International students' expectations and perceptions of customer service at the Durban University of Technology
Abstract Over the past few years, higher education institutions (HEI’s) have experienced dramatic changes, in their structuring, funding and student numbers. The tertiary education sector in South Africa faces many new challenges, including, more recently, various mergers and the transformation of technikons into universities of technology. This transformation as not only brought about a change of status in these institutions, but also the mergers of intrinsically different institutions. The broadening of access to higher education under the present government policy has seen a growth in the number of international student applications to tertiary institutions. In an increasingly competitive market for international students, institutions need to provide an optimum service. International students’ perceptions of HEI’s facilities and services are becoming more important. It is apparent that there is a need to measure international students’ expectations and perceptions of service quality at the Durban University of Technology (DUT). The aim of this study was to investigate customer service quality at DUT. The objectives of this study were: to determine international students’ expectations of customer service at DUT; to evaluate international students’ perceptions of customer service at DUT; to identify any gaps between expectations and perceptions of customer service at DUT; and to identify customer service expectation and perception differences according to biographical variables. The instrument used to assess the international students’ expectations and perceptions of service quality was the SERVQUAL questionnaire, measuring expectations and perceptions according to the five quality dimensions. For the purposes of this study, a census was conducted. Hence, a survey was conducted among all international students enrolled in the 2010 academic year. One hundred and ninety two international students were surveyed using the SERVQUAL questionnaire. Data were analysed using descriptive and inferential statistical techniques. Conclusions and recommendations were thereafter drawn from the literature and the findings of the study. The study shows that international students’ expectations of service quality exceeded their perceptions on the five service quality dimensions used in the SERVQUAL questionnaire. The smallest dimension gap score proved to be tangibles and reliability, both being equal, while the largest gap score of the study proved to be empathy followed by assurance and responsiveness. Therefore, it is recommended that DUT attend to these gaps and ensure that necessary strategies are implemented so that international students receive a high level of service quality in all areas of the service dimensions.