Proposal in improving the quality of university services

Javier Caamaño E., PhD, University of Basque Country-Spain.

Translated by Justo Gallardo, PhD.

I. Outline.

This study, as its title suggests, is oriented to provide in a detailed fashion, the main features of university public services of good quality and the main variables which influence the processes involved.

A university public service fulfils the standards of quality when it meets the client's needs regarding the issues of safety, reliability, and services rendered.

A service is not only to focus on the technical specifications; it should also be centred on the user's requirements. The quality in the service implies both fact and perception. The users will thus condition the value of the quality of the service rendered by an institution.

Public services consist of the well-organized system of services undertaken and implemented by the organizational management. They are activities that arouse the general attention to meet the collective needs. They are developed by a public referent or by a concessionaire who undertakes the administration. That is, public services are public, even whenever the means employed may be a private society or an individual.

Those who understand the university activity as a public service, the quality of the services rendered by a university, do not only acknowledge the quality in teaching, but they will also be concerned on some other issues as the management of resources and the collaborative endeavours with some other social agents.

II. Introduction.

During the last few years, according to guidelines from university institutional development and well-structured strategic planning, in which the outcome indicators and the awareness on the institutional management evolution, has constituted a permanent reference for users, society, governments, and fundamentally, higher order institutions. Thus, the designing of institutional goals has become a complimentary projecting effort. Here resides the importance to orient the goals toward an on-going future of progress and permanent improvement.

Currently higher-order institutions explicitly state such a compromise with the goal of the management with the quality of the services rendered in which the strategic plan fulfils a crucial role in the coordination of the bases of such a compromise, which is tangible in concrete plans of actions for the betterment on many higher-order institutions.

Strategic Planning is a tool that enables higher-order institutions efficiently face some of the varied and evolving challenges. However, it would become of little effectiveness if the members of the university community do not adhere to its goals. Thus, faculty, students, and personnel's commitment is crucial.

There are some guidelines that orient the strategies that are part of a plan of this sort:

  1. Settling a permanent system of improvement in the university services.
  2. Consecutive ranking of competitive levels within the university community.
  3. Empowering university resources.

In so doing, there are some strategies to be adopted that may be active instruments of a Strategic University Plan, as example,

  1. Guaranteeing efficiency in the internal organization of the services.
  2. Developing an information system to support the quality management.
  3. Improving the user's orientation in a direct and indirect fashion.
  4. Diminishing the non-quality conception and its costs.
  5. Empowering the labour performance and its satisfaction.

The activities oriented toward the implementation of the different strategies may be the following:

  1. Internal reflection and interviewing main responsible persons in charge of services/units.
  2. Coordination meetings with those individuals.
  3. Adoption of the Total Quality Assessment Model of PMI.
  4. Submitting the final annual report of outputs.

All of the undertaken activities should facilitate the development of the total quality process of services on the following three basic principles: Continuous improvement, University community involvement and User's orientation.

The concept of quality assessment implies the whole institution. That is, teaching, research, and services. The process should be twofold, on the one hand it should focus on the efficiency and effectiveness, and on the other hand, it should centre on the processes.

III. Quality Assessment Field in University Services.

The assessment on the quality of the different university projects has become a recurrent and crucial topic within the university field. Such an orientation leads us, undeniably, from a rather bureaucratic stance toward a perspective more centred on an independent perspective and market oriented.

Entities external to the academic community in the higher-order education field perceive the university problems in a general fashion as consequences from the lack of an external control process. Thus those on such a stance think that by implementing a control process based upon the implementation of rather “simple” controlling mechanisms for the actual complexity of the university services would be enough. The crucial issue should not be on how to control, but on systems in which the rationality of the university work be considered; in so doing, the mechanisms should favour the opportunities to improve the quality of the projects concerning the university services.

The assessment on the quality of the projects on university services is supported on several reasons:

  1. The need to probe that decisions and actions on university projects are goal-oriented toward a permanent and progressive improvement.
  2. The need for a more efficiency given the raise in costs and budget restrictions.
  3. The contrasted and contrasting levels requested given the internalisation of higher-order services.
  4. The need to adequately inform users/clients on the level of the offered quality.
  5. The obligation to support on tangible evidences, the quality of the university action.
  6. As a means of correcting eventual deviations from the pre-settled plan.

The concept on assessing quality embeds the whole institution, teaching, research, and minor services, in which efficiency and effectiveness, and processes are crucial issues.

IV. Model on Management on Quality for University Projects

The proposal is based upon the principles of management on project quality, according to the Project Management Institute (PMI). The PMI model is the starting point and referent point as well to higher-order institutions, which carry out management quality processes that can internally as well as externally diagnose the degree on the quality of the services rendered. By means of a self-evaluating process, it is feasible to identify the areas requiring improvement and the more important gaps to be closed.

Figure 1: Management on Quality of University Projects.

Management on Quality of University Projects

Figure 1 shows the Model on Management on Quality with an emphasis upon University Service Projects.

The focus of each of these elements can be summarized in the following fashion, with an orientation and/or an adaptation to university institutions. Thus, it is feasible to structure it as an example in the following way:

Quality Planning: This is the area in which the main efforts in the politics and strategies of a university should focus on. The organization assesses its project on quality and it will implement a given strategy based upon the corresponding politics, plans, objectives, actions, and processes. The organization will also identify relevant quality standards and how to meet them.

A.   Inputs

  1. The law on the quality of institutions.
  2. Specific rules of the institution
  3. Products/Services expected
  4. Strategies: It should compete on the opportunity of services and on positioning markets and academic strategy.
  5. International/National quality standards.
  6. University Culture/Philosophy

B.   Tools and Techniques

  1. Quality costs/Benefits Analysis
  2. Resources Analysis: Budget, Personnel, Structure, System as overall
  3. Studies as compared to other international/National universities.
  4. Diagram of Processes/ Re-engineering.
  5. New graduations/ Change in plans of study
  6. Costs related to the non-quality element.

C.   Outputs

  1. Specific plan on Quality Management.
  2. Operational Definitions from Vice-Presidencies and the corresponding units, Colleges, Institutes, Academic Departments, General Services Units, etc.
  3. Specific definitions of standards on quality university control.
  4. Verifying lists of the quality plan.

Guaranteeing Quality: The potential of an organization of a higher-order institution concerning management and development, essentially are the persons. In so doing, the aim is focused on supporting the politics and strategies in their permanent improvement of quality. Thus, performance assessment on performance provides the trust on the satisfaction within users/clients of the institution. Hence, a specialized unit will be in charge of providing the human, technical, and budget resources for the fulfilment of each phase in its development.

A.   Inputs

  1. Specific plan on quality management. It will be systematized and implemented.
  2. Operational and Systematized definitions with their corresponding defined implementation.
  3. Contrasted university quality control standards.

B.   Tools and Techniques

  1. Specific Cost Analysis/Specific quality benefits
  2. Detailed Human Resources, Budget, Structures and general System Analysis.
  3. Comparative rating with some other international/national universities in specific areas of development.
  4. Diagrams of Processes/Re-engineering.
  5. Specific costs of Non-quality on specific areas.

C.   Outputs

  1. Quality Improvement by specific areas
  2. Measurements and actions on continuous improvement of quality.
  3. Improving Processes: Processes to be analysed, Implementation of improvements, Determining Processes

Quality Control: The management of resources and their associating relations, that guarantee the objectives fulfilment, is measured by different instruments, such as surveys. They constitute the specific verification of results, in order to determine whether the standards are or are not met. In the same context, it is also possible to determine the main causes of low performance outputs.

A.   Inputs

  1. Resources, implemented procedures and processes of the Specific Plan on Quality Management.
  2. List of improvement activities
  3. University Quality Control Standards in Use

B.   Tools and Techniques

  1. Inspections of the activities subjected to quality improvement.
  2. Standards/Performance Indicators on the met quality.
  3. Satisfaction questionnaires for users/clients.
  4. Surveys analysis which have significant tendencies and levels.

C.   Outputs

  1. Quality improvements in specialization areas.
  2. Continuous Quality Improvement Measurements and Actions
  3. Results from surveys and levels of acceptance/rejection of improvement activities.
  4. Feedback from the improvement areas.
  5. Verifying completed lists with performance standards.
  6. New improvement areas.
  7. Levels of satisfaction from user/client.
  8. Levels of knowledge from society on quality improvement.
  9. Quality warranty.

Though quality is a rather difficult concept to be defined, apparently, there is a broad agreement in that a higher-order institution is approaches it, when an institution is able to adequately combine a wide spectrum of basic service elements, each of which, at its own turn, works correctly.

Total quality in education is a process that supposes a continuous influence upon a permanent improvement process. In so doing, it fulfils and surpasses the client's expectations; it also allows the sharing of responsibilities among employees, and it helps to reduce the wasting of resources, consequently, it recycles.

A higher-order institution reaches an acceptable quality level when human resources, as well as those in the fields of budget and physical resources, teaching and research, organization and management are all a suitable set for the institutional goals and objectives.

Therefore, assessment on the quality of the services rendered by a higher-order institution should be carried out from a global perspective. In so doing, each of its components should be assessed; however, special attention should be paid to the performance as a whole. This is the focus that institutional evaluation adopts.

1. Planning Quality.

It is the analysis phase and the design of university politics that will be affected either in a direct, or indirect fashion, by the results from the different processes of evaluation. It is also advisable to give emphasis on the varied phase on planning, which are related to evaluation itself.

  • The Institutional Strategic Planning, which defines the mission, the strategic axles, and the general objectives of the higher-order institution.
  • The development of plans and specific politics derived from the main areas in the fields in which the university carries out its activities, such as teaching, research, technological transference and knowledge, politics on the faculty and the personnel, and services, international services, development and management of other services such as library, internal management, etc.
  • Empowering planning in the different units that are parts of the institution; especially, teaching centres, academic departments, and institutes, and some other units on management services.

In this context, it will be necessary to adequately combine a specific planning (horizontal assessment) with a rather integrative as well as qualitative planning of the units (vertical assessment). It will also be required to adjust the planning of the institution, whatever its domain is, to the process of resources allocation, that is, to the design in budget planning.

In the same context, any planning process must fulfil the requirements of being operational, by means of a clear system of temporary scheduling; in so doing, it will define the specific activities to be carried out to meet the institutional objectives, those referred to diverse domains, or those of the units.

2. Guaranteeing Quality.

A basic focus to consider in the process of guaranteeing quality is the centring on the measures of performance and accountability, which, simultaneously, puts emphasis on the improvements of such a process.

In so doing, it seems reasonable that guaranteeing quality of a given project in a higher-order institution is supported on the following points:

  • The process of evaluation of the institution as a whole is based upon decision taking and upon the processes of orienting and management
  • The process of evaluation of the basic services: teaching and research.
  • The process of evaluation of the main units: teaching centres, the academic departments, and the units of management and services.
  • The assessment of faculty as well as personnel.

Whenever we refer to improvement in the field of quality, it must undeniably make clear-cut references to the implementation of an academic task and its quality management process. The rationale in all of the mechanisms is based upon the need to build instruments to improve the academic activity of a higher-order university and, by the same token, its adequacy to the needs and social demands.

To provide a constant academic activity and an appropriate quality management, it is vital to improve the mechanisms of decentralization within such institution. Most of the improvement measures will be the efforts from innovations and contributions from individuals, groups, and specific units.

Introducing quality improvements should be rooted in the development and adequacy of those instruments and management techniques that best suit the institution's mission and field, that is, management by objectives, reengineering, quality groups, etc.

Thus the models used in the process of evaluation intended to improve the institutional quality should include the designing of pertinent actions to suppress or diminish the weak elements found in the process of evaluation. The objectives and actions from the different standards of acceptance and, in the same context, the undertaken responsibilities will be some of the demands from the plans in improving the institutional quality.

The adoption and the introduction of betterments from the individual university authorities and the university leading teams have a crucial importance. By the same token, the culture and responsibility from the university community is also crucial. Teaching units, research units, and personnel in general, who, by their daily activities, attempt quality improvement and increase and empower the different organizational results that render as an output the quality improvement in their services.

3. Quality Control.

It is composed of the control systems and the learning for the design of academic politics and academic activities, and social accountability, as well.

The aim in the former type of evaluation should be the betterment in the levels of quality and social adequacy of the institution itself. This means the betterment in each one of the processes within a continuous process that requires the involvement of the university community as a whole.

It seems reasonable that the process of evaluation of a higher-order institution should be based upon the following issues:

  • The process of evaluation of the institution as a whole. It is focused on decision taking and its processes of management and leadership.
  • The evaluation process of the basic services: Teaching being delivered and the research being generated.
  • The evaluation of the main units; Teaching centres, the academic departments, the institutes and the units responsible by management and services.
  • The assessment of the personnel.

Therefore, it is feasible to distinguish two main trends in the evaluation process that are to become intertwined and adjusted to each institutional reality:

  • A sectarian or horizontal evaluation, which needs to be carried out on a regular chronological fashion, and above all, it is to be based upon the indicators of the activities (teaching, research, management, and others) and the sectarian or specific university plans.
  • A vertical evaluation of the teaching units, research units, and those related to management. It should be more integrative and qualitative. It should be carried out within a space in time related to the betterment cycles stated in the corresponding planning of the units.

V. Conclusions.

The fact of being in direct relation with the client intensifies the relation between the university service and demanded expectations from the services' users. The quality of the services in university projects is related mostly to specific details: The human factor is essential; however, the ultimate responsibility is the organization. It is not possible to aspire to high levels of quality if the organizational, human, and material resources are not appropriately provided.

A higher-order institution's service is feasibly to be evaluated more than by the processes than its results. A service of good quality with good information may guarantee the client's satisfaction by diminishing the uncertainty.

Clients of different services providers have stated that the reliability dimension is the most important element in judging the quality of a service. Though the relative importance of each characteristic of the service varies according to market segment, the following conclusions may be enunciated:

The betterment in the service will strongly depend on human initiative. Within services quality is closely related to the person's behaviour to whom the required service is addressed. The fact of being in direct relation with the client intensifies the relation between the service and the expected demands.

The quality of the service is linked to several, sometimes, little details: the human element is essential. However, the ultimate responsible is the organization. It is not possible to aspire to high levels of quality if the organizational, human, and material resources are not appropriately provided.

A given service is feasibly to be evaluated by or more than by the processes than its results. A service of good quality with good information may guarantee the client's satisfaction by diminishing the uncertainty. The quality of the services rendered by a university is a shared responsibility of all. It not only resides upon the teaching faculty, or upon personnel. The institutional quality of the university cannot not only be based upon the scientific and technical proficiency of faculty.

The interrelations and interdependencies within the different divisions and estates are too complex to assign the responsibility to just one segment of employees.

The general conclusions are thus summarized in the following fashion:

  • The quality of services is more difficult to evaluate than the tangible products.
  • The perception on the quality from the client is the result of comparing the service expectations with the actual implemented services.
  • The expectations and needs from clients, mainly potential clients, should be well known and detailed issues.
  • There is a need to define a permanent system of quality control among clients.
  • An internal process on the analysis of results and on-route outputs regarding a continuous process of betterment should be developed.

VI. REFERENCES

Cleary, T. (2001) Indicators of quality. Planning for Higher Education: 29, (3). P 19-28.

Gines Mora, J. (1999) Indicadores y decisiones en las universidades. Indicadores en la universidad, información y decisiones. MEC/Consejo de universidades. Fareso SA, Madrid.

Guía de Evaluación de Servicios, (2000) Plan Nacional de calidad de las Universidades, Consejo de Universidades.

Higher Education Funding Council for England, Northavon House. (2001) Performance Indicators in Higher Education in the UK. 1998-99, 1999-2000. Report. Full Text: www.hefce.ac.uk/pi.

Project Management Institute. Standars Committee (2000) Guía de los Fundamentos de la Dirección de Proyectos.2000 ed. PMBOK®. Newtown Square, PA:Project Management Institute.

Quintanilla, M. (1998) La Evaluación de la Universidad Española, En Pos de la Calidad: Notas sobre una Nueva Frontera para el sistema Universitario Español. Revista de Educación: Enero -Abril.

Rodriguez Espinar, S (1999) Información cualitativa y cuantitativa en el Plan Nacional de Evaluación. Indicadores en la universidad, información y decisiones. MEC/ Consejo de universidades. Fareso SA, Madrid.

Van-Damme, D. (2001) Quality issues in the Internationalisation of Higher Education. Higher Education 41 (4) p415-41.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

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