Service quality satisfaction and brand equity : a case study of select South African universities.
Soni, Sanjay Shantilal.
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Service quality, student satisfaction, and brand equity are key principles in marketing that are known to play an important role in marketing success. Changes to the South African higher education landscape and the subsequent challenges accompanying these changes such as, inter alia, greater competition, declining government subsidies, and more discerning students, has necessitated managing higher education institutions like businesses, and the application of business and marketing principles to attain success has become imperative. Whilst the areas of Service Quality, Student Satisfaction and Brand Equity within a higher education context have been studied over time, there remains a dearth of literature in a South African higher education context. In fact, the association between service quality and brand equity, including their sub-categories, in a higher education context, is not only an under-researched area in South African higher education, but also in higher education internationally. Hence, the study’s contribution can be considered unique particularly in this context. The main problem that the study tries to seek answers to is what is the perception amongst students of Service Quality, Student Satisfaction, and Brand Equity, and the associations between these constructs for the selected sample of higher education students in South Africa? A purposive judgmental sample of 400 students from two select higher educational institution campuses were selected in equal proportions (i.e. 200 students from each institution). The data was collected using a semi-structured questionnaire and subjected to different kinds of statistical analyses. Descriptive tests for each construct were conducted based on frequency tables and graphs (including cross-tabulations with select demographic variables e.g. gender), cluster analyses, and factor and Confirmatory Factor Analyses. Inferential statistical analyses, to show the associations and predictive abilities of the independent variables within each construct was conducted using correlations, multiple linear regression analyses AND Structural Equation Modelling. A conceptual model was tested based on the aforementioned analyses. The study’s findings are: The key service quality factors rated from highest to lowest were Responsiveness, Assurance, Reliability, Tangibles, and Empathy. iv OVERALL SERVICE QUALITY (OSQ), OVERALL STUDENT SATISFACTION (OSS) and OVERALL BRAND EQUITY (OBE) were rated as above average. No differences were found in OVERALL SERVICE QUALITY (OSQ), OVERALL STUDENT SATISFACTION (OSS) and OVERALL BRAND EQUITY (OBE) across demographic categories, except for race. The key service quality dimensions based on its importance to the student, in descending order were Responsiveness, Reliability, Assurance, Empathy and Tangibles. Statistically significant negative gaps were found for all the service quality dimensions, suggesting improvements are needed in all areas in order to close the gaps. The largest negative gaps were found for Reliability and Empathy. Important service quality explanatory factors were Empathy, Tangibles. Reliability, Responsiveness and Helpfulness. Important brand equity explanatory factors were Key Associations and Differentiation, Loyalty and Awareness. Empathy, Responsiveness, Reliability and Assurance were significant and positive predictors of OVERALL SERVICE QUALITY (OSQ). Empathy, Responsiveness, and Tangibles were positive and significant predictors of OVERALL STUDENT SATISFACTION (OSS). Significant and positive relationships were found to exist between Empathy and Tangibles with OVERALL BRAND EQUITY (OBE). Significant and positive relationships were also found to exist between Key Associations and Differentiation and Loyalty with OVERALL BRAND EQUITY (OBE). The relationship between the dimensions of brand equity and OVERALL BRAND EQUITY (OBE) differ for male and female students. Empathy and Tangibles significantly predict Loyalty. Empathy, Assurance, Reliability and Tangibles significantly predict Key Associations and Differentiation. OVERALL STUDENT SATISFACTION (OSS) and OVERALL SERVICE QUALITY (OSQ) are significant predictors of OVERALL BRAND EQUITY (OBE). Service Quality (SQ), Brand Equity (BE) and OVERALL STUDENT SATISFACTION (OSS) are significantly and positively associated. In the light of the various findings, it is recommended that greater emphasis be placed by higher educational institutions on measuring and managing Service Quality, Student Satisfaction, and Brand Equity. Furthermore, the associations between the aforementioned constructs, and their measurement dimensions which emerged as being significant also needs to be carefully considered if Higher Education leaders are to attract and retain students in the highly competitive environment.