This thesis reports on an investigation at the University Tun Abdul Razak (UNITAR), Malaysia focused on students’ needs for student support services. The research addressed a new problem in distance education concerning institutional practices and strategies for providing student support within blended learning contexts, such as at UNITAR. The thesis addresses important matters related to the use of forms of education to address Malaysia’s social, political and economic development.
The study had two main research purposes. The first purpose was to investigate what barriers UNITAR’s students had to completing their study successfully. The second was to investigate students’ support services needs. The latter was divided into six subsidiary purposes. The first subsidiary purpose was to identify and compare the students’ needs intensity for the four categories of support services: administrative, academic, welfare and post-study services. The second subsidiary purpose was to investigate whether there is any correlation between students’ attributes of age, gender, marital status, number of children, enrollment status, distance from learning centre, academic abilities, course satisfaction and academic achievement, with their support needs. The other subsidiary purposes were to compare needs intensity for the four categories of services between men and women, younger and mature-age students, and lower and higher academic achievers.
The research design employed mixed methods, involving both qualitative and quantitative techniques. A series of interviews was conducted with UNITAR staff members during an inventory study of the University. Then, the students were surveyed through a questionnaire that contained closed-ended and openended questions. After analysing and compiling the results of the survey, another cycle of surveys was conducted with selected staff members through email, to validate the findings and obtain their feedback to the students’ views and their suggestions for future improvement. The quantitative survey data were analysed using SPSS, whereas the qualitative data from interview, survey and email were analysed by using content analysis techniques.
The findings of the study demonstrated that UNITAR’s students have problems in their study, which are related to their demographic and institutional attributes, and these affect their needs for four categories of support services. Generally, students attached the highest priority to academic services, followed by post-study services, administrative services and, lastly, welfare services. Four patterns of associations between students’ attributes and support services needs were identified. In particular, support services needs differences were identified between men and women, younger and mature-age students, and lower achieving and higher achieving students.
Drawing the findings of this study, relevant past studies, contemporary practices and constructive views of scholars from the relevant literature, the thesis concludes by proposing an integrated student support framework for UNITAR and suggest how this may be considered and applied more broadly in similar blended learning contexts in Malaysia and beyond.
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