The student as customer and quality in higher education

Publication Type:
Journal Article
International Journal of Educational Management, 2020, ahead-of-print, (ahead-of-print)
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PurposeThis paper explores some management concepts and how applying these concepts from business to higher education can be problematic, let alone incompatible, particularly in relation to measuring quality in higher education.Design/methodology/approachIt provides a conceptual understanding of the literature on quality in the higher education context. It does so by examining the literature on students as customers, customer expectations, customer satisfaction and other management theories that have been applied to higher education.FindingsIt argues that the current bases for perceiving quality such as meeting customer expectations, satisfying the customer, ensuring quality control, meeting standards and assessing the cost associated with poor quality are in disagreement with the principal aims and measures of quality in higher education.Research limitations/implicationsThis paper can certainly benefit from many other concepts in business that have been applied in higher education, which it lacks. It only focussed on a number of key and popular ideas in management theory that have been used in higher education more broadly.Practical implicationsStudent-focussed quality initiatives can be devoid of the student as customer concept. How programs, subjects and experiences are curated can be solely for the purpose of continuous improvement. Second, universities that choose to treat the student as a customer may find it beneficial to apply a relationship marketing approach to higher education. Lastly, those against the student as customer concept may focus on the long-term impact of quality initiatives such as promoting lifelong learning, building long-term relationships with alumni and employers and those that further promote academic integrity.Originality/valueSome considerations have been offered. These considerations revisit the basic notions of teaching and learning in higher education. It puts an emphasis on sidestepping the student as customer metaphor, that learning is not expressed in dollar terms, and that the quality of the student experience cannot be measured by student evaluation alone because it is felt much later in life.
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