International Students’ Experience and the Effect of Satisfaction on Brand Loyalty in Malaysia Public Higher Education: A Conceptual Framework

South Asian Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities
Year: 2021 (August), Volume: (2), Issue. (4)
First page: (68) Last page: (80)
Online ISSN: 2582-7065
doi: 10.48165/sajssh.2021.2404

International Students’ Experience and the Effect of Satisfaction on Brand Loyalty in Malaysia Public Higher Education: A Conceptual Framework

Helmie Sheha Che Azemi¹, Abd Rahim Romle²
¹,2School of Government, Universiti Utara Malaysia, Malaysia.

Corresponding Author: Helmie Sheha Che Azemi, E-mail:

Online Published:
8th Aug 2021

21st May 2021

10th July 2021

How to cite the Article

Azemi, H. S. C., & Romle, A. R. (2021). International Students’ Experience and the Effect of Satisfaction on Brand Loyalty in Malaysia Public Higher Education: A Conceptual Framework. South Asian Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities, 2(4), 68–80. Cite
Azemi, Helmie Sheha Che, and Abd Rahim Romle. “International Students’ Experience and the Effect of Satisfaction on Brand Loyalty in Malaysia Public Higher Education: A Conceptual Framework.” South Asian Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities, vol. 2, no. 4, 2021, pp. 68–80, Cite
Azemi HSC, Romle AR. International Students’ Experience and the Effect of Satisfaction on Brand Loyalty in Malaysia Public Higher Education: A Conceptual Framework. SAJSSH. 2021;2(4):68‑80. DOI: 10.48165/sajssh.2021.2404 Cite
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Service experience appears to be essential in a variety of academic disciplines. In business management, the service experience is a touchstone that impacts on profit, customer satisfaction, and loyalty. However, service experience has been pretty much ignored in higher education. With the intense competition between institutions, university management needs to create new enthusiasm and strategy for managing students’ experience, especially foreign students. This study proposed a conceptual framework to examine the relationship between students’ experience with brand loyalty, which is mediated by satisfaction. The research design will employ a quantitative approach using a structural equation model to obtain the result.     


Students’ experience, satisfaction, brand loyalty, higher education, conceptual


The growing number of international students who migrate for educational purposes is being significantly become attention world-wide. Malaysia is well-known as a key player in international education and the world’s 11th largest exporter of education (Cheng, Mahmood & Yeap, 2013). International students are invaluable in creating a diverse community at the university. The internalization of higher education provides chances and increases the quality of higher education systems in terms of new ideas, human skill development, and economic interests. This has prompted the Ministry of Higher Education to increase the number of international student enrolment up to 150,000 by 2015 and 200,000 by 2020, generating MYR 7.8 billion per year (Ministry of Education, 2013). The increased number of international students has prompted the government to revisit policies and framework related to quality assurance. In many countries, student experience indicators are some of the many mechanisms used to ensure quality. 

However, the massive cut in government spending on public universities in 2007 from 90 percent of allocation to 70 percent have hit them hard to switch to alternative source of income (Abdullah, 2017). The budget for public universities has been reduced from RM 7.57 billion in 2016 to RM6.12 billion in 2017 with total cut off 19.23 percent. The financial pressure has forced all public universities to make a shift in their strategy to diversify initiatives in increasing universities income (Ahmad, Ismail & Siraj, 2018). The reliance on international students’ fee is one of the strategies to secure the income (Sanchez-Serra & Marconi, 2018). Therefore, it is in the focus of public higher education institutions to recruit more international students and retain them for future enrolment. Thus, the interest of exploring the effect of international students’ experience which lead to loyalty in higher education is very important. 

A large number of studies have been undertaken to examine their satisfaction towards universities (Padlee & Reimers, 2015). Hence, it is imperative for institutions to improve greater students’ experience and expectations (Macionis, Walters & Kwok, 2018). Existing studies has reported that international students’ experience in Malaysian public universities’ services still inadequate (Tan, Sharill & Naing, 2016). Although the study of service experience has been abundantly emphasized in several settings such as tourism (Manhas & Tukamushaba, 2015; Zatori, Smith & Puczko, 2018) e-commerce (Bilgihan & Kandampully, 2016; McLean & Wilson, 2016) telecommunication (Amoako, Dzogbenuku & Doe, 2016). However, the extant literatures do not highlight the role of service experience on higher education especially in Malaysia (Abdullah, Wasiuzzaman & Musa, 2015; Singh, Schapper & Jack, 2014). According to the statistics, there is a significant drop of enrolment in 2018 and 2019 (Ministry of Higher Education, 2019). Therefore, this study is imperative to investigate further on international students’ experience in Malaysian public universities to fully understand on their intention of loyalty and provide a better experience in ensuring them having positive brand image of Malaysian Higher Educations.  

Malaysia as Destination for International Students

The Malaysian government has made huge investments in the establishment of higher education. Currently, there are 20 public HEIs and 437 private HEIs with the average enrolment 100,000 of international students every year (Ministry of Higher Education, 2018). Top exporter countries are from the Asia, Middle East and Africa.  In addition to being a famous tourist destination, Malaysia has earned a positive reputation among students as well. One of the reasons that many people choose to pursue their education in Malaysia is based on certain factors. According to Halic, Greenberg, and Paulus (2009), language is the most influential element in student learning and confidence, especially for students who are not native to English language. As in Malaysia, English language is widely spoken as it is a second language of the country. Secondly, Malaysia living cost is low as compared to its neighbour, Singapore simultaneously gaining advantage to attract international students especially from another developing countries.

The country is made up of a diverse mix of cultures and ethnicities, tolerant and safe. The variety of cuisines, ranging from Malaysian, Chinese, Indian, Middle Eastern to Western are easily found. The crime rate in Malaysia is relatively low and consider safe for foreigners (Tang, 2011). In order to guarantee that Malaysian universities maintain a high level of excellence, the Malaysian Qualification Agency (MQA) sets rules and oversees quality assurance methods, as well as the certification of national higher education institutions. Malaysia was able to provide global universities with outstanding education programmes at a cheaper cost (Grapragasem, Krishnan & Mansor, 2014). 


Brand Loyalty in Higher Education

Traditionally, brand loyalty refers to a favourable attitude and behaviour toward a brand, as well as potential repeat purchases. A committed consumer exhibits specific behaviours, such as exhibiting enjoyment in the brand and committing to splurge on the brand they like the most (Gustafsson & Johnson, 2002). While it is not restricted to the purchase attitude-behavior, they also offer referrals to other customers (Haenlein & Libai, 2017), giving positive feedback (Stein & Bowen, 2003) and recommending the brand through word of mouth (Chevalier & Mayzlin, 2006).  Dick and Basu (1994) define loyalty as customer relative attitude and repeat patronage towards certain brands. While Oliver (1999) classifies loyalty into four stages such as cognitive, affective, conative and action. This explains that customers’ loyalty in the beginning start from the awareness of the brand and later after few consumptions or engagement with the services, customers’ attitude develops into liking the brand. With the positive attitude towards the brand, customers’ behavioural intention lead to actual behaviour of loyalty. 

Although loyalty has received much attention in academic study, it has not been defined well due to ambiguity in term definitions (Annamdevula & Bellamkonda, 2016). Hennig-Thurau, Langer and Hansen (2001) assert that loyalty in higher education is similar like customer loyalty in business and marketing. Hence, brand loyalty is crucial to getting results in higher education. Someone who feels an emotional attachment to the institution is much more likely to make an admission, commitment, donate or make a referral. Brown and Mazzarol (2009) demonstrate that loyal students are willing to re-enrol at the same higher education institutions despite of applying different institutions. Besides, they will recommend the universities to another prospective students based on their experience with services provided. 

Service Experience 

Number of studies have been made to define and conceptualize customer experience, however no consensus about the construct and definition (Jain, Aagia & Bagdare, 2017; Verma & Misra, 2021). Gupta and Vajic (1999) define service experience as a feeling or opinion after the interaction on the specific services delivered. Helkkula (2011) categorizes service experience into three characterisations including phenomenological service experience, process-based service experience and outcome-based experience. Phenomenological experience can be referred as interactions between people such as lecturers or administration staff and place like library, classrooms or cafeteria (Chong & Ahmed, 2014). Process-based characterisation reflect on the transformation or phases of service delivery process from providers to customers (Toivonen, Tuominen & Brax, 2007). While outcome-based refer to the service experience that interconnected with other variables or attributes to various outcomes (Helkkula, 2011). Students must be thought of as customer which their expectations as the same level like any other customers across other service industries. A student’s first experience with higher educational institutions is very important because, it will affect their engagement with learning and overall services provided by universities. Otherwise, if the institutions fail to deliver the promises of better experience both learning and services, the entire view of overall satisfaction will be jeopardized. 

Many scholars have acknowledged that experience is one of the crucial focus of managerial, but the measurement of service experience is still inadequate (Klaus & Maklan, 2013). It is well that the most prominent instrument of SERVQUAL creates favourable purchasing intentions, willingness to pay more and recommendation. Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry (1988) assert that SERVQUAL is to measure customers’ overall expectation and assessment of the services received. SERVQUAL measures five dimensions; reliability, assurance, tangibles, empathy and responsiveness. However, according to Maklan and Klaus (2011), SERVQUAL has been challenged conceptually, methodologically and validity of its dimensions. Buttle (1996) argue that SERVQUAL is based on a disconfirmation paradigm which it is not emphasize on attitudinal paradigm. Moreover, it only focus on customers’ evaluative perceptions rather focus customers’ experiential of services (Cronin & Taylor, 1994). Therefore, Klaus and Maklan (2013) suggest that customer experience need to be assess with new assessment; Customer Experience Quality scale (EXQ). The dimensions of the scale include Product Experience, Outcome Focus, Moment of the Truth and Peace of Mind. Roy (2018) utilizes the scale in his study to measure customer experience for hedonic and utilitarian services in a longitudinal study. The empirical finding shows that the stronger effect of EXQ on consumer attitudes for hedonic services with major hypotheses supported.  

Service Experience in Higher Education

The measurement of student experience in higher education always focusses on learning (Douglas, McClelland & Davies, 2008; Sehrawat & Roy, 2021). Thus, they suggest that an integrated model of student experience in learning and various services provided by the higher education institutions. Several studies on  international student experience (Ammigan & Jones, 2018; Huong, Koo, Arambewela & Zutshi, 2017; Macionis, Walters & Kwok, 2018; Menzies & Baron, 2013). For example, Menzies and Baron (2013) use qualitative method to analyse the international students’ experience in higher education institutions. They found that the university support is much more important to help them adjusting their life in foreign place. Moreover, social supports such friends is giving them more experience in their learning and daily activities. In the study of Terrazas-Carillo, Hong & Pace (2014) support that social experience has given a meaning to students who are attached to the new place and their intention to stay. The recent study of Ammigan and Jones (2018) integrate the experience of international students into four; prior to arrival, learning, living and university supports. The findings show that all four variables are significant to the overall international students’ experience with their respective higher education institutions. 

In some countries such as Unites States and Canada, National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) is used to analyse students’ engagement and experience (Klemenčič & Chirikov, 2015). Some other instruments are Student Experience in the Research University (SERU), National Student Survey (NSS), Dutch National Student Survey (NSE) and International Student Barometer Survey (ISB) (Klemenčič & Chirikov, 2015). The use of student survey was initiated to provide the institutions with more valid and reliable information about students’ experience with educational services (Kuh, 2009). Pop, Băcilă & Slevas-Stanciu (2018) recommend that measuring student experience can be adopted from HedPERF scale by Firdaus (2018) which all items are related to educational service quality. 

Student Satisfaction

Satisfaction has always been in the centre of research for decades. It is terms of marketing research that connote satisfied customer will have tendency to have positive thinking towards brand. The attitude change and purchase intention are related to level of satisfaction (Oliver, 1980). Giese and Cote (2000) conceptualized satisfaction as an affective response on certain products and services within specific time of consumption. Satisfaction is defined as consumers’ evaluative judgements based on both cognitive and affective as an emotional response on the expectation and the outcome of services. 

In higher education, there are many studies have applied satisfaction in their models and framework as indicator of students’ loyalty (Aritonang & Lerbin, 2014; Shclesinger, Cervera & Perez-Cabañero, 2017; James & Casidy, 2016; Pedro, Pereira & Carrasqueira, 2017). Some studies are focusing on academic performance (Braun & Zolfagharian, 2016; Martirosyan, Saxon & Wanjohi, 2014; Negricea, Edu & Avram, 2014), online learning (Rios, Elliot & Mandernach, 2018; Gray & Diloreto, 2016; Horvat, Dobrota, Krsmanovic & Cudanov, 2015) and overall educational services (Khoo, Ha & McGregor, 2017; Saleem, Moosa, Imam & Khan, 2017; Yusoff, McLeay & Woodruffe-Burton, 2015). 

However, the concept of satisfaction in higher education seems to different from business and marketing perspective (Mark, 2013; Munteanu, Ceobanu, Bobalca & Anton, 2010). The relevance of putting student as customer has stirring up a great deal of controversy in the academia. Budd (2017) assert that there is a great discussion in the academic literature on the conceptions of student as customer. Adding to the explanation by Koris, Örtenblad, Kerem and Ojala (2014) argue that existing literatures do not clearly interpreting the concept. They found that students want to be recognize as customer in different categories of experience which are involve educational and auxiliary services. While Mark (2013) explains that students are not expecting to get easy courses and high grades but their expectation to improve for better life and employment. Their concern is mainly on the expectation of educational support and services which provided by institutions for long-term process or period of studies. Munteanu et al (2010) claim that students are the primary stakeholder in higher education because of their greater involvement in the overall services provided by university. Hence, student satisfaction is an important indicator in measuring the quality of teaching and learning experience for the whole process of educational outcome.  


Service Experience and Satisfaction

Experience would result in higher expectation that affecting satisfaction (Rajaratnam, Munikrishnan, Sharif and Nair (2014). There is evidence show that greater service experience leads to satisfied customer. Ali, Kim and Jeon (2018) state that customer who had pleasure with the service is genuinely having good experience and extended the joy to another customer. In their study, they found that physical environment, interaction with customers and interaction with staffs have positive impact on customer satisfaction (Ali, Kim & Jeon, 2018). In higher education context, Ammigan and Jones (2018) use four dimensions of service experience from International Student Barometer (IBS) such as arrival experience, learning experience, living experience and support service experience as the antecedent of satisfaction in 96 higher education institutions in Australia, United Kingdom and United States of America. The result shows that the four dimensions of experiences positively associated with overall students’ satisfaction. Thus, we hypothesized the relationship as below;

H1: Service Experience has significant relationship with satisfaction

Service Experience and Brand Loyalty

Building an exceptional customer experience into a brand is important to strengthen their emotion to organization. Poor customer experience can be bad and making customer to switch to another option. Manhas and Tukamushaba (2015) emphasize that customer experience is a critical factor in the evaluation of service performance. Cardinale, Nguyen and Melewar (2016) find significant of the positive overall experience on the brand make customer attach to the place they visited which result in the frequent repeated visit has contributed to customer loyalty in the winery tourism. In the recent study by Nobar and Rostamzadeh (2018) find that brand loyalty is significantly influenced by customer service in the hotel industry. Pop, Băcilă and Slevas-Stanciu (2018) empirically tested their model in Romanian Public University and found different result which influence students’ loyalty towards university. They have used the overall service experience dimensions such as professional expertise, teaching competences, personal qualities, administrative service, courses content, library experience, accommodation experience, eating space experience, medical services experience, physical space, campus facilities and career prospects to test the hypotheses. However, the result is varied and they explain that the experience level is depend on the aspect of the academic and non-academic and the programme they enrolled in. Therefore, we summarize that;

H2: Service experience has significant relationship with brand loyalty

Satisfaction and Brand Loyalty

Satisfaction and brand loyalty are majorly agreed by some scholars as marketing goals for many business organizations (Bowen & McCain, 2015; Elsäßer & Wirtz, 2017; Kim, Vogt & Knutson, 2015). Traditionally, many researches have found significant relationship between customer satisfaction and brand loyalty (Al-Msallam, 2015; Han, Nguyen, Song, Chua, Lee & Kim, 2018; Liang, Lai, Hsu, Chiu & Hsieh, 2018; Pererira, Salgueiro & Rita, 2016; Rather & Sharma, 2016). Hussein (2018) investigate the mediation effect of satisfaction between brand experience and brand loyalty in two type of dining restaurants; local and international. The finding shows that satisfaction is fully mediated the relationships while brand origin does not moderate both relationship between brand experience and satisfaction. While Hence, the hypothesis as below;

H3: Satisfaction has significant relationship with brand loyalty

The research framework representing all the proposed relationships are shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Theoretical Framework for this study


The study of service experience has been long recognized as major goal in enhancing customer satisfaction and loyalty in marketing (Ali, Kim, Li & Jeon, 2018; Dagger & O’Brien, 2010; Fernandes & Cruz, 2016). Although it has been explored in higher education, but the measurement of service experience is still lacking (Nixon, Scullion & Hearn, 2016). Hence, this study is intended to analyse the effect of service experience on brand loyalty in higher education. In the previous studies have confirmed that customer satisfaction is pre-requisite to develop customer loyalty (Fraering & Minor, 2013; Jiang & Zhang, 2016; Kasiri, Cheng, Sambasivan & Sidin, 2017). Hence, this model predicts the relationship of three variables; service experience, satisfaction and brand loyalty. 

Delivering an exceptional customer experience is vital for institutions to gain student loyalty.  In realizing the benefits, there is a need for developing sustainable model of relationship with students and their attention to the need for exceptional, relationship-building experiences. With the intense competition also, higher education institution should be committed in supporting international students through academic and non-academic area. Thus, the university management also need to enhance by developing new concepts to understand students’ need in order to enhance their experience. When expectations meet they will feel more satisfied. The satisfied students are the major source of branding for the universities, they will use positive word of mouth power as they will be satisfied. This satisfaction will create a sense of loyalty and repeated course registration by the graduates. These graduates will not only consumer services again and again but will refer to other friends and family circle and increase the enrolment in university program. 


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