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Int. J. Value Chain Management, Vol. 3, No.

4, 2009 335

A research framework using SERVQUAL instrument


to analyse the quality of services provided by private
institutions of higher learning in Malaysia

Arivalan Ramaiyah* and


Jeya Chandra Malar Jayaprakash
Curtin University of Technology,
CDT 250, 98009, Miri, Sarawak Malaysia
E-mail: arivalan_r@yahoo.com
E-mail: malar.j@curtin.edu.my
*Corresponding author

Ahmad Nurulazam Md. Zain


School of Educational Studies,
University Science Malaysia,
11800 USM Penang, Malaysia
E-mail: anmz_usm@yahoo.com

Abstract: The purpose of this paper is to provide a framework for researchers


who intend to conduct research on service quality in education sectors. This
paper is written based on the literature review conducted in the area of service
quality. Limited studies have been conducted in the area of service quality at
higher education in Malaysia. Understanding the service quality expectations
and perceptions of the students from the institution of higher learning is
important to determine the strength and weaknesses in providing quality of
services to its students. This paper highlights the various service quality
dimensions used by the researchers to measure the service quality in different
types of institutions. It also includes the discussions on the most common
methods used to measure the service quality by prominent researchers. It is
expected that this paper would provide a good insight to researchers who are
planning to conduct research on service quality in education sectors.

Keywords: service quality; quality in education; service quality measurement;


Malaysia.

Reference to this paper should be made as follows: Ramaiyah, A.,


Jayaprakash, J.C.M. and Zain, A.N.M. (2009) ‘A research framework using
SERVQUAL instrument to analyse the quality of services provided by private
institutions of higher learning in Malaysia’, Int. J. Value Chain Management,
Vol. 3, No. 4, pp.335–345.

Biographical notes: Arivalan Ramiayah is a Lecturer at Curtin University of


Technology, Sarawak campus. He holds a DBA from Southern Luzon State
University, Philippines and currently pursuing his PhD at University Science
Malaysia, Penang Malaysia. He has published papers on service quality at
various international conferences. His research agenda consists of various
research subjects including service quality, customer relations, marketing and
philosophy.

Copyright © 2009 Inderscience Enterprises Ltd.


336 A. Ramaiyah et al.

Jeya Chandra Malar Jayaprakash obtained her Master of Education from


University of Western Australia and her Graduate Diploma in Education from
Curtin University of Technology, Perth. She has keen interest in researching
innovative teaching, enhancement of student learning, and curriculum design
and assessment. She was appointed as the Dean of The Learning Centre in July
2008. In 2008, she won the Students Choice Award at Curtin Sarawak.

Ahmad Nurulazam Md. Zain is an Associate Professor in Science Education at


the School of Educational Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang since
1996. He obtained his BSc in Physics and MA in Teaching of Science from
Western Michigan University, USA and his PhD in Curriculum and Instruction
in Science from Michigan State University, USA. He is also an Associate
Research Fellow at the National Higher Education Research Institute (IPPTN),
Penang. He has a wide array of research and development interests, including
integrating computers in teaching of science, employing new approaches in
teaching of science and also in higher education.

1 Introduction

Service quality measured using the customer survey is vital to stay competitive in the
private education industry. Understanding the perceptions of the students is also
important to determine the strength and weaknesses of the institutions in providing
quality of services. Limited studies have been conducted in the area of student perception
covering the institutions of higher learning in Malaysia.

2 Definitions of quality in education

The quality of education is difficult to define (Macukow, 2000). Some researchers


believe that quality cannot be defined in any simple ways (Freeland, 1991; Becher, 1994).
This is one of the key reasons why many researchers skip the effort in defining the
quality of education in their research works.

3 The perception of service quality

The measurement methods of the service quality perception are still been debated and
unsettled (Owlia and Aspinwall, 1996; Parasuraman et al., 1993; Cronin and Taylor,
1994; Carman, 1990; Buttle, 1996). Despite of the on-going debates, many researchers
have agreed on the importance and the significances of service quality for organisations
to achieve higher customer satisfactions (Arambewela and Hall, 2006; Athiyaman, 1997;
Ben, 2007; Berry et al., 1990; Boshoff and Gray, 2004).

4 Service quality: a customers’ view point

Service quality has become a strategic option for many educational institutions around
the globe. The role of service quality has also become critical to the success of an
A research framework using SERVQUAL instrument 337

organisation (Landrum et al., 2007). In Malaysia, both private and public schools strive to
provide quality services to its students in order to develop and maintain their reputation.
Ministry of Education in Malaysia, takes continuous efforts to upgrade and improve the
quality of services provided to the schools by introducing various policies and plans
using inside-out approach. This research is expected to identify the quality of services
provided by the schools from students’ viewpoint as a customer.

5 Dimension of service quality

In the context of education in Malaysia, the measurement of service quality is crucial to


provide conducive learning environment to the students Many institutions have adopted
‘quality’ as a theme as they compete with each other (Annette, 2005). The term ‘quality’
is very broad in nature and it covers a broad number of concepts that must be researched.
Thus, although some authors only analyse the teaching of the teachers as the determinant
of quality, many authors analyse the overall experience of the students with the totality of
services that institution offers (Hill, 1995; Joseph, 2005).
As mentioned earlier, most definitions of service quality were developed by
understanding the customers (Galloway and Wearn, 1998), with customer satisfaction
being seen as a function of perceived quality (Anderson and Sullivan, 1993), or perceived
quality being a function of customer satisfaction (Parasuraman et al., 1988). Service
quality, as perceived by customers, involves a comparison of what they feel the service
should be (expectation, E) with their judgment of the service(s) they received (perception,
P) (Lehtinen and Lehtinen, 1991; Parasuraman, 1985; Zeithaml et al., 1992).

6 Service quality models

There have been five predominant measurement tools since 1991. These tools all differ in
theoretical background, data collection, sample size dimensions and response. No one
measurement tool has been classified as superior but applicability is determined by the
final result and the industry that is to be investigated (Lagrosen et al., 2004).
The following are the five measurements tools since 1991:
a Two-way – Applied latent evaluations factors based on the theory that service is
evaluated by answers given by customers about ‘objective’ (quality attributes) and
‘subjective’ (satisfaction level). The survey was sent to 330 service providers
including banks, restaurants, laundries and supermarkets.
b SERVPERF (Cronin and Taylor, 1994) based their survey on the theory that service
quality is evaluated by perceptions only and used two banks, pest control companies,
laundries and fast food companies with sample size of 600. They also have used a
seven-point semantic differential scale and utilised the same dimensions of the
SERVQUAL study. The key differences were that only perceptions were evaluated.
c Normed quality (Teas, 1994) was based on the theory that the problem for
expectation runs to redefinition to calculate service quality and was conducted on
three scale dimensions as SERVQUAL.
338 A. Ramaiyah et al.

d Qualitometro (Frenceschini et al., 2004) is founded on the determinants of service


quality. Customer expectations and perceptions are evaluated in two distinct
moments. Quality evaluation is carried out by means of a comparison between
quality and expectations and perception profiles. The study was conducted in a
library facility, utilising a sample size of 100. It also deployed the same semantic
scale and dimensions as SERVQUAL.
e SERVQUAL developed to measure the service quality construct as defined by the
service quality model and the extended service model. SERVQUAL is used to
measure consumers’ and service providers’ expectations and perceptions. This
approach enables the expectations and perceptions gaps to be assessed, while
providing a measure of the service quality gap and the service delivery gap (Mangold
and Emin, 1990). According to Parasuramsn et al.’s (1988) model, the gap between
consumers’ expectations and perceptions are a function of several other gaps in the
service delivery process (Mangold and Emin, 1990). The original survey was based
on two telephone companies, insurance companies and banks with a sample size
ranging from 290–497. Parasuraman et al. (1991) utilised a seven-point semantic
differential scale. The survey consisted of the following five dimensions: tangibles,
reliability, assurance, responsiveness and empathy.

7 Research methodology

This study can use both qualitative and quantitative techniques. The research design for
this study consisted of six stages, exploratory research, research instrument construction,
testing the research instruments, selection of participants and data collection methods,
data editing and data analysis which are discussed as follows:
Stage 1 Exploratory research: focus group interview will be conducted to determine the
dimensions of service quality in institutions of higher learning. The items
received from the students’ feedback will be used as the base to conduct factor
analysis to construct the dimensions of service quality. Different dimensions of
service quality will be carefully named according to suitability.
Stage 2 Research instrument construction: questionnaire will be design from the
dimensions developed through the factor analysis in stage 1. The questionnaire
will be constructed using the SERVQUAL model which encompasses questions
using seven Likert scale measuring the expectations and perceptions.
Stage 3 Validity and reliability of research instruments: this stage involved testing the
validity and reliability of the research instruments developed in the earlier stage.
A pilot study will be conducted to confirm the research instruments validity and
reliability before the main survey.
Stage 4 Selection of participants and data collection methods: this stage involved
selection of participants, and sampling techniques used for the qualitative and
quantitative phase of this study. The questionnaires will be distributed to
students from all the private universities in Malaysia. Appropriate sample size
can be chosen according to the nature of the target populations to minimise the
sampling errors (Devlin et al., 2003).
A research framework using SERVQUAL instrument 339

Stage 5 Data editing: after data collection of the quantitative research, questionnaires
will be edited to ensure completeness before data entry and analysis by using
SPSS version 11 and above.
Stage 6 Data analysis: the seventh stage involved data analysis using selected statistical
techniques. (Please refer to data analysis).

8 Research design for this study

A quantitative methodology can be used for this study. The study is


exploratory/formulative and diagnostic in nature with an emphasis on discovery of
insights and ideas. The scope of the study will be confined to selected private universities
with appropriate sample size.
The questionnaire for this survey can be based on the Likert scale 1–7 that contains
question on service attributes, grouped together into dimensions which developed from
factor analysis through focus group interview.
Each dimension will be named according to the perception of the students on the
quality of education provided by the private universities.

9 Research framework

To measure the perception of the service quality, the following model will be used as the
research framework.
Figure 1 Research framework
340 A. Ramaiyah et al.

The diagram indicates that this study uses two measurement tools to measure the quality
of services provided by the school. The first tool is multiple regressions analysis and the
second tool is gap analysis using SERVQUAL instrument modified from the
Parasuraman et al. (1988) tool.

10 Multiple regression analysis

The objective to use this tool to identify the significances of the five dimensions on the
quality of services provided by the private universities. The correlations between the
dependent variable (service quality) and the independent variables (five dimensions)
would reveal the importance and weightings of each dimension on the quality of services
provided by the private universities. The weightings are essential for the research to draw
conclusion on the seriousness or impact on schools for not fulfilling the service quality
gap. This method of analysis also will enable the researcher to measure the service
quality index of the private universities thus providing application value to the study.
However, in this research, measurement of service quality index is excluded as it is not
captured in the objective of the research.
To measure the perception of the service quality, the following model can e used as
the theoretical framework:
Dependent variable Service quality of private universities (Y): ability to provide
quality service
Independent variable Dimension 1 (x0) + Dimension 2(x1) + Dimension 3 (x2)
+ Dimension 4(x3) + Dimension n (x4).
Other intervening variables such as family income, parent occupations, parent’s
education, number of siblings in the family, gender and other relevant demographic
variables also can be incorporated in this study to understand the correlations with the
dependent variable and independent variables.
Hypothesis for testing the model are as follows:
H0 There is no significant relationship between service quality and dimension 1.
H0 There is no significant relationship between service quality and dimension 2.
H0 There is no significant relationship between service quality and dimension 3.

H0 There is no significant relationship between service quality and dimension 4.


H0 There is no significant relationship between service quality and dimension 5.
H0 There is no significant relationship between service quality and dimension n.

11 Sample and data collection

A written questionnaire is considered an appropriate data collection instrument because it


permits a large number of students to be surveyed in a brief period of time.
A research framework using SERVQUAL instrument 341

The researchers will distribute questionnaires to all the selected private universities.
Students in year 1, 2 and 3 will be randomly selected to fill up the questionnaires. About
100 questionnaires will be distributed to each university covering all courses.

12 Questionnaire

The questionnaire comprise of three sections. The first section will cover the bio data of
respondents, which includes gender, interested course of study, ethnicity, race and
religion, parent’s income, parent’s occupation.
The second section of the questionnaire will include 25 items pertaining to their
expectations using Likert scale 1–7. The third part of the questionnaire will indicate their
perceptions of service quality which comprise of 25 items on perceptions and five items
on overall service quality. However the items on the questionnaire will be adjusted
according to the number of dimensions. At least an addition of five items is required to
conduct the multiple regression analysis. Many researchers found that the Likert scale
1–7 is appropriate for this research as other service quality researchers commonly use this
scale to measure the service quality of an institution [Parasuraman, (2002), p.23, p.58].

13 Data analysis

The statistical analysis for conducting the analysis for student perceptions on the service
quality is descriptive as well as inferential and includes multivariate techniques through
correlation and variances analysis. Simple linear and multiple regression analysis also can
be carried out, with overall perception of quality as dependent variable and other quality
indicators as independent variables. The details are as follows:
The following tests will be conducted to analyse the data :

13.1 Multiple regression analysis


Multiple regression analysis is essential since this research includes four independent
variables. The multiple regression models for this research are as follows:
Y = β o + β 1 x1 + β 2 x 2 + β 3 x3 + β 4 x 4 + ε

where Y is the dependent variable, x1, x2, …., xk are independent variables,
βο, β1,…, βk are the coefficients and ε is the error variable.
Note:
Dependent variable Service quality (Y)
Independent variable Dimension 1(x1) + dimension 2(x2) + dimension 3(x3)
+ dimension 4(x4) + dimension 5(x5).
The following steps (McClave et al., 2004) will be adhered to conduct the multiple
regression analysis:
Step 1 Hypothesize the deterministic component of the model. This component relates
the mean, E(Y), to the independent variables x1, x2, …., xk.
342 A. Ramaiyah et al.

Step 2 Use the sample data to estimate the unknown model parameters, βο, β1, …., βk
in the model.
Step 3 Specify the probability distribution of the random error term, ε and estimate the
standard deviation of this distribution, σ.
Step 4 Assess the model’s fit. Three statistics that perform this function are the
‘standard error estimate, the coefficient of determination, t test’ and the ‘global
F-test of the analysis of variance’ (Keller and Warrack, 2006).
Step 5 Reliability and validity test
The researchers will conduct the reliability test on the mentioned model to measure the
reliability of the overall statistical analysis. This concept of reliability considers whether
the obtained results are stable indication of the student’s perceptions on the quality of
education provided by the schools. This test also will provide judgment on the accuracy
of the measurements conducted on the student’s perceptions. Further to that, the test also
will indicate how much error there is the measuring instrument. The following reliability
test will be conducted by the researchers:

13.2 Internal consistency method


Under this approach, data will be split into half to compute ‘half-test scores’, which then
enter into the computation of a correlation coefficient. For each split, a different
reliability coefficient might be obtained. Kuder and Richardson (xxxx) formulated
measures of reliability that used item statistics, as opposed to part or total scores, as the
basic unit of measurement. The result is a reliable estimate, which is equivalent to the
average of all possible split-half coefficients. However, for this research, Cronbach’
coefficient alpha will be used to test the reliability of the outcome by using SPSS
software.

13.3 Validity analysis


Three separate types of validity are suggested as being necessary in any research:
1 content validity
2 construct validity
3 predictive validity.
The current study addressed content validity through literature review since content
validity is concerned with how representative the scale or instrument represents the
content of the property or characteristics being measured (Green et al., 1988). This study
also will assess construct validity using factor analysis.

13.4 Gap analysis


The correspondence between the overall quality ratings and the SERVQUAL scores
(obtained through the differences between students’ expectations and perceptions) will be
examined using paired T-test.
A research framework using SERVQUAL instrument 343

The following hypothesis will be tested to measure the differences (gap between
expectations – perceptions):

Hypotheses 1
Hoa There is no significant difference in students’ expectations of service quality when
classified according to reliability.
Hab There is significant difference in students’ expectations of service quality when
classified according to reliability.

Hypotheses 2
Hoc There is no significant difference in students’ perceptions of service quality when
classified according to tangibles.
Had There is significant difference in students’ perceptions of service quality when
classified according to tangibles.

Hypotheses 3
Hoe There is no significant difference in students’ perceptions of service quality when
classified according to assurance.
Haf There is significant difference in students’ perceptions of service quality when
classified according to assurance.

Hypotheses 4
Hog There is no significant difference in students’ perceptions of service quality when
classified according to responsiveness.
Hah There is significant difference in students’ perceptions of service quality when
classified according to responsiveness.

Hypotheses 5
Hoi There is no significant difference in students’ perceptions of service quality when
classified according to empathy.
Haj There is significant difference in students’ perceptions of service quality when
classified according to empathy.

14 Expected impact of service quality research on private institutions of


higher learning

• assist the management of the private universities to understand the perception of the
students on the quality of service provided
• able to identify the areas to improvement the service quality offers
344 A. Ramaiyah et al.

• able to provide effective services to the students according to their preferences


• improve the study environment in university
• able to foster better understanding and relationship between the staff, teachers and
students
• to reduce complains on the area of service quality
• to gain competitive advantage to attract students
• to generate positive word-of-mouth
• this research is expected to pave ways for future research in the area of service
quality.

15 Conclusions

Many institutions are competing among each other to provide quality services to its
customers. However, the objective of providing good services to the customers will not
be achieved without measuring the perception of the customers. This study is expected to
pave way for the researchers to conduct analysis on the quality of service provided by the
private universities in Malaysia. The research instrument for this research was carefully
selected after analysing the most common method adopted by the researchers. Service
quality studies are getting very important for both commercial and non-commercial
institutions to enhance their competitiveness.

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