Towards a quality model for a university of technology research centre in South Africa
Over the last decade the institutional framework within which most universities in South Africa operate has undergone major transformation forcing the higher education sector to become more competitive in its approach to attracting and retaining quality students. Against this background, service quality has been put forward as a critical determinant of competitiveness. The purpose of this study therefore was to identify best practice in terms of postgraduate studies and research development and support service delivery in the South African (SA) and Australian (Aus) contexts in order to inform the development of a quality model for postgraduate or research centres (PG/RCs) for universities of technology (UoTs) in SA. Underpinned by the Gap Model of service delivery and an adapted SERVQUAL instrument, this study sought to determine perceptions and expectations of service quality across five dimensions, namely: tangibles; reliability; responsiveness; assurance; and empathy. Questionnaires and semi-structured interviews were used to gather data from PG/RC staff and postgraduate and research students in SA. Various gaps between students’ perceptions and expectations indicating dissatisfaction with PG/RC services particularly among the SA students were identified. The findings revealed that the SA UoTs lag behind the Aus UoTs in terms of communicating their services and forms of support to students and providing satisfactory services according to student expectations. The findings further suggested that issues such as service quality planning and monitoring, establishing recovery mechanisms for service failures, and student-driven service design and standards need to be high on the agenda at higher education institutions to ensure service quality control. All five dimensions of SERVQUAL indicated a negative score or quality gap suggesting that the SA PG/RCs need to urgently the gaps that exist at their institutions; key recommendations were thus made to improve the gaps identified. Based on the literature reviewed, best practice gleaned from the findings of this study, and benchmarking with the Aus UoTs; this study proposed a centralized and decentralized PG/RC model for SA UoTs to provide service quality to its ‘customers’.