Variations in student perceptions of service quality of higher education institutions in Brazil. A longitudinal study

Date04 September 2017
Published date04 September 2017
AuthorDomingos Fernandes Campos,Guido Salvi dos Santos,Felipe Nalon Castro
Variations in student perceptions
of service quality of higher
education institutions in Brazil
A longitudinal study
Domingos Fernandes Campos,Guido Salvi dos Santos and
Felipe Nalon Castro
Business School, Universidade Potiguar, Natal, Brazil
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to examine, througha longitudinal study, undergraduate student
perceptions of serviceexpectations, priorities and quality of thehigher education institution that they attend,
using an importanceperformancerating matrix.
Design/methodology/approach This researchwas carried out with students exposed to a newtype of
educational program that combinesface-to-face encounters with distance learning experiences. Respondents
belong to ve graduate courses in management. Data collection was performed at vedifferent time points,
targetingall attending students as they continued their studies.
Findings The ndings showed that the studentsexpectations of the set of factor-dened dimensions
and attributes studied increased notably over time. Seniorstudents tended to be more demanding than
beginning students. Aside from the comfort levels of the classroom, the attributes rated as most
important by the majority of students were directly linked to the professors, whether with respect to
their practical experience, teaching methods, motivation or training received. This was the case at each
stage of data collection.
Practical implications The importance performance gaps matrix offers managers at higher
education institutions with information to support decisions, especially with regard to setting priorities.
The information obtained enables managers to align actions withemergingareasofneed,and
effectively direct resources to ensure student satisfaction, retention and loyalty. Using importance
ratings taken at different stages of student interaction with the institution was found to be useful at the
institution investigated. Institutions could attract new student customers by meeting expectations with
such trend data.
Originality/value The current research captured studentschanges in expectations of their
undergraduatecoursework that combined classroom and distance learningapproaches. In addition, the study
documented variations overtime in studentsperceptions on key service areas. The paper provides data on
student-perceived priorities,quality gaps and criticality levels, seen both at a levelof aggregate dimensions
and at the levelof individual service attributes.
Keywords Service quality assurance, Higher education, Longitudinal assessments, Quality gaps,
Service improvements
Paper type Research paper
In Brazil, higher education institutions (HEIs) are evaluated by xed standards dened by
the Ministry of Education. Undergraduate courses are ranked on quality, whereby the
ranking represents targeted, but subjective evaluations made by external evaluators who
may have visited these institutions for only a few days.This type of assessment highlights
only a small set of institutional needs and does not provide adequate information for
Received 10 May 2016
Revised 10 September 2016
22 March 2017
28 June 2017
Accepted 4 July 2017
QualityAssurance in Education
Vol.25 No. 4, 2017
pp. 394-414
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/QAE-02-2016-0008
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
managing directors of institutions to take necessary corrective measures for any
shortcomings thatmay be found.
The importance of evaluatingHEIs has become ever greater considering the fairly recent
slowdown in growth patterns. In Brazil, the number of HEIs increased 83.11 per cent from
1995 to 2002 (from 894 to 1,637 units). Private institutions represented 81.4 per cent of that
number. Between 1995 and 2011, the enrollment numbers in traditional and distance
education programs increasedby 283 per cent, and private HEIs were responsible for 73 per
cent of enrollments in 2011 (Mancebo, 2013;INEP Instituto Nacional de Estudos e
Pesquisas Educacionais Anísio Teixeira, 2013). However, from 2009 to 2011, the number of
HEI amounted to 2,314; 2,378;and 2,365, respectively (Brasil, 2012), revealing a deceleration
in growth. At the same time, the number of positionsavailable in the period grew by 24 per
cent. This could be partially explained by the expansion of public funding through
programs such as FIES Student Financing Fund for Higher Education and PROUNI
University for All, which are aimed toward higher education in private institutions. In this
scenario, distance education is an additional factor contributing to an increase in
enrollments, registeringalmost 1 million students in 2011 and accounting for 14.8 per centof
the total enrollment in highereducation (Brasil, 2012;Fávero and Marques, 2013).
The intrinsic characteristics of the services provided by HEIs are dynamic, unlike the
characteristics of the quality of xed goods like building infrastructure that essentially
remains static. Thus, any assessment of services loses its accuracyand reliability over time,
unless methodologicallysensitive to changes (ONeill and Palmer, 2000).
To assess the quality of anorganizational unit or course that changes over time, the focus
of the analysis must also be longitudinal and dynamic.For example, the attributes assessed
as part of a global evaluation of service quality may vary between new and old consumers.
Also, among the same group of consumers, the intensityof the importance ratings attached
to certain attributes, as well as the perception of service quality, may vary over time.
Therefore, longitudinal studies allow researchers to investigate the dynamics of perceived
service quality betterin institutional contexts (Dagger and Sweeney, 2007).
It is also important for educational managers to gather information about the
expectations of the students, before, during and after the educational experience. With
such data, it is possible to manage changes in student expectations during that period, so
that the educational service can be appropriately improved (Hill, 1995;O'Neill and
Palmer, 2000;Vauterin et al., 2011). Long-term services possess their own characteristics,
as the context and actors involved in the provision of a service are subjected to various
forces that can provoke changes in their perceptions and changes to ways of providing
the service (Yeo, 2008).
Service quality is an idea based on the so-called quality gap”–the difference between
what customers expect of a service and what they perceive about the service received. In
higher education settings, the student is viewed as the customer. The two variables on
which service quality depends are the expected service and the service quality received.
This concept was formulated by Gronroos (1984) and Parasuraman et al. (1985). Later,
Parasuraman et al. (1988)went on to develop the gap modelas well, classifying a set of ve
scales on which gaps in perceived service quality could be gauged for organizations. Gaps
represent obstacles to offering adequate services as perceived by customers. To implement
the gap model, these authors designed a multi-dimensional survey to measure perceived
service quality, called the SERVQUAL. This instrument incorporates a set of 22 attributes
organized in the following ve dimensions or scales: tangibles, reliability, responsiveness,
assurance and empathy.
Service quality
of higher

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