Smith, Kay (2016) Postgraduate study: the expectations of students and course leaders. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

Postgraduate taught programmes in the United Kingdom have seen significant increases in student numbers since 2008. A significant proportion of this increase is explained by the growth in international students choosing to study both in this country and on these programmes. However, since 2011/12 these programmes have begun to see a decrease in numbers. These students generate significant income for universities therefore this decline could have serious implications for the future viability of the programmes and a reduction in a valuable income stream for universities.

If universities and course leaders are to increase, or even just maintain, current recruitment numbers and remain competitive in this market then they will need to have a good understanding of what attracts potential students to their institution and programme of study. An important aspect of this understanding is up to date knowledge of what students expect to achieve by studying on a particular programme. The growth in international student numbers has increased the diversity of the student profile on postgraduate taught programmes. Therefore, identifying and understanding the differences in student expectations is becoming both more difficult and important.

This research study recognises the importance of understanding student expectations in order to improve student satisfaction, leading to increased success and competitiveness of the programme in the future. It, therefore, makes the assumption that students are customers of the University. It has a pragmatic research methodology, using both quantitative and qualitative data to contribute to knowledge in a number of ways. Firstly, by showing that the specific background factors of nationality, age and gender do have a significant influence on the student expectations of the outcome of a postgraduate taught programme. It can no longer be assumed that the expectations of all students will be the same, but the differences discussed in this study will need to be taken in to consideration when programmes are being designed and developed. Secondly, using the customer service gap model (Parasuraman, 1985) it has identified that statistically significant differences do exist between student expectations and the perceptions of those expectations by course leaders, therefore, a customer service gap is evident. The importance and implications of these expectations for the future competitiveness of the University are then identified.

Although the findings of this study will become out of date as the expectations of students change, the principles introduced will not. That is, the importance of student expectations and that they should be included in the regular reflective processes conducted by course leaders to improve the quality of postgraduate taught provision and compete effectively in this highly competitive market in the future.

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