Student Participation Behaviour outside the Classroom: Does Attitude Towards the University Brand Matter?

Student Participation Behaviour outside the Classroom: Does Attitude Towards the University Brand Matter?

Tamer H. Elsharnouby (Department of Management and Marketing, Qatar University, Doha, Qatar & Department of Business Administration, Cairo University, Giza, Egypt)
DOI: 10.4018/IJCRMM.2016010102
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Abstract

Drawing on literature pertaining to services marketing, branding and higher education, this study empirically identifies the antecedents of student attitude towards university brand and examines the influence of brand attitude on student participation behaviour in the university services provision. With data collected from 379 students from a leading university in the Gulf region and using structural equation modeling, the study identifies three key antecedents of students' attitude — namely, perceived faculty competency, quality of interactions among students and quality of student–administrative/IT staff interaction. The study results also suggest that a favourable evaluation of university brand in students' minds will enhance their propensity to participate actively in university services provision. The paper concludes by discussing the managerial implications of the findings, and some directions for future research are suggested.
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Introduction

What makes a great university in students’ minds? What makes a student pay double or triple the amount in tuition in a university while seeing other universities as incompetent? Is it a matter of facilities, faculty members, location and other tangibles? Or there is something else? It is argued that universities appear to form their institutional identities around things such as academic ranking, resources, research capabilities and reputation, but that is not necessarily what constitutes students’ attitude towards a university. Students might evaluate the university experience based on different criteria. A strategy that has proved successful in leveraging a university’s practices and positioning the university properly in students’ minds is branding. Branding plays a critical role in service institutions as a powerful brand enables customers/users to better visualize and understand intangible products. The contemporary body of scholarly work has revealed the role branding might play in changing the way a university is perceived (Lowrie, 2007; Temple, 2006; Wæraas & Solbakk, 2009). For many universities, robust branding is deemed critical to perform important activities such as recruiting students and faculty members, running effective fundraising campaigns and attaining sound media coverage. Brand is a shortcut for people and critical avenues for a creative engagement between institutions and their customers/users. Through branding, institutions attach something to their names in others’ minds. This mental association, good or bad, is triggered by perceiving the institution’s name, logo or slogan.

Universities today find themselves competing in a complex marketplace where their students are characterized as more demanding and empowered with information and tend to prefer personal and informal sources of information to official information released by institutions (Fagerstrøm & Ghinea, 2013). Students have also become more brand-savvy compared to their counterparts from preceding generations and are “bombarded by an assortment of marketing messages and consumer information — beginning with the ranking systems that identify the best schools and the top programs” (Whisman, 2009, p. 367). This is coupled with the fact that many governments around the world are reducing the resources assigned to higher education institutions (HEIs). Within this context, the literature supports the notion that marketing and branding theories and concepts would have important implications for HEIs both internationally and nationally (Chapleo, 2010; Hemsley-Brown & Oplatka, 2006). Universities are considered complex organizations. Branding can simplify this complexity and promote “attraction and loyalty to the organisation” (Bulotaite, 2003, p. p451). Through branding efforts, universities can make an emotional connection with current and prospective students, increase applications and increase choice commitment (Durkin et al., 2012).

As a unique services setting, previous studies in higher education have examined students’ attitude towards different dimensions of the university core service (i.e., learning) (e.g., De Vita 2000; Furnham & McManus, 2004; Hillyard et al., 2010) or other university services (Mavondo et al., 2004; Paswan et al., 2007, Paswan & Ganesh, 2009; Parahoo et al., 2013). However, very few studies have examined students’ attitude towards the university as a brand. Another gap in the higher education literature is germane to students’ participation behaviour outside the classroom sphere. Most customer participation conceptualization has been established in specific services settings other than the higher education domain (e.g., hair salons, restaurants, healthcare facilities, travel, retail) (e.g., Eisingerich et al., 2013; Ennew & Binks, 1999; Yi & Gong, 2013). Moreover, a great deal of research has been conducted to explore students’ participation and involvement in the learning process (Astin, 1984; Winn, 1995). The current study addresses this gap and examines students’ participation behaviour in university services provision.

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