ten dimensions
were arranged under the acronym ARCHSECRET (see Table I) which inferred no
ordering of each dimension rather it was a convenient title for the emerging
hypothesised model of service quality for the voluntary sector (Vaughan and Shiu,
1999; Vaughan and Shiu, 1997, 1998, 2001).
The disabled

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