Insightful findings on motivation
iN a knowledge-driven global society, higher education credentials have been presented as crucial for economic development, and seen as a way of providing individuals with access to opportunities in the labour market.
In almost every industry, and in as many countries, a university degree is now considered an entry-level requirement for the job market.
This has made higher education institutions increasingly valued and highly competitive.
“Higher education was originally perceived as the ivory tower with its prime purpose to advance the development of minds,” says Monash University Malaysia in Sunway School of Business lecturer Dr Chong Yit Sean.
“However, the role of universities has now been extended to include its commercial impact to the national economy. Essentially, universities are now seen more as service providers, with students as our customers.”
As such, most universities rely heavily on student feedback in shaping their curriculum, as well as in evaluating the performance of its staff.
“The University Service Quality, or USQ, is a means to obtain students’ evaluation of multiple facets of his or her experience in that university in the academic services, administrative services and general facilities.”
In line with the Self-Determination theory, Dr Chong’s research sought to examine the impact of a student’s higher education motivation towards his or her USQ rating and, consequentially, student loyalty towards the university.
This aspect of analysis has not been examined by previous service research and the outcome of study highlighted the importance of the motivational effect upon service quality evaluation in higher education.
A questionnaire survey was administered at nine participating universities consisting of public universities, local private universities and foreign branch campuses in Malaysia. Approximately 2,000 business undergraduate students responded to the survey, with surprising results.
“Our study found that students who are more self-determined in enrolling for higher education tend to have a more favourable USQ experience, which leads to a greater level of satisfaction and student loyalty,” says Dr Chong.
These students are strongly motivated by the opportunity to gain more knowledge in the universities and they believe that university education would prepare them for a desired career path.
“On the other hand, students who were pressured to pursue tertiary education showed a greater tendency to provide a less favourable evaluation of their university experience.”
Dr Chong says the increasing diversity in student population in universities presents greater challenges in managing student expectations as students’ motivation for embarking on a higher education pursuit differs greatly, and could be influenced by a myriad of factors. This in turn affects how they perceive the service provided by their universities.
Her paper “Student motivation and the ‘feel good’ factor: an empirical examination of motivational predictors of university service quality evaluation” – co-authored by her PhD supervisor Prof Pervaiz Ahmed – also showed that students who felt good about their academic results gave a more positive evaluation not only in academic services but also in terms of the administrative services and general facilities in the universities.
On the opposite end, students who were not satisfied with their academic results gave negative feedback, particularly in the academic service quality.
“Our recommendation from the results of this study was for universities not to use student evaluation as a comprehensive assessment of a lecturer, or the university’s, performance, purely because all these personal factors come into play,” says Dr Chong.
The risk of relying too heavily on student evaluation is an inflation of grades, as lecturers would want students to feel good and therefore give positive evaluation.
“This is already happening in many universities, where the grading system has become so lax because lecturers don’t want their students to give them lower scores on their performance evaluation. If this continues, the quality of graduates will be adversely affected,” she says.
Instead, Dr Chong suggests using peer evaluation of teaching as an additional source of appraisal, among other forms.
“Besides that, the timing of student evaluation can be managed in such a way that student feedback is gathered at varied points of the semester, not only at the end of the semester when students would have received their assignment results and be preparing for the final exam.
“Essentially, the complex nature of USQ evaluation calls for a holistic approach in managing service standards in universities. The understanding of students’ service quality perception and expectations can assist universities in providing a meaningful USQ experience for the students,” she opines.
The outcome from this study has been published in journals such as Quality in Higher Education, Studies in Higher Education and International Journal of Educational Management.
Dr Chong also recently received funding from the Ministry of Higher Education under the Fundamental Research Grant Scheme (FRGS) to develop a predictive model for Science and Technology career decision, via a neuroscience approach.
For more information, log on to monash.edu.my
Dr Chong: ‘Universities are now seen more as service providers, with students as our customers.’