Quality education management at private universities in Bangladesh: An exploratory study

Jurnal Pendidik dan Pendidikan, Jil. 24, 17–32, 2009
Source

Mohammad A. Ashraf and Yusnidah Ibrahim
College of Business,
Universiti Utara
Malaysia, 06010, UUM Sintok, Kedah
E-mail: mashraf@monisys.ca, yibrahim@uum.edu.my

Mohd. H. R. Joarder
School of Business,
United International University,
80-8A Dhanmandi R/A, Dhaka 1209, Bangladesh
E-mail: joarder@uiu.ac.bd

Abstract:

An exploratory survey was conducted to analyse the consumers’ (students’)evaluation of private higher education sectors in Bangladesh with particular reference tothe quality as well as the cost of education. The sample was taken on a random basis fromabout ten private universities in the Dhaka metropolitan area. The respondents (students) were asked to evaluate the quality and the cost of education at private universities in Bangladesh. Respondents ranked the attributes according to a number of itemised seven-point scale ratings bounded at each end by one of two bipolar adjectives. The results ofthis study show that faculty credentials, the academic calendar, campus facilities, research facilities and cost of education are associated with quality education, and that the consumers feel most of the private universities in Bangladesh provide quality education atunreasonably higher costs.Keywords: quality management, cost of education, satisfaction, private universities

INTRODUCTION

Since that enactment of the Private Universities Act of 1992, Bangladesh hasseen a tremendous growth in the number of private educational platforms over

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the recent years, mainly through the emergence of a large number of universities in the private sector. Yet, this growth also has a downside to it, as rapid expansion entails a risk of compromise on quality and expenses. However, thecombined effect is a vibrant education sector with a healthy rivalry among thecompeting institutions. Undoubtedly, the main beneficiary is the studentcommunity, which gains access to a wider platform of selection with thecomparative cost advantage of domestic study over studying abroad. Thus,society and the nation are the ultimate gainers (Chowdhury, 2004).Surprisingly, about 95% of these universities are located in Dhaka’s metropolitanareas. While in the year 2000 there were only 17 of these universities, today thenumber has reached 53 (Kabir, 2006). Obviously, this growth rate seems unhealthy in consideration of the per capita income of the country and also interms of quality assurance in higher education, as education at these universities is much more expensive than at the public universities of Bangladesh. One veryfamiliar feature of these universities is the way they follow the American methodof education rather than the British model. They offer four-year bachelor degreeprograms with credit-based courses. This system has also created popular appealin Bangladesh. Still, regulators and consumers have concerns about servicequality, design and costs (Haque, 2004). As of today, there is nobody to regulate private universities and to assure the quality of education other than through theweak supervision of the University Grant Commission (UGC). Since privateuniversities receive no funding from the UGC, there is little that the UGC can doexcept report some facts for the government (Alam et al., 2007). The issue is,therefore, an important variable for higher educational private institutes thataspire to that degree of excellence. This study is, thus, an attempt to examine the opinion or satisfaction level of the clientele or consumers (students) regarding the quality and cost of education in the private sector in Bangladesh.

WHAT ARE QUALITY AND QUALITY IN EDUCATION?

Whenever quality in education is mentioned, it may be vital to establish what is understood by the term “quality,” because different professionals such as educators, researchers and politicians perceive this term differently. The term“quality” is derived from the Latin word “qualitas,” which means the degree ofexcellence of a thing (Oxford Dictionary, 2003). Coombs (1985: 105) defines theword quality as:qualitative dimensions mean more than the quality of education ascustomarily defined and judged by student learning achievements, interms of traditional curriculum and standards. Quality… also pertainsto the relevance of what is taught and learned—to how well it fits the

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present and future needs of the particular learners in question, given their particular circumstances and prospects. It also refers to significant changes in the educational system itself, in the nature of its inputs; its objectives, curricula and educational technologies; and its socio-economic, cultural and political environment.In terms of quality in education, the World Bank (1995: 46) puts forth thefollowing concept:Quality in education is difficult to define and measure. An adequate definition must include student outcomes. Most educators would also include in the definition the nature of the educational experiences that help to produce thus outcomes—the learning environment. Murgatroyd and Morgan (1994: 45–46) offer two different definitions of quality.One is related to quality assurance, and the other is from consumers’ points ofview, which are as follows:

Quality assurance refers to the determination of standards,appropriate methods and quality requirements by an expert body,accompanied by a process of inspection or evaluation that examinesthe extent to which practice meets these standards; andconsumer-driven quality refers to a notion of quality in which thosewho are to receive a product or service make explicit their expectations for this product or service and quality is defined in terms of meeting or exceeding the expectations of customers. Murgatroyd and Morgan (1994) argue that the concept of quality includes acustomer-driven perspective that is a derivative of economic theories. In fact,service quality has now become an important dimension for education providers,as with any other business organisations. Hence, customer evaluations of thequality of education should be an integral part of overall quality management inany of the organisations (Haque, 2004).Quality, and in particular quality assessment and assurance procedures, havereceived a great deal of attention in higher education all over the world in recentyears. “Quality of education” has been described by Rowley (1996: 12), from theoriginal source by Gordon and Partington (1993) as follows:

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The success with which an institution provides educational environments which enable students effectively to achieveworthwhile learning goals including appropriate academic standards.Thus, the quality issue in private universities in particular is of special interest in the contexts of Bangladesh and other developing countries in the world.

GROWTH PATTERNS OF PRIVATE UNIVERSITIES IN BANGLADESH

The spectacular growth and expansion of the private universities in Bangladesh isdepicted in Figure 1. The first private university, namely the North SouthUniversity (NSU), was approved by the government of Bangladesh (GoB) on 5 November 1992 (Alam et al., 2007). The government in power at that time(1991–1996) showed a favourable stance towards opening the door to moreprivate universities in Bangladesh. Figure 2 shows that during the period of1991–1996, sixteen private universities (mostly in metropolitan Dhaka, with onlytwo in Chittagong) were opened. During 1996–2001, the government was not favourably disposed toward the concept of private sector of education. Data showthat only four new universities were added to the list during 1996–2001. After2001, the private university concept got a significant boost again. Figure 1 showsdata taken from UCG that in a 6 to 7 years period, the total number of privateuniversities has gone up to 56 (UGC, 2008).

LITERATURE REVIEW

There are a large number of reports and theoretical works on quality from theperspective of quality assurance and quality improvement. In many of them,research scholars have identified different views on the issue of quality educationand its determining factors. However, a very limited amount of empirical work isavailable on this particular issue in the case of Bangladeshi private highereducational organisations. Andaleeb (2003) analysed seven issues crucial foreffectively fostering higher education in Bangladesh, namely, teaching quality,method, content, peer quality, direct facilities, indirect facilities and political climate.

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Source: Field Study by the authors (2009) Figure 1: Growth of private universities in Bangladesh, 1992–2008 Sabur (2004) compared private and public educations on the basis of qualityassurance. He discussed several points of debate rather than prescribing anysolutions to problems regarding the quality of education associated with the two different platforms. Spanbauer (1992) discussed the need for educational institutions to institute quality policies. Lamanga (2002) highlighted threedifferent aspects involved in measuring quality education in private universitiesin Bangladesh: the quality of teaching and research, responsiveness to thedemands of the labour market, and equity. Dhali (1999) emphasised techniquesrelated to student evaluation procedures, which he classifies as either formativeor summative. In Lamanga’s (2006) report on quality assurance in tertiary education in the caseof Bangladesh, he recommended several initiatives that can ultimately ensure aquality education system for the higher learning institutions in the country.Aminuzzaman (2007) noted that most departments of universities do not have along-term national vision, but that such a vision is crucial to quality education.

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According to Aminuzzaman (2007): Quality education in universities will be achieved through changingthe method of teaching and learning as well as assessment methods,renewing the curriculum continually, updating and upgradingprofessional knowledge and skills and improving the broadereducational, administrative and resource environments. Actually, the student/lecturer interface is important in determining quality, and itis appropriate to seek to monitor this quality through appropriate qualityassurance processes. Though this is a superficial approach, the real challenge isthe enhancement of quality. Different institutions have started to investigateapproaches to quality enhancement (Rowley, 1996). For instance, Hart andShoolbred (1993) cited Wolverhampton University as seeking registration underBS 5750 and a number of other universities as taking the TQM path, including Aston, South Bank, Robert Gordons and Wolverhampton. Other contributions that describe initiatives in this area include Marchese (1991), Ewell (1991) andCornesky (1991). A paper by the Further Education Unit (1991) offers six criteriafor a quality model: (1) it seeks to improve the quality of teaching and learningstrategies, (2) it is flexible, (3) it harnesses the commitment of all staff, (4) thelearner should be involved, (5) there must be enhanced working relationships associated with all functions of the organisation, and (6) requirements can bemeasured and progress can be demonstrated.Hart and Shoolbred (1993) seek to emphasise the relationship between qualityand culture; it is relevant to mention that quality management is after all related to how people act, and that this element of action is manifested in an organisation’s work atmosphere and culture. If further and higher education institutions are proceeding to make serious moves towards effective quality assurance, they need to be aware of how much the culture may have to change.This may be highly uncomfortable for senior management and for the entireworkforce of the institution.With respect to the cost of private university education, Kotler (2003) is right to mention that cost is a foregoing measure or an exchange price or sacrifice madeto secure a benefit. Hence, the cost of education, according to Kotler, means thesacrifice made or price paid by the beneficiaries (students) so that they canachieve the specific objective of learning.Previous findings have reported mostly results that are based on purely theoretical considerations. Given the circumstances, the present study takes theinitiative to conduct an empirical investigation based on a new approach thatevaluates the quality as well as the cost of education in the private sector of

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Bangladesh. The findings from this study are valuable in guiding professionals and policy-makers to further formulate effective educational policy in this country.

RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

The main source of data used was a field-level survey conducted during the spring session of 2007 at some selected private universities in Dhaka. Thoseuniversities have all been in existence for at least ten years. A structuredquestionnaire was used in the survey. The respondents (students) were asked towhat degree the quality and costs of education services offered by the privateuniversities corresponded to their expectations with respect to the 36 variables related to the seven dimensions of the quality-cost perception difference model.The items were applied to a seven-point “Likert type” scale (Likert, 1932). Forthis measurement, a score of 1 on the scale indicates strong disagreement and ascore of 7 indicates strong agreement. The questionnaire was pre-tested onstudents, and finally, data were collected from 360 students. Among them, 200students were in Bachelor programs and 160 were in graduate programs. Thestudents were interviewed face to face through personal visits by the authors to the university campuses. The respondents said which score best indicated howthey would describe the attributes being rated.A reliability test was conducted to verify the internal consistency of the variables obtained in the sample. For this test, the Cronbach’s alpha was used; the alphavalue is 0.8982, which is much higher than the minimum acceptable levelsuggested by Nunnally (1978). Several statistical analytical techniques such asFactor Analysis, Multiple Regression Analysis, and Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) were used to measure the level of quality education offered by theprivate educational institutions in Bangladesh.In order to measure the cost of education, the weighted average method wasapplied. The scale was converted 7 to +3, 6 to +2, 5 to +1, 4 to 0, 3 to –1, 2 to –2;and 1 to –3. The computed weighted average value for the particular variable would indicate the particular level of significance. As per this method, a highervalue is assigned for greater weight.Conceptual Framework This study investigated the factors affecting quality education in the privateuniversities in Bangladesh. In total, six independent determinants related to both human resources and organisational factors have been identified that are likely to

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affect the quality of higher education offered to the students of Bangladesh. Theindependent factors are faculty credentials, classroom facilities, the academiccalendar, campus facilities, research facilities and the cost of education. Faculty credentials are important in assuring high-quality education. By andlarge, the faculty’s main function is to equip students with the pragmaticknowledge that is most necessary for and suitable in the current and emergingnew age of science and technology. In fulfilling this function, educational entitiesmust inevitably hire and retain talented teachers. For this reason, Hensel (1991) emphasises talented faculty members and maintained that the well-being of theuniversity depends on its ability to recruit and retain a talented faculty. The well-being of any nation as a whole depends on the ability to develop a happy,emotionally healthy, and productive next generation. According to Bowen andSchuster (1986: 3), “The excellence of higher education is a function of the kindof people it is able to enlist and retain on its faculties.” Thus, all these scholarly qualities of the faculties need to be ensured in order to secure quality of educationin the universities. Higher education is by its nature a developmental environment (Rowley, 1996).Classroom facilities are important because they are part of the whole atmosphereof learning, which includes elements such as modern teaching aids as well as neat and clean space that is adequate in terms of class size and temperature environment. In Bangladesh, most of the private universities are established viarental, and classroom space is alarmingly inadequate. This factor is, thus,important in evaluating the satisfaction level of the students. The academiccalendar is another factor that is extremely important in the context of the privateuniversities of Bangladesh. In most cases, the semester is irregular and there is no tight schedule, which affect the students in terms of the proper planning of theirstudies, which in turn negatively affects the quality of their education. As mentioned earlier, almost all private universities (with few exceptions) arefounded on rented space and buildings; campus facilities such as academicallysuitable building infrastructure, extensive library facilities, dormitory facilities,canteen facility, sports and recreational facilities, computer laboratories with highspeed internet access and transport systems are extremely limited. This factor influences the overall learning of the students, which affects the quality of theireducation. In a similar fashion, research facilities are also underdeveloped. Mostof the universities do not have research bureaus, and publication facilities are alsolimited, as indicated by the fact that only four or five journals are publishedamong more than 50 private universities in Bangladesh. Due to the lack of adequate reference materials in the libraries, the teachers and the students

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Figure 2. Conceptual framework for quality education at private universities inBangladesh face enormous problems (Alam et al., 2007). Clearly the variable of campusfacilities has an important impact on the overall quality of education in thesehigher learning centres of Bangladesh.The cost of education in private universities in Bangladesh is also an importantconcern where, about 42% to 45% of households live under the absolute povertyline (Alam et al., 2007). Only rich parents can consider paying the high fees andother costs of studies for their children. In exchange for high tuition fees andother costs, the students that come from affluent families expect to receive high-quality education from these private universities. However, the private universities in fact spend most of their funds on renting for the campus buildings(Alam et al., 2007) instead of on high salaries to attract the highly qualifiedfaculty members. As a result, there exist serious questions about the quality of theeducation offered at these universities. Conceptual FrameworkIndependent VariablesDependent Variable Faculty CredentialsClassroom FacilitiesAcademic Calendar Campus FacilitiesResearch FacilitiesCost EducationQuality Education

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DATA ANALYSIS AND INTERPRETATIONS

A principal component factor analysis was conducted on the 36 variables related to quality and cost of education. This analysis yielded a 7-factor solution thatexplained 53% of the variance as represented in Table 1. The factor analysisshows that faculty credentials, campus facilities and research facilities areimportant to students in their judgments regarding quality education. Thus,focusing on these factors would enable universities to achieve quality in privateeducation.The first factor, faculty credentials, which account for the most variance (24.56%), consists of five control variables. The five variables contained in thiskey factor are: faculty’s academic background, teaching experience, updatedcourse content, communication skills and fair treatments to students. The factorloading points for these variables are considerably higher than 60. Hence, policy-makers at private universities should be more concerned about these variables ifthey wish to increase education quality in higher education programs.The second most important factor is classroom facilities, which explains 7.02%of the variation in students’ evaluations of education quality. This factor includes learning atmosphere, modern teaching aids, air-conditioned rooms, spaciousrooms, and neat and clean rooms. The factor loading points for these variables arealso higher than 60 except for the element “air-conditioned room.” Thus, theclassroom facilities are significant in explaining the quality of education at theprivate universities. The third most important factor is the academic calendar. Variables included in this component are maintaining strict schedules, make-up class provisions, anautomated registration process, and the timely completion of registration. Thefactor loading points are also substantially higher, which shows the simplysignificant level of student judgment important for determining quality education. The fourth most important factor is campus facilities, which accounts for 4.54%of the variance and broadly covers well-equipped and modern independentcampus facilities. The specific variables are modern campus buildings, transport,dormitory facilities, dining facilities, recreation and gym facilities, high-speed Internet access, an extensive library, and computer lab facilities. The factors of research facilities and cost of education are also important, as eachone explains variation of close to 4%. Thus, the results show that the privateuniversities as a whole should be more careful with regard to the identified

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Table 1. Principal factor analysis: Students’ evaluation on quality education Factor Name Variables Factor loading % of variance explained Cronbach’s reliability coefficient Faculty credentials 1. Faculty’s academic background2. Teaching experience3. Updated course content4. Communication skills5. Fair treatments to students.67.61.60.65.6024.567.7412Classroomfacilities1. Learning atmosphere2. Modern teaching aids3. Air-conditioned room4. Spacious room5. Neat and clean room.72.66.48.65.637.023.8138Academic calendar1. Maintaining strict schedules2. Make-up class provisions3. Automated registration process4. Timely completion of registration.50.69.63.636.072.5140Campus facility1. Modern campus building2. Transport3. Dormitory facilities4. Dining facilities5. Recreation and gym facilities6. High-speed Internet access7. Extensive library8. Computer lab facilities.68.55.59.74.67.61.63.604.545.7610Research facility1. Support students’ research2. Support faculty’s research3. Existence of research centre4. Publication facilities.66.67.56. 583.956.7153 Cost ofeducation1. High tuition fees2. Financial aid for poor students3. Scholarships provided4. On-campus job facilities5. Cost of study materials.70.57.62.65.623.854.4725Quality education1. Nationwide recognition forproviding excellent education2. High-paid graduates on job market3. Foreign university affiliation4. Students’ pride5. Faculty’s availability to helpstudents .64.71.60.57.583.521.7438 Cumulative % of variance explained = 53%

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factors, using which they can achieve a higher quality of education; in effect, thiswill help to push up the overall performance and productivity of the universities.The most important point to note here is that the independent factor of qualityeducation is ranked in the lowest echelon based on the students’ judgments. Itexplains the smallest amount of variation and the factor loadings are also poor. Inthis regard, the administration has a significant role to play in order to upgradethe overall quality of education offered by the private universities in Bangladesh. A step-wise regression technique was then employed. Quality education and sixorthogonal component factors were taken as dependent and independentvariables, respectively. The results are shown in Table 2. Table 2. Results of step-wise regression Variables Betas Computed tSignificanceFaculty credentials (FC).399.11.000*** Academic calendar (AC).092.33.020*Campus facilities (CF).235.19.000***Research facilities (RF).143.20.001**Cost of education (COE).133.26.001** *** p < .001; **p < .01; * p < .05 Only significant variables are shown in the table, along with their respective regression coefficients (βs) and computed students’ t statistics and theirrespective significance levels. The results of the regression analyses revealed thatout of six control variables, five—faculty credentials (FC), academic calendar(AC), campus facilities (CF), research facilities (RF) and cost of education (COE)had statistically significant effects on the rating of attitudes towards theeducational quality of the concerned universities of this study. These results are also consistent with the results found in the factor analyses, because the findingsalso showed that factors such as FC and CF exhibit the highest significance levelsthat equivalently correspond to the factor analysis results. Thus, in order to enrichquality education in the private universities of Bangladesh, all five of thesevariables need to be considered.FC and CF were found to be statistically significant and positively related toquality education. The results show that both factors are the most importantcomponents of quality education. Similarly, factors such as research facilities andthe cost of education exhibited significant results. This statistical outcomeindicates that these variables deserve more attention in the attempt to improve the quality of education at private universities. Though the significance level of theacademic calendar is comparatively less than that of other factors, it also has to

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Table 3. ANOVA for regression Sources of variationSum of square Degrees of freedom Mean square Computed FRegression200. 752540.15079.586***Residual178.589354.504Total379.341359 R2 = 53%; *** p < .001 be addressed with an equivalent degree of focus for one to attain a higher level ofeducation. The result of the R2 value underneath the ANOVA table indicates that 53% of thevariation in the dependent variable can be explained by variations in theindependent variables, i.e., 47% is due to something else not included in themodel. The significance of the F value indicates that there has been a 0% chance that the Adjusted R2 value is zero. These outcomes imply the robustness of thestudy.Table 4 presents the cost of education on a scale using the weighted averagemethod. The weighted average value of tuition fees is 1.12, which is the highestvalue in the table. This outcome indicates that the students see the tuition fee asan important factor in their education and learning process; students report that tuition is charged at a high rate by the private universities. At the same time,students also report that the number of scholarships is high, but these scholarships are offered for a limited number of top students, so this effort is notsufficient to offset the tuition fees and reduce the costs of overall privateeducation in Bangladesh. This evidence is also supported by the lower weighted average values of financial aid for poor students as well as the values of on-campus job facilities. Moreover, the variable “cost of education” is found to bestatistically significant, which implies that this variable is an important factor influencing the learning process of the students in the private universities inBangladesh.

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Table 4. Cost of education on a scale using the weighted average method Strongly Agree+3ModeratelyAgree+2SimplyAgree+1Neutral0Simply Disagree–1 Moder-atelyDisagree–2StronglyDisagree–3Weighted Average Scores1. Tuition feesare high1077953474015191.122. Financial aid for poor students6877845831735.813. Large numberof scholarships849682482015151.194. On-campus job facilities53599062381246.465. Studymaterials are expensive46668758562324.50 Source: (Field Survey, 2007)

CONCLUSION

Private education in Bangladesh is getting more competitive with the remarkable increase in the number of academic institutions in the country. The ineluctableforces of globalization in this new millennium make this growth path morecomplex and challenging. Despite the relentless and continuous effort of privateeducational institutions, quality has not yet achieved at the desired level. The cost of private education is another dimension to consider, as it is unaffordable in Bangladesh, and more effort needs to be made if costs are to be lowered.However, the system is proceeding gradually towards greater improvement. Nevertheless, all the problems considered here should be addressed more rigorously to ensure the quality of education in Bangladesh reaches the desiredlevel. This study has shed the light on the dimensions perceived by students asassociated with the quality of education. These dimensions are facultycredentials, the academic calendar, campus facilities, research facilities and thecost of education. The study also concludes that, in general, the cost of education in private universities in Bangladesh is somewhat expensive due to the imbalance between increasing tuition fees and an increasing amount of financial aid and scholarships.

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