Mod 3 Week 8 Initial Post

“Quality assurance, assessment and accountability are all major issues in higher education;” begins the week discussion outline. Personally speaking, I’ve been asked to consider if I have a contrarian streak. Quite possibly I do, but rather, I prefer to reframe that discussion along the lines of wanting precision in the evidence I see for any claim. Being sceptical should be an asset on a doctoral course, but the nature of the daily responses hinders full investigations into many aspects of the readings. Furthermore, there’s only so far one can go when pointing out the weaknesses in others’ evidence and positions.

I found this week highly frustrating. John Dewey recognised in 1920 the difference between artisans and mechanics, i.e. those who can transcend generic rules and those who stick to them (Dewey, 1920). Schon’ reflective practictioner is along the same lines. The creation of quality assurance and other yardsticks is threatening for higher education (HE) because of the seriously endemic attitude in much writing about HE that never asks for evidence. The reduction of nuance (of situation, of culture, of people, of structure, etc.) to frameworks in the right hands is liberating; the cognitive tool can help prise open aspects for discovery and invention. In the wrong hands, however, it becomes a list of resolute, normative statements. I will challenge anyone to show evidence that, for example, a quality assurance methodology that worked in one HE institution (HEI) will work exactly in another. Yet, none of the readings this week, nor my own extended readings furnished that evidence.

Before anyone thinks that I’m criticising this 10-week module or the wider Ed.D. course, I’m not. 10 weeks is not a sufficient length of time to tackle the vast implications of any of the topics. I feel that the introductory nature and the level at which some students approach the topic is highly satisfying. My angst is directed, rather, at the readings and the general evidence-less wordiness of this politically (instead of pedagogically) motivated topic.


Dewey, J. (1920). Reconstruction in Philosophy. New York: Henry Holt.

Introduction Operationalising the construct of quality in higher education (HE) requires definitional preciseness that remains elusive. Westerheijden, Stensaker and Rosa (2007) question if it is the increasing of graduating numbers, the production of a competent workforce, or development of advanced scientific knowledge. Harvey (2006) addresses this concern by providing a framework of five elements aimed at deconstructing quality by differentiating it from quality assurance to aid higher education academics’ and administrators’ understanding of the concept with particular regard as to how quality impacts on quality assurance in HE. Harvey (2006) describes quality as exceptional, as perfection or consistency, as fitness for purpose, as value for money and as transformation. For quality to be communicated, indicators that express critical values of accountability are essential (Burke, 2004). In this essay, I describe the three principle areas of interest in quality assurance accountability in HE (society, represented mainly by governments; institutional; and course-level quality assessment), and I outline some indicators that institutions may focus on in their assessments of quality.

Society The contemporary nature of the increase in governmental incursion into the HE quality assurance discussion (Brennan & Shah, 2000) is not limited to being “politically benign” (Jarvis, 2014, p. 156); the politically motivated ideology of what Power (1994) calls “the audit explosion” points to “different approaches to educational governance” at the level of the state (Kok, Douglas, McClelland, & Bryde, 2010, p. 99). State evaluation of higher education is seen by Kehm as a result of scepticism of the nature of HE representing a public good following public sector neo-liberal policies (Kehm, 2014). A key stakeholder representing the interests of the wider society, governments need for HE accountability results in HE having “to provide proof of efficient and effective use of public money” (Kehm, 2014, p. 94). The wider environment places external pressures on HE institutes in various ways. In addition to Harvey and Newton’s four principle methods of quality assurance; “accreditation, audit, assessment and external examination” (2007, p. 226), Watson adds employment rates and employability (Watson, 2002). Jarvis (2014) lists some metrics used for quality assessments including grant revenues, number of research articles produced and how many consultancies the HE institution garnered (p. 156).

Institutional The nature of accreditation and other external evaluators of HE has a bidirectional agency; institutions themselves utilise accreditation as a vehicle for reputation enhancement (Brennan & Shah, 2000). Frolich and Stensaker (2012) relate how an HE in Norway used accreditation when they “needed this international accreditation to stand out from similar providers in Norway” (p. 76). “Seizing responsibility for evaluation and self-regulation” positions HE institutions more maturely in society (Billing, 2004, p. 114), and one method of internal evaluation is benchmarking, i.e. comparing an institutions administrative processes and their modes of instruction “by examining processes and models at other schools and adapting their techniques and approaches” (Alstete, 1995, p. iii). Various metrics may be developed using benchmarking, and the determination of appropriate processes for benchmarking is the first stage outlined by Elmuti and Kathawala (1997) in their benchmarking process flowchart.

Course Student satisfaction metrics are also bidirectional in that they simultaneously inform the HE institute and the course teacher about student perceptions, although such instruments need careful handling (Rosa & Amaral, 2007).


Alstete, J. W. (1995). Benchmarking in higher education. Washington, DC: Association for the Study of Higher Education.

Billing, D. (2004). International Comparisons and Trends in External Quality Assurance of Higher Education: Commonality or Diversity? Higher Education, 47(1), 113–137.

Brennan, J., & Shah, T. (2000a). Changing institutional contexts: Autonomy and accountability. In Managing Quality in Higher Education: An International Perspective on Institutional Assessment and Change (pp. 34–49). Open University Press.

Brennan, J., & Shah, T. (2000b). Changing national contexts The rise of quality assessment. In Managing Quality in Higher Education: An International Perspective on Institutional Assessment and Change (pp. 19–34). Open University Press.

Burke, J. C. (2004). The Many Faces of Accountability. Achieving Accountability in Higher Education: Balancing Public, Academic, and Market Demands, 1–24.

Elmuti, D., & Kathawala, Y. (1997). An overview of benchmarking process: a tool for continuous improvement and competitive advantage. Benchmarking: An International Journal, 4(4), 229–243.

Frolich, N., & Stensaker, B. (2012). University Strategizing: The Role of Evaluation as a Sensemaking Tool. In B. Stensaker, J. Valimaa, & C. Sarrico (Eds.), Managing reform in universities: The dynamics of culture, identity and organisational change (pp. 63–80). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Harvey, L. (2006). Understanding quality. In L. Purser (Ed.), Introducing Bologna objectives and tools: UA Bologna Handbook: Making Bologna work. Berlin: Brussels European University Association and Berlin, Raabe.

Harvey, L. E. E., & Newton, J. (2007). Transforming Quality Evaluation: Moving On. In D. F. Westerheijden, B. Stensaker, & M. J. Rosa (Eds.), Quality assurance in higher education: Trends in regulation, translation and transformation. Quality assurance in higher education (pp. 225–245). Dordrecht: Springer.

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.

Kehm, B. M. (2014). Beyond Neo-Liberalism: Higher Education in Europe and the Global Public Good. In P. Gibbs & R. Barnett (Eds.), Thinking about higher education (pp. 91–108). Cham: Springer.

Kok, S., Douglas, A., McClelland, B., & Bryde, D. (2010). The Move Towards Managerialism: Perceptions of staff in “traditional” and “new” UK universities. Tertiary Education and Management, 16(2), 99–113.

Power, M. K. (1994). The Audit Explosion. London: Demos.

Rosa, M. J., & Amaral, A. (2007). A self-assessment of higher education institutions from the perspective of the EFQM Excellence Model. Quality Assurance in Higher Education; Trends in Regulation, Translation and Transformation.

Watson, D. (2002). Can We All Do It All? Tensions in the Mission and Structure of UK Higher Education. Higher Education Quarterly, 56(2), 143–155.

Westerheijden, D. F., Stensaker, B., & Rosa, M. J. (2007). Quality assurance in higher education: Trends in regulation, translation and transformation. Quality assurance in higher education. Dordrecht: Springer.


About theCaledonian

Scot living in north Japan teaching at a private university.
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