Students as our customers, a paradigm shift : a study of the changing focus for polytechnics as a result of the tertiary education reforms : being a thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the degree of Master of Educational Administration at Massey University
Tertiary Education in New Zealand has undergone major reform since 1990. The fourth Labour Government of the mid 1980's with its New Right philosophy made the whole New Zealand economy more market driven and this included education. New legislation was passed in the form of the Education Act 1989 and the Education Amendment Act 1990. The National Government elected in October 1990 continued the reforms which included a student loan scheme and changes to the bulk funding regime. This thesis seeks to identify those aspects of the tertiary reforms which have had a significant impact on polytechnics and explains their effects. In particular it considers aspects of the philosophies of customer service, service quality and customer expectation which come from this business perspective and also seeks to determine how this market orientation fits into the context of tertiary education. A case study approach using qualitative and quantitative methods of data collection was adopted for this research and seeks to identify whether the customer service paradigm has impacted on one large urban polytechnic. Two faculties in this polytechnic were used for the case study, and staff and students were surveyed and interviewed, to determine whether customer need and expectation were being met in some key areas identified by student focus groups. The results of the case study reveal that there has been a paradigm shift in the polytechnic studied and students are being recognised as customers of the institute. The findings of this research reveal four major themes which are discussed in the context of the interview transcripts, survey data and supporting literature. The first shows the influence that the government's drive for efficiencies and cost effectiveness has had on polytechnic teaching strategies as well as institutions needing to meet the expectation of its major customers: the students. The second finding is that the greater autonomy the tertiary reforms gave to polytechnics to develop their own academic programmes through to degree level, is in fact under threat from the stringent approval and accreditation procedures set by NZQA; the influence of the National Qualifications Framework; and the need for polytechnics to determine their customers' needs, be they students and/or industry. Thirdly there is a dilemma faced by institutions in trying to find a balance between providing the raft of facilities and services their customers need and expect, with the financial constraints of bulk funding and acceptable fee levels. Finally the results show that the primary marketing tool of the institution is student satisfaction with the education received and services provided. This is communicated by word of mouth and at no cost to the institution and outweighs the influence of expensive marketing strategies.