Shakouri, P. Clifford, J. Atkinson, D: MAINTAINING

2019 WEI International Academic Conference on Business, Economics, Management and Finance (Harvard Faculty Club 2019, Boston, USA), July 29-August 2, 2019


The recent CBI’s Education and Skills survey (CBI, 2018), conducted in the UK, determined that 44% of employers are not satisfied with school/college/university graduates’ aptitude and readiness for work. Furthermore two thirds of employers questioned stated they were not confident with accessing high-skilled employees in the future (CBI, 2018). As a result, the president of the UK division of Pearson PLC, one of the world’s largest education companies, outlined: “it is impossible not to notice the primary trend that persists - the gap between what is taught in schools, colleges and universities and what is valued by employers” (CBI, 2018). Despite having a degree, many students are graduating from traditional universities unprepared for work. This raises the question of the purpose of higher education and how to measure its quality and effectiveness.

Established in 2012, Pearson College London (PCL) is the only higher education institution in the UK to be part of a FTSE 100 company, Pearson PLC. PCL’s approach attempts to tackle the concerns raised by employers by offering degrees that are “designed, developed and delivered by industry” standing together “shoulder to shoulder” with academia. This paper identifies recommendations in order to facilitate achieving PCL’s aim of gaining degree awarding powers and ‘university’ status in the UK, while at the same time fulfilling the need to increase student numbers, for cost purposes, without losing the USPs that make the private higher education provider a disruptive innovator in UK higher education. With rapidly growing student numbers, PCL, has now exceeded the 1000 student milestone. However, without continuous innovation beyond that of their competitors, the resultant effect could be stagnation or even ‘decline’ due to other competitors interested in also offering employability focused degrees, including well-known and highly desirable brands such as Apple and Google (Griffiths, 2016).

The private higher education sector in the UK has commonly been misconceived as ‘small”, ‘homogenous”, “poor quality” and “irrelevant” (Woodfield, 2014). PCL, as a newly formed UK private higher education provider is evidence of this misapprehension. Based on recent Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) reports, the independent body entrusted with monitoring and advising on standards and quality in UK higher education, PCL was awarded the “highest possible rating for the quality of [their] education.” The question is how can PCL maintain the balance between quality whilst achieve its ambitions to grow student numbers. A key requirement for a private provider given the cost of its operations as well as the competitive threats which might emerge from the likes of Apple and Google.

The academic literature on service quality revolves around the ‘GAP’ model, whichoffers the acronym RATER for service quality metrics. The notion that “service quality is more difficult to evaluate than product quality” is explored by Parasuraman et al. (1985). However only general service quality is discussed. There is no reference to higher education requiring different metrics, particularly for non-traditional offerings such as PCL. The GAP and RATER frameworks offer service quality metrics without providing any recommendations and thus an organisation is by consequence, responsible for setting scientific criteria and enforcing control. Accordingly, this study aimed to resolve the lack of a service quality framework for higher education providers. Assisting PCL in monitoring and evaluating its higher education service quality as it grows.

The research took two main forms. A semi-structured telephone interview with PCL’s principal, Roxanne Stockwell. As well as a questionnaire of ‘concurrent embedded design’ (Saunders et al., 2012), completed by PCL students and staff. The investigation used QAA’s recommendations as themes and encompassed previous research conducted by the authors in the field. The GAP model is a supporting framework for the analysis however the results of the study resulted in redefining a new service quality framework, termed PLACES, in order to measure service quality with higher education.

Keywords: Higher Education, HE, University, Business School, Private Higher Education, Education, FTSE 100, GAP Model, Quality.