The Concept of Satisfaction in Higher Education

Introduction and frame of the study

This literature review aims at investigating the importance of satisfaction of the students in higher education form a marketing point of view. As such, we understand the meaning of words, expression, and concepts we only have a limited relation to Operational field of study (that would understand HEI’s as a Business entity).

The study will be constructed as follow, we shall first understand the definition of satisfaction within the boundaries of the subject earlier mentioned before investing its particular meaning for students and its place and importance in Service Quality.

We would like to warn the reader that we have a limitation in term of references. To overcome this later one, we chose to focus on fairly recent articles. Our aim is certainly not to diminish the utter significance of early literature but they will be often quoted here as part of our chosen references. While sourcing for articles, we noticed that service quality is an “avant-gardiste” and ever growing field of study that branchs out worldwile to every industries, Education makes no exeption. The assumption we made from the coursework statement is that we certainely will be assessed on both the core chosen subject and our technical skills for conducting a literature review. Therefore, we shall try our best and limit our volume of reference without compromising the integrity of the subject.

The concept of Satisfaction

The concept of satisfaction plays a key role in any marketing strategy (Churchill and Suprenant, 1982), and it is even considered the king of marketing research (Oliver, 1999). Creating a sustainable advantage in today’s competitive market depends, to a large extent, on the ability to deliver high-quality service that translates into satisfied customers (Shemwell, Yavas and Bilgin, 1998).

Customer satisfaction is a central concept in marketing research (Luo and Homburg, 2007). In fact, Machleit and Mantel (2000) consider satisfaction as the core of all marketing activities. In the beginning, research in the area of customer satisfaction focused only on end consumers. It was therefore commonly referred to as ‘consumer satisfaction’ (Bearden and Teel 1983, Cadotte et al., 1987, Anderson, 1993).

Customer satisfaction is the result of experiencing a service and comparing that experience with the expected service quality (Oliver, 1980), in relation to both – intangible and tangible goods; it can be defined on two different levels: as a simple transaction, or as the overall accumulation of the relationship (Jones and Suh, 2000). While there is some academic agreement that the process of contradiction is a precedent of satisfaction, empirical support for this relationship has not been complete (Yi, 1990). There is a wide discussion as to whether it is expectations that directly affect satisfaction, or whether its main antecedent is perceived quality (Churchill and Surprenant, 1982, Bahia et al., 2000).

Hereby, the evaluation of client satisfaction (Bahia et al., 2000) can provide a more realistic and dynamic representation of the client’s satisfaction (Bahia et al., 2000). Various definitions of satisfaction have been established within the scope of service marketing. Oliver (1980) defines this as a finite-duration experience that relates directly to the experience of a product or service, serving to maintain or improve the previous attitude that the client had about the product or service in question. Kotler (1999, 2000) considers it as the mood of a person that results from comparing the perceived performance of a product or service with their initial expectations, having a close relationship with the perceived value. This global customer satisfaction is an important indicator of the perceived past, present and future results of a company or any other entity offering products or services (Anderson, Fornell and Lehmann, 1994).

Mano and Oliver (1993) define satisfaction as a hedonistic evaluative attitude or judgment centered on the product, and that it could be evaluated after consumption. Fornell (1992) defines satisfaction as a general assessment, based on the evaluation of the perceived product after the purchase, which has to be compared with the expectations before the purchase. On the other hand, Halstead et al. (1994) consider that satisfaction is an affective response, in the centre of which is the comparison of the result of the product before the purchase, and during or after its consumption.

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Rust and Oliver (1994) suggest that the level of satisfaction reflects the degree to which a consumer believes that the possession or use of a service generates positive feelings. As noted by Chang et al. (2009), when satisfaction is considered as an emotional response, it is defined as satisfaction of “transaction”, whereas when the service depends on many factors, in which repeated “transactions” occur, satisfaction is given as a “cumulative result”, or overall satisfaction (Shankar et al., 2003). To a great extent, this view of repeated “transactions” corresponds to the service provided by universities, since it depends on many factors over a long period of time. In addition, students do not have the opportunity to easily switch providers, causing opportune dissatisfaction.

Various researchers have defined satisfaction as a positive or
the net value of services received from a provider (Schmidt and Allscheid, 1995; Woodruff, 1997; Douglas et al., 2004). The table below shows a selection of definitions about this concept.

Therefore, the concept of customer satisfaction has been extensively debated in the literature, and numerous definitions have been proposed without a consensus being reached. After having thoroughly examined the main definitions that have been proposed, Giese and Cote (2000) identify three basic distinctive components that make up satisfaction:

1. The type of response, (i.e. whether it is a cognitive, affective or conative), as well as the intensity of the response.

2. The focus or object of this response, which may be based on an evaluation of the rules related to the product, the experiences of consumption of the product, or the attributes related to the purchase, such as, for example, the sales staff.

3. The time or moment at which the evaluation is performed, which can be expressed before or after making the choice, after consumption, after accumulated experiences, or at any other time. In this study, for example, the evaluation is performed after the ‘consumption’ of the service and gathers experiences accumulated from the perspective of the graduate. Achieving consumer or customer satisfaction is one of the main goals for greater competitiveness (Seymour, 1993). Knowing the satisfaction of different audiences gives rise to different benefits (Anderson, 1993):

  • For clients this means that organizations understand the variables that improve the satisfaction of the public, which leads to improvements in products and services and improvements in life standards;
  • For companies this means improvement of the customer portfolio (forecast for the future), improvements in the distribution of resources, competitive information;
  • For countries this means an increase in competitiveness within national strategies, improvements in state economies, aid for decision making in the businesses (national and foreign), and a better understanding of the differences between countries.

Understanding of satisfaction with the organizations gives rise to synergies that, generally, tend to favor the competitiveness of a country.

Satisfaction for university students

A university, as a public institution, should try to create a positive image for its different audiences. It must know each one of them deeply to satisfy them adequately and to know what all those variables that influence a positive assessment of the university are. In the case of students, it is important to analyze all those variables that influence both: their university experience, as well as their pre- and post-experiences. Therefore, universities progressively create, maintain and consolidate relationships with their different audiences, especially with their students (Hasan, Ilias, Rahman and Razak, 2008). It is only with the satisfied students that the success and permanence of the students, and, above all, the formation of a positive word of mouth can be achieved in the institution (Alves and Raposo, 2004).

In the context of higher education, Elliot and Healy (2001) affirm that student satisfaction is a short-term attitude derived from the evaluation of their educational experience. On the other hand, Elliott and Shin (2002) define student satisfaction as the subjective evaluation of the different students’ outcomes (employment, social, etc.) as well as of their experiences of education and life on campus and their initial expectations. The reasons that motivated students to decide on their career and on the university play a fundamental role in such expectations (Elliot and Shin, 2002). A university student’s satisfaction is a multidimensional concept that depends on student’s own implication and goals, as well as on the quality and service provided by the university (Hartman and Schmidt, 1995).

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As a rule, student satisfaction was assessed throughout the literature with the help of questionnaires that evaluate the quality of teaching and the content of subjects or specific services, such as libraries. But a lesser degree of questionnaires are sent to students after finishing the university stage, so that they can evaluate the institution. In addition, it is important to analyse the psychological and pre-university aspects that influence the academic evolution of the student. Students participating in the learning process are the main stakeholders of the university, and therefore, the focus on student satisfaction goes hand in hand with the development of a culture of continuous improvement of the university (Harvey, 1995).

Biggs (2003) reviews the studies that have addressed university satisfaction, concluding that achieving high student satisfaction allows for different benefits to be obtained in the learning process:

  • Teachers show higher productivity and enthusiasm when the appreciation of their services is evaluated;
  • In the case of higher education, an institution is more willing to adopt changes; for example, to assume new teaching / learning styles;
  • It is assumed that students performs their university studies and have fun at the same time;
  • Students’ perception and experience are evaluated so that the university is aware of the aspects to be improved based on the students’ opinion.

There have been numerous researches, who focused on the concept of university satisfaction, via studying which components or determinants make up such satisfaction (Aitken, 1982; Bean & Bradley, 1986; Pike, 1991; Hartman & Schmidt, 1995; Webb & Jagun, 1997; Browne et al., 1998; Aldridge & Rowley, 1998; Browne et al., 1999; Elliot & Healy, 2001; Wiers-Jenssen, Stensaker & Grogaard, 2002; Elliot & Shin, 2002; DeShields, Kara & Kaynak, 2005; Marzo et al., 2005; Arambewela & Hall, 2006; Alves & Raposo, 2007; Nasser, Khoury & Abouchedid, 2008; Husain et al., 2009; Alves & Raposo, 2010; Pike & Larkin, 2010; Duque & Weeks, 2010; Kheiry et al., 2012; Duarte, Alves & Raposo, 2012; Moosmayer & Siems, 2012; Blázquez et al., 2013).

Table 3.11 lists papers whose main objective is to analyze the components and processes of satisfaction in the context of higher education.

The performed work has measured the satisfaction of current students, that is, during their university experience. Among these studies, Aitken (1982) established that satisfaction depended on academic factors and accommodation services, whereas financial and personal factors, and involvement determined student retention. Later, Bean and Bradley (1986) concluded that the academic results do not affect the perception of the quality of aspects such as the service received or the physical aspects and satisfaction.

More recently, Elliot and Healy (2001) concluded that attributes related to the environment, learning and student welfare are the main sources of satisfaction. Wiers-Jenssen et al. (2002) determined that university environment, as well as infrastructures and quality of service (as a specific dimension) are the main factors. While Husain et al. (2009) evidenced empirically that the sources of greatest satisfaction are the physical environment, interaction and received support, feedback, evaluation, and management. Finally, within the factors considered, Blázquez et al. (2013) concluded that sports activities and international programs are the social aspects that have the greatest impact on student satisfaction. In their study they included aspects related to facilities and resources (libraries, leisure resources, etc.), academic factors (teaching, workload, etc.) and social aspects (sports, housing, environment, etc.).

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Thereby, most of the authors have examined the satisfaction from the perspective of the current students, that is to say, that they were at the moment of carrying out their studies. Therefore, they have not been based on the recommendations of Westbrook and Oliver (1991) and Mano and Oliver (1993) who affirm that satisfaction is a state that must be evaluated after product consumption or service experience. However, Hartman and Schmidt (1995) took the perspective of the graduate (hence, after consumption) concluding that satisfaction depends largely on whether academic and work expectations have been met in addition to a favorable assessment of the services received during the experience.

In this regard, the work of Duarte et al. (2012) compared the satisfaction of 150 students at two stages: halfway through their university career and after completing their studies. The results indicated that satisfaction is maintained at similar levels both when studying and at the end of the course; in fact, certain aspects, such as quality, were valued more once the graduates had had work experience. This contrasts with the results of Pike and Larkin (2010), and although they did not measure satisfaction by means of the graduate, they compared the evaluation of postgraduate students’ satisfaction at the beginning, middle and end of their course, revealing that satisfaction was greater during the initial stage of their studies, followed by higher levels of dissatisfaction later because their expectations have not been met. Nasser et al. (2008) reached the same conclusion, where he determined that the newcomers in the institution are those that present a higher degree of satisfaction.

Apart from these studies, it is also worth mentioning the studies of graduates in Spain where they measure the satisfaction of the graduates with respect to the training and the service received that were analyzed in chapter 1 (for example, the UGR).

With respect to other researchers, only Webb and Jagun (1997) took into account the employees of the university, and Browne et al. (1999) analyzed parental satisfaction compared to that of their own children, concluding that there is practically no difference in satisfaction among them, although it is slightly higher among the parents.

Another aspect resulting from the observation of the table is that satisfaction has been a subject of research in many different countries, but the research done in the United States has been put in the forefront (Aitken, 1982; Bean and Bradley, 1986; Pike, 1991; Schmidt 1995, Browne et al., 1998, Browne et al., 1999, Elliot and Healy, 2001, Elliot and Shin, 2002, DeShields, Kara and Kaynak, 2005); there the majority of studies have focused on understanding the satisfaction attributes and development of a methodology or definition of a special measure for the university sector.

Taking into account the Spanish context, Marzo et al. (2005) analyzed the influence of teaching components as factors of satisfaction. More recently, Blázquez et al. (2013) considered a greater number of aspects of university quality such as offered services or visual elements. It is noteworthy that in the study carried out by Duque and Weeks (2010) among both Spanish and American students, it was concluded that the implication is relevant in mediating the positive or negative assessment of the university service.

Mention that studies have emphasized the importance of the relationship between quality and satisfaction (as was already possible in the section on quality) and will be analyzed later. Academic achievement has also been the subject of study as the basis for satisfaction with intellectual expectations (Bean and Bradley, 1986; Pike, 1991).

Finally, taking into account the methodologies used to measure satisfaction, statistical techniques of regression analysis and structural equations stand out. Qualitative methods have been used to a lesser extent in relation to other variables such as image or quality, with certain exceptions (Webb and Jagun, 1997; Aldridge and Rowley, 1998).

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