Factors in postgraduate supervision that impact on the quality of research at a selected department at a university of technology
Similar to a production line, the development of a dissertation is a process within a research dyad that is affected by many factors. On completion, the customer / student is either satisfied or dissatisfied with the outcome of the research process. However, errors in the dissertation detract from its quality and this may leave students dissatisfied with the overall outcome of the marking and review process. To improve the product, it is critical that factors contributing to the production of a quality dissertation are understood. The aim of this study was to determine which components of the SERVQUAL model (namely, Responsiveness, Assurance, Tangibles, Empathy and Reliability) contributed to a lower quality dissertation, thereby gaining an understanding of, and implementing factors which enable the production of a good quality dissertation which meets all stakeholders’ expectations. This was achieved through a prospective, mixed-methods study which analyzed the quality of 30 dissertations by means of a Checklist, denoting the quality of the dissertations. Thereafter, the 30 students and 30 supervisors involved in these dyads were asked to each complete separate questionnaires. The questions covered their respective demographics, research knowledge, expectations and perceptions of the research process. The data was then descriptively analysed and presented by way of tables to demonstrate the quality of the dissertation, and the characteristics of the students and the supervisors. The Chi-Squared statistics and Fisher’s Exact tests were then computed to determine relationships between these characteristics. It was revealed that significant differences between the students and the supervisors existed regarding: the length of time to completion of their Master’s; the roles of facilitators in the research process; student and supervisor role ambiguity; the reason for and need to complete research and specific knowledge of the research process. It was noted that a lack of communication resulted in a significant impact on reliability of the university service, moderate impact on assurance and responsiveness, with the least impact on empathy. In contrast, both the student and the supervisor perceived the tangibles provided by the university as satisfactory. Then, through the process of triangulation, it was shown that the relationship within the dyad lacked clear communication and common understanding of the research processes which was likely to result in a lower quality dissertation. It is, therefore, recommended that all students and supervisors that enter into a dyadic relationship need to find mechanisms (for example: learning contract, weekly meetings) to ensure a consistent and common understanding of the research process throughout its development to allow for the effective production of a good quality dissertation.