I really liked your question about the balance between quality assurance and other measures. And in particular I found myself nodding in agreement with Nicholson when she said;
“A common criticism of quality assurance is that it pays little attention to educational processes, educational theory and/or student learning and as a result, improvement or enhancement is only incidental” (Nicholson, 2011, p. 8).
This points to another issue hiding in the cracks here: that of the gatekeeper role of HEIs. By “gatekeeper”, I do not mean the typical definition;
“Gatekeeper courses are formally defined in the data gathering instructions to the colleges as the first college-level courses the student must take after remediation” (Bailey, Jeong, & Cho, 2008, p. 5)
but the idea that HEI grant degrees based on their minimum pass level. Logically, quality assurance is based on this level because that is the standard of the degree. However, practically, it is unclear if the standard under discussion in quality assurance is the minimum or the maximum levels, or both. For example, in Jarvis’ (2014) review of quality assurance in HE, there is no mention of what quality may mean. This pattern is ubiquitous.
In Japan’s case, accreditation is granted if HEIs show that they take steps to ensure 15 classes in a term (Mulvey, 2015). This may be a cultural anomaly, but very little in the reading this week has shown the attempt to define what quality actually means in terms of academic standards. The reality is that the decision to pass or fail a student falls to the professor in charge of the course. Each professor is in effect the gatekeeper of standards, and any pass given defines the level of the course. Student improvement does not feature in this consideration, and it is possible (certainly for English language courses) for students to pass even if their level decreases during the course if their starting level was sufficiently high. And as long as too many students are not failed, no one complains.
Bailey, T., Jeong, D. W., & Cho, S.-W. (2008). REFERRAL, ENROLLMENT, AND COMPLETION IN DEVELOPMENTAL EDUCATION SEQUENCES IN COMMUNITY COLLEGES (No. 15). CCRC Working Paper.
Jarvis, D. S. L. (2014). Regulating higher education: Quality assurance and neo-liberal managerialism in higher education—A critical introduction. Policy and Society, 33, 155–166. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.polsoc.2014.09.005
Mulvey, B. (2015). Numbers Game: How Accreditation, Kaken-Hi and the “SUPER GLOBAL” Program are Changing Japan’s Universities.
Nicholson, K. (2011). Quality Assurance in Higher Education: A Review of the Literature. Council of Ontario Universities Degree Level Expectations Project, 1–15.