Stakeholder expectations of the educational experience in higher education property disciplines in Australia

Robson, K 2016, Stakeholder expectations of the educational experience in higher education property disciplines in Australia, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Property, Construction and Project Management, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Stakeholder expectations of the educational experience in higher education property disciplines in Australia
Author(s) Robson, K
Year 2016
Abstract An investigation of property higher education in Australia involves lengthy discussion with the three major stakeholders: students, industry and the universities. This research used a mixed methods methodology, combined with the use of a critical incident technique, to ensure the results obtained from two major stakeholders, students and industry, were tested in a triangulated manner. The mixed methods analysis consisted of focus groups, group interviews and questionnaires. The critical incident technique was used to identify specific incidents critical to the stakeholders' experiences. Details were obtained by personal interview and questionnaire.

The higher education experience for Australian students is constantly changing. Higher education institutions have always commanded respect and go to enormous lengths to maintain their reputations. There are now 37 public universities in Australia and undergraduate property degrees are provided by 10 of these. Millions of students have been awarded degrees since the days of the early universities, including thousands of property education degrees, with more than 750 new graduates in this field every year.

The increased numbers of higher education students come at a price, which has a twofold aspect. The first is the student/staff ratio, which is now in the vicinity of 50:1 at many Australian universities; and second, the large increase in students attending universities has placed undue stress on many inadequate facilities. Many things have changed about a higher education experience, such as finding information, which is now easier; but applying this information may now be more difficult. Most students today complete higher education studies as a necessary step in a career choice, and the increasing and changing use of new technologies opens up these workplaces to new experiences. It is difficult nowadays for students to leave university knowing all that they need to be successful in their careers.

When asked if they were satisfied with their property higher education experience, students replied they felt they were not being properly prepared for the workplace. They also spoke of poor teaching practices, unreliable IT facilities, inappropriate and unreliable course materials and assessment, and poor feedback on these assessments. They also stated that many lecturers were hard to understand and/or boring, used outdated and inaccurate materials, were generally uninspiring and lacked a passion for teaching. They also said they would like more practical components in their property subjects, with greater use of case studies, industry speakers, formal work experience and site visits. In these desires they were also joined by recent graduates and industry leaders.

The dilemma in property higher education appears to be fourfold:

  - First, like many other higher education programs, property degrees are not making sufficient use of innovative practices, and many academics teaching in the programs lack motivation.
  - Second, and specific to property higher education, the material taught has become very theoretical. This focus is regarded as misguided by both students and industry, who believe that a more practical application would prepare them more for the property industry workplace. The reason given for this shift of emphasis to the theoretical is that the large cohorts of students make it extremely difficult to organise site visits and formal work experience. Cohorts of 100+ would be difficult to place in industry and are too large a group to visit sites.
  - Third, property shares a close relationship with industry through professional accrediting bodies - the Australian Property Institute and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. This is similar to many other professions, such as accounting, medicine and law. Property professionals are heavily regulated in their behaviour, especially with regard to valuation. This relationship and control makes it very difficult for universities to be flexible with curricula.
  - Finally, the large increase in student enrolment has opened the door for many more students than usual. However, this may end up being a problem when these large cohorts of students begin graduating at the end of 2016 and are seeking employment. It is possible this boutique industry of only around 10,000 professionals may not be able to find positions for all the available graduates. Until 2013, property graduate employment was between 90 and 100 per cent in Australia.

Perfect stakeholder satisfaction might be difficult to achieve; however, stakeholders need to work together, and talk and listen to one another, so that stakeholder satisfaction can be improved. There have been large shifts in stakeholder satisfaction over the last five years with regard to listening to students and moving toward better learning and teaching outcomes. Although nothing may be done in the short term about program delivery and course content, it is possible that even these can change, given time. When customer (student) satisfaction levels are examined and gaps are found in their experiences, the individual problems may be addressed ¿ and even rectified or the client compensated. Rarely, though, does the intrinsic process change, and the errors in service delivery (the negative critical incidents) continue. The same problems keep being raised as successive groups of students are questioned. Over a three- or four-year time period, and at 10 different universities, much the same problems recur.

Higher education is more than just services marketing; it is relationship marketing. Although there are classrooms, online materials, textbooks and so on, the predominant experience is between the students, their administrators and lecturers. Like all interaction between humans, some is positive and some negative. Students may relate well to one lecturer and not another. Lecturers may have an excellent group of students to work with one semester and not the next. It is possible that we have reached the limits of how student satisfaction can be managed and improved without intrinsic changes to the way the programs are delivered. It may be time to evaluate the process and accept that despite the best efforts of well-intentioned university personnel, this is as good as it is going to get. However, there are strategies that can be put in place in higher education property programs to both improve stakeholder satisfaction and to improve the level of training that students receive. There are many excellent simulations available in the property area that can be used to make exercises more realistic. If academic staff  lack industry experience, then guest lecturers could be engaged to run interactive seminars, or create YouTube excerpts to illustrate important industry knowledge. Although field trips are difficult and expensive to organise, it is important that they continue to be offered to students, especially in the area of valuation. Finally, it is important that universities work closely with the two accrediting bodies as they represent the opinions of industry leaders and have many suggestions to offer to improve the quality of property education.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Property, Construction and Project Management
Subjects Building Construction Management and Project Planning
Keyword(s) property higher education
student satisfaction
stakeholder satisfaction
Australian Property Institute
Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors
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