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The TQM Magazine

Critical issues for TQM implementation in higher education


Mete B. Sirvanci
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Mete B. Sirvanci, (2004),"Critical issues for TQM implementation in higher education", The TQM Magazine, Vol. 16 Iss 6 pp. 382
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Sitalakshmi Venkatraman, (2007),"A framework for implementing TQM in higher education programs", Quality Assurance in
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Sangeeta Sahney, D.K. Banwet, S. Karunes, (2004),"Conceptualizing total quality management in higher education", The TQM
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Mohammad S. Owlia, Elaine M. Aspinwall, (1997),"TQM in higher education - a review", International Journal of Quality &
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Introduction
TQM implementation
Total quality management (TQM) has been
Critical issues for TQM adopted as a management paradigm by many
implementation in organizations worldwide. Quality movement in
almost every country usually starts with quality
higher education improvement projects at manufacturing
companies. TQM, as this paradigm is now called,
spreads later to service companies such as banks
Mete B. Sirvanci and insurance companies, and eventually to non-
profit organizations such as health care,
government, and education institutions. TQM
models, based on the teachings of quality gurus,
generally involve a number of “principles” or
“essential elements” such as top management’s
leadership, teamwork, customer focus, employee
involvement, training, continuous improvement
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tools and several other elements, which are all


required for successful TQM implementation. In
fact, many prominent quality awards, such as
The author Deming in Japan, Malcolm Baldrige in the USA
Mete B. Sirvanci is a Professor in the College of Business and and the European Quality Award, have adopted
Economics, University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, Wisconsin, these essential elements of TQM as their award
USA. criteria.
While higher education institutions are the
Keywords home for learning and create knowledge through
Higher education, Total quality management, Leadership, their research function, it is ironic that they have
Culture (sociology), Customers, Students been lagging behind other organizations in
embracing and implementing TQM. This inertia
Abstract in the adoption of TQM seems to be due to certain
While total quality management has been adopted by many structural and traditional characteristics of higher
organizations world-wide, its implementation in non-profit education institutions. There are also some special
organizations, such as higher education institutions, presents challenges that are not encountered in other
more challenges and difficulties than those encountered in organizations. Some of these characteristics which
business organizations. A critical step in TQM implementation is cause difficulties in TQM implementation are
the process of customer identification. In addition to customer discussed in this article. Quality in higher
identification, there are other issues such as leadership, cultural, education is treated from different perspectives in
and organizational issues that tend to create difficulties for TQM other articles in the literature. For example,
implementation in higher education. These issues along with the
measurement and evaluation of quality in higher
role of students from a quality perspective and performance
measures for higher education are discussed, and suggestions
education are studied in Grant (2002), Tranter
are made for their resolution. (2001), and Bennett (2001). On the other hand,
Owlia and Aspinwall (1996) discuss the findings of
Electronic access a survey conducted to examine the different views
on the applicability of industrial quality
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www.emeraldinsight.com/0954-478X.htm
Top management’s leadership is one of the
essential elements of TQM. In every country
where TQM has been implemented, there are
examples of company executives who have
initiated the cultural change and carried their
The TQM Magazine
organizations through the quality journey. Quite
Volume 16 · Number 6 · 2004 · pp. 382-386 different from the CEOs of business organizations,
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited · ISSN 0954-478X presidents and chancellors of higher education
DOI 10.1108/09544780410563293 institutions do not enjoy ultimate authority in
382
Critical issues for TQM implementation in higher education The TQM Magazine
Mete B. Sirvanci Volume 16 · Number 6 · 2004 · 382-386

hiring and firing of personnel and allocating Customer identification


resources. For example, in US public universities,
a shared governance system where faculty shares Among the essential elements of TQM, customer
the administration of university matters with the focus is probably the most important, as reflected
president and the deans is in effect. This type of by the weight assigned to it by various quality
shared governance leads to diffusion of authority award criteria. In fact, customer satisfaction is
and responsibility, and, as a result, the top often used synonymously with quality, and quality
administration lacks the authority to undertake is frequently defined as meeting and exceeding
drastic measures and changes in higher education customer expectations. One of the critical steps in
institutions. University presidents and chancellors, TQM implementation is the step of customer
as leaders, can naturally set goals, organizational identification, where current and potential
customers of an organization are determined.
values, and performance expectations. However,
Customer focus provides the direction and targets
since they lack the necessary authority, it is difficult
for improvement efforts, and customers and the
for them to deploy these values and goals through
market are the driving forces for quality efforts.
the layers of the higher education institutions.
As higher education institutions adopt the
TQM paradigm and initiate continuous
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improvement, the customer identification step at


these institutions seems to present more difficulties
Cultural and organizational than are encountered in business organizations.
Among the main groups within the higher
transformation
education institutions – namely faculty, students,
A set of issues that encompasses a number of and administrators – there is not much agreement
on who the customers are. While most
TQM elements may be discussed under cultural
administrators tend to perceive students as the
transformation. Organizations that have adopted
customers of faculty in the classroom, many
TQM have transformed their institution’s culture
faculty staff resent this metaphor as being too
into a total quality culture that involves elements
commercial. For example, in an effort to identify
such as teamwork, customer and market focus,
their customers, the quality council of a university
employee involvement and participation, and generated a long list including students, parents,
process management. alumni, employers, society, faculty, local
Higher education institutions have deep-rooted community, academic disciplines, and staff. While
traditions, dating back several centuries, which this looks like a complete list, some of the groups in
cause them to resist change. For example, the list are more like stakeholders than customers
universities and colleges are organized into and, perhaps, customers of secondary processes,
departmental units based on academic disciplines. rather than the primary process (i.e. education of
In adopting the TQM culture, organizations need undergraduates) of the institution. Without a well-
to move from a product focus to a market focus. defined customer and a customer focus, quality
However, the primary loyalty of faculty, efforts may easily be diffused.
particularly research faculty, is their academic
field. Market requirements for their students are of
secondary importance for them. This product
focus is true in general, but to a lesser extent for the Students’ role
faculties of professional schools such as business
While in some higher education TQM models
and engineering.
students are treated as customers, their role as
Organizationally, higher education institutions
customers is a debatable issue. It is clear that
are based on a strong departmental model. The
higher education institutions are service
departmental structure is further reinforced by the organizations, but a closer look at their operation
fact that tenure and promotion decisions for reminds us the flow of products in a production
faculty are initiated by the departments, and the plant. Figure 1 depicts the flow of students through
departments compete with each other for a higher education institution. The analogy with a
university resources. As a result of the strong typical manufacturing organization is immediate.
departmental organization, implementation of Once admitted, students move through the various
horizontal (or process) management, which courses required for a degree as raw material flows
involves desirable practices such as through the successive stages of the manufacturing
interdepartmental team teaching and cooperation process. As the finished product carries the brand
among departments for curriculum development, name and label of the manufacturer, graduating
becomes difficult. students are issued with diplomas certifying that all
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Critical issues for TQM implementation in higher education The TQM Magazine
Mete B. Sirvanci Volume 16 · Number 6 · 2004 · 382-386

Figure 1 Student flow in higher education


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the requirements for their degree have been proper model. This model implies that the
completed. In the context of the production degree seeking students are the “product-in-
analogy, university graduates compete for jobs just process”. They are the “raw material” when
as brands and products compete for customers in admitted and the “finished product” when
the market place. Thus, Figure 1 suggests that they graduate.
graduates may be interpreted as the finished (2) Internal customers for facilities – Students are
product, and that employers are the customers of the “internal customers”, in fact, paying
higher education institutions. Other components customers for many campus facilities and
of this production analogy are given in Table I. services such as dormitories, food services,
Among service organizations, higher education bookstores, libraries, sport facilities, registrar,
institutions are probably unique in yielding a and others. These non-academic facilities
production analogy. In fact, this analogy may be contribute indirectly to the quality of the
very useful in implementing TQM in higher institution’s product by helping to attract
education, since TQM has been most successful in better students, providing a more satisfactory
manufacturing organizations. campus climate, and also by supporting
academic programs.
However, unlike manufacturing companies, in
(3) Laborers in the learning process – This role was
universities and colleges students have other roles
first identified by Sirvanci (1996) as one of the
besides their product roles. In a comprehensive
dual roles of the student in the classroom. In
effort, Sirvanci (1996) identified four different
Harmon (1993), Glasser also suggested that
roles for students. According to Sirvanci (1996),
students, though not technically employees,
depending on the process under study, students
are more like lower-level employees. This role
take on one of the following four roles within the
evolves because, contrary to typical service
higher education institutions:
customers, students, as they receive service
(1) Product-in-process – At the institutional level,
(knowledge) from their instructors, are
i.e. the macro level, the production analogy expected simultaneously to work and exert
model illustrated in Figure 1 and Table I is the effort in order to learn the material by various
means such as completing projects, term
Table I Production analogy for higher education papers, and preparing for tests. The laborer
Higher education Production role seems to be unique to the students and
because of this role, the education process is
Secondary schools Suppliers
different from other service industries.
Admitted high school graduates Raw material
(4) Internal customers for the delivery of course
Student Product-in-process
Courses Process stages
material – This is the other component of the
Graduate Finished product
student’s dual role in the classroom. In fact,
Employers Customers most people have this role in mind when they
Number of graduates employed Sales think of students as customers.
Number of graduates unemployed Unsold product (inventory) From the multiple role descriptions above, it
Starting salary Price should be clear why customer identification in
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Critical issues for TQM implementation in higher education The TQM Magazine
Mete B. Sirvanci Volume 16 · Number 6 · 2004 · 382-386

higher education is a complicated and confusing dual roles of the student, this source needs to be
issue. Since various groups who are involved with used with caution so as not to affect course content
this issue seem to treat only one dimension of the adversely. The overlap between delivery and
problem rather than the whole, they usually infer a content may cause students to perceive the volume
single label for students. In fact, when the Baldrige and difficulty of course material as poor
Education Criteria were first developed during the performance in delivery. In fact, critics of student
mid to late 1990s by adapting the performance evaluations argue that demanding higher
criteria for business organizations to education standards for students often results in lower
institutions, it further blurred the customer issue evaluations, with the inevitable result that
with the substitution of student satisfaction for the achievement levels are compromised. As a result,
customer satisfaction criterion. Although the word questionnaires for the measurement of satisfaction
“customer” was never used, this substitution need to be very specific, designed to measure only
implied that students are to be considered as the delivery aspects of the course.
customers. A different aspect of the customer issue, one
The most recent version of the Baldrige which is not related to customer identification, is
Education Criteria has clarified the confusion customer loyalty. In businesses, customer loyalty is
created by the initial version. The 2002 Baldrige very important because repeat buying by loyal
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Education Criteria (Baldrige National Quality customers has a direct effect on profitability.
Program, 2002) assigns the largest percentage (20 However, higher education is a “once in a lifetime”
percent) of points to the “student learning results” activity. If students are considered as customers,
criterion (criterion 7.1 in Baldrige National this concept makes sense only when they make
Quality Program, 2002) instead of student donations as alumni. However, if employers are
satisfaction. This newer interpretation of the the customers, repeat purchase means recruiting at
student’s role agrees well with the product role the same universities and colleges every year.
(and the finished product for graduates) described
above in connection with the production analogy.
The production analogy implies that, as all other
Conclusion
organizations do, higher education institutions are
expected to improve the quality of their products Higher education institutions have been facing
(i.e. students). More than student satisfaction, challenges for some time and are expected to face
employers’ appraisal of the graduates which is, in more in the future. While many business
fact, a surrogate for society’s satisfaction, is a valid organizations have become leaner and more
performance measure in this case. efficient as a result of the adoption of TQM, higher
Representing the importance of higher education institutions have not been affected by
education institutions for general society, the this trend to as great an extent. Similar to the rise
production analogy depicts the fundamental role in health care costs, the cost of higher education
of the student. However, the other roles of the has been increasing steadily. These are some of the
student should not be ignored. For example, factors that are creating pressure on higher
students’ effort and work through their laborer role education institutions to change and become more
are essential as a principal input for the quality of efficient.
the institution’s product, namely its graduates. To There are, however, examples of successful
be successful in this role, in addition to exerting application of TQM principles and methods in
effort, students need to have the necessary skills, many universities worldwide. In fact, for the first
disposition, and motivation. These factors are time in 2002, a higher education institution,
similar to the human resource issues that University of Wisconsin-Stout, won the Baldrige
businesses face and deal with when they attempt to education award. Some of the implementations of
improve the productivity of their employees. TQM principles in higher education have been
Higher education may borrow ideas and methods confined to the administrative branches and non-
from businesses to improve the output of their academic processes of universities. On the
students. academic side, some departments, for example,
The dual of the laborer role is the internal have used QFD (quality function deployment) for
customer for the delivery of course material. To curriculum development and improvement.
improve this component of classroom teaching, Advisory councils have been established for
the best available source for feedback information departments and colleges with the goal of receiving
is the students taking the class. Students’ input information regarding the market demand
evaluation of course delivery and students’ for their graduates. Such an effort is definitely an
satisfaction are appropriate measures of example of customer and market focus. However,
performance in this case. However, because of the most of these applications have been somewhat
385
Critical issues for TQM implementation in higher education The TQM Magazine
Mete B. Sirvanci Volume 16 · Number 6 · 2004 · 382-386

narrow in scope and have not advanced beyond a administrators and boards of trustees need to
quality project application. The issues discussed overcome the issues discussed in this article.
here under the headings “Leadership” and
“Cultural and organizational transformation” are
some of the reasons hindering institution-wide
implementation. Similar issues were encountered
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