Improving Higher Education ‘Customer Service’ in Nigeria

Lately, I have been reflecting on much of the analysis work and discourse on higher education (HE) in Nigeria. It appears, to me at least, that majority of the informed voices (many of them from within the HEs) blame the state of HE institutions on the government.

However, I point here to one of five areas (which I will write about each week for the next month) where I think crucial improvements are needed, to improve HE quality and for which government’s role is marginal.

‘Customer service’

By ‘customer service,’ I mean the quality of interaction between students and staff (faculty and non-faculty). In this regard, I refer to students as ‘customers’ and Universities (and their staff) as ‘service provider.’ At the heart of customer service is satisfaction (before, during and after the delivery of a service). Thus companies make every possible effort to ensure the delivery of products that satisfy their clientele, including avenues for post service complaint in case of product defect.

There is no doubt that the quality of service delivery is crucial to a functional educational system. ‘Quality of College life’ (QCL) researchers such as Joseph Sirgy recognise that student satisfaction with educational service is contingent (at least in part) on the quality of their interaction with faculty (and perhaps non-faculty staff). Sirgy’s (Sirgy et al 2007, 2010) measure of QCL includes satisfaction with: faculty, teaching method, classroom environment, student workload, academic reputation and academic diversity. Much of these are within the ambit of what individual universities can achieve on their own.

The complete lack of customer service is one of the biggest challenges of HE in Nigeria. Teachers (and lecturers) either do not offer the services for which they are paid (and for which students pay tuition or associated costs), or they do not offer them to the acceptable quality. However, unlike customer service in the private sector (and perhaps HE institutions elsewhere), students do not have sufficient leverage or avenues to complain with regard to quality. And although the rules and mechanisms for complaints exist on paper, lack of insistence on adequate customer service implies that students do not ‘dare’ to complain. As a result, their service provider (and its staff) acts with impunity.

To resolve this challenge, it is the responsibility of individual HE institutions to up their game, by instituting and insisting on the best possible quality of service, with the required level of respect for students. They need to insist on teachers’ respect for school timetables, as well as the views and values of students. It is important to note that students at HEs are not necessarily tabula rasa as many of them know what they expect to receive (that’s why many choose the courses they do anyway!) and could be fairly knowledgeable in their chosen courses. Thus, the learning process could be two-way; benefitting both students and teachers (‘no individual is an island of knowledge’). In addition, HE’s need to put in place relevant ethical standards, procedures and practices and ensuring that these codes are religiously upheld and pursued, with errant teachers reprimanded accordingly.

If only teachers are in class when needed, the school timetables respected and the students viewed and valued as customers at our HE institutions, we could be much better off compared to where we are presently.

nb: Series to be continued next week. Comments are welcome.

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