Your list of elements that comprise a system for quality assurance is impressive. Being based on BS5750, it allowed me the opportunity to look a bit at the nature of regulatory bodies and the relationship between the ISO (International Standards Organisation) and the BSI (British Standards Institute), which were somewhat opaque to me before this. The short answer to this relationship is that ISO9000 is based on BS5750 (BSI Group, 2015a) and that although the British standards, ‘BS’ denominations, have no legal status, the UK government often bases regulations on the BSI recommendations (BSI Group, 2015a). With more pan-European influence in the UK through the EC, ISO recommendations are also often used in UK regulatory documents (BSI Group, 2015a).
A few issues arise from the notion (and existence) of advisory bodies. Do BS/ ISO guidelines operate as minimum baseline standards, or as best practice benchmarks? According to BS, a BS certification shows a “commit[ment] to best practices” (BSI Group, 2015b). As with any standards organisation, definitions of quality are definitions created by that organisation. Tautologous, I know, but behind the definitions are issues of individual power, ideology, responsiveness to time (i.e. best practices may change quicker than updates to standards), responsiveness to knowledge (i.e. best knowledge may not be available), which leads to the assumption that new knowledge must be a development of the older standards and not a different one.
All of this leads me to question Ellis'(1993) position vis-a-vis the BS5750 standards which he lists on page 24 and elucidates on the following pages. Ellis himself understands the critical difference in nature between supplying minimum “standards for a product and standards for the management of design and production” (p. 22). He relates higher education to a service product (in itself a revealing move) and lists the 20 elements that the BSI argue a quality assurance should contain.
[Here is Ellis’ list, from cohort member, P]:
- Universities should produce a statement of policy for quality in teaching and learning and ensure that it is understood by all employees and academic staff.
- Universities should identify people responsible for key elements in assurance of quality in teaching, their authorities and interrelationships.
- Universities should decide how its quality standards will be described and how their accomplishment will be verified and by whom.
- Universities should identify a particular senior person and associated committee responsible for its quality assurance operations.
- They should regularly review the management of quality in teaching and learning.
- They should set out in details the system to assure quality in teaching and learning, including its organization and plan for a specified period shown in quality manual.
- They should determine the nature of the contracts that will be established particularly with the students including the expectations that instructors and students have of each other’s contribution to the students’ learning.
- They should identify the procedure that will be followed for planning the courses and the validation of these plans against agreed standards.
- They should specify the documentation required for the assurance of the quality with a view to brevity and direct relevance.
- They should set and monitor standards for suppliers and subcontractors associated with their teaching service.
- They should ensure that key elements in teaching and their primary causes are identified so problems may be traced back to their roots and appropriate action is taken.
- They should address in detail the process that characterizes teaching and learning and the process supporting teaching in order that features affecting quality can be controlled, standards can be set and monitored and problems can be identified and solved.
- They should devise reliable and valid measures to be used in order to test and verify key elements in teaching, teaching planning and student response to teaching.
- They should identify external inputs necessary to verify the validity of internal quality assurance.
- They should devise procedures for identifying teaching that is sub-standard and take steps to remedy sub-standards elements.
- They should establish procedures with designated responsibilities to take short term and long term corrective action in response to complaints from students.
- They should keep records to allow objective assessment of the quality assurance system.
- They should devise a planned and documented system for internal quality audits of key features of the quality system.
- They should identify skills required of instructors to deliver teaching to agreed quality standards and ensure that all staff receives appropriate training.
- They should identify contribution made by its various non-academic staff and associated resources to the meeting of standards in teaching, identify the standards necessary for those services and the skills necessary for the staff involved and ensure that all staff receives appropriate training.
- They should offer training to all staff to encourage positive attitudes towards a comprehensive quality system.
- They should ensure that there is follow up to all its teaching to assess its acceptability and effectiveness to students and that appropriate follow up action is taken when teaching has not achieved its objectives.
- Finally, the universities should systematically gather data relevant to its quality objectives and subject this to appropriate statistical analysis, the results of which should play part in its review and planning (Ellis, 2014).
- By adopting this quality assurance system universities would manage to offer the quality education to their students and respond satisfactorily to the changing needs of their students, the society and the economy.
Space forbids a full analysis of the list, but here I’d like to question: the normative use of ‘should’; the direct use of obviously service-related elements to education that may have little application (e.g. suppliers and subcontractors); the repeated items that add nothing of substance (e.g. ‘identify people responsible’ which presumably will lead to ‘identify a particular senior person’ to take charge). However, the biggest question I have with Ellis’ argument is the lack of actual standards. Lists like these seem comprehensive, and they are useful for pointing the mind towards areas for consideration. But at the end of the day, any baseline or benchmark standard that results needs to be worked out by each individual institution on the basis of their assessment of their situation. Ellis fails to account for this.
BSI Group. (20015a). About Us. [website]. Retrieved on Dec 1 2015 from: http://www.bsigroup.com/en-GB/about-bsi/our-history/
BSI Group. (20015b). Certification. [website]. Retrieved on Dec 1 2015 from: http://www.bsigroup.com/en-GB/our-services/certification/
Ellis, R. (1993). Quality Assurance for University Teaching. Quality assurance for university teaching. Buckingham: Open University Press.