Evaluating quality assurance

Last week the European Commission published a Report on progress in quality assurance in higher education. It is worth quoting the opening paragraph of the report in full, as it sets out the case for quality assurance systems.

Quality assurance in higher education is at the heart of efforts to build a coherent, compatible 
and attractive European Higher Education Area (EHEA), in line with the objectives of the 
pan-European Bologna Process. Over the past decade, there has been growing interest, in 
Europe and worldwide, in quality assurance in higher education. With globalisation, 
economic integration and increased academic and professional mobility, there is a growing 
need for the recognition of qualifications outside the country which awards them. The 
“borderless” delivery of higher education has made cross-border quality assurance 
increasingly important. The emergence of so-called “degree mills” (fake universities selling 
fake “degrees” on the internet) makes it vital to distinguish legitimate education undertaken 
abroad from spurious qualifications. Quality assurance helps to make higher education 
transparent and trustworthy for European citizens and employers as well as for students and 
scholars from other continents.

Quality assurance in higher education is at the heart of efforts to build a coherent, compatible and attractive European Higher Education Area (EHEA), in line with the objectives of the pan-European Bologna Process. Over the past decade, there has been growing interest, in Europe and worldwide, in quality assurance in higher education. With globalisation, economic integration and increased academic and professional mobility, there is a growing need for the recognition of qualifications outside the country which awards them. The “borderless” delivery of higher education has made cross-border quality assurance increasingly important. The emergence of so-called “degree mills” (fake universities selling fake “degrees” on the internet) makes it vital to distinguish legitimate education undertaken abroad from spurious qualifications. Quality assurance helps to make higher education transparent and trustworthy for European citizens and employers as well as for students and scholars from other continents.

It would be hard to argue with any of that. However, the report then focuses to quite an extent on the establishment and development of quality assurance agencies in the EU and their role in securing quality assurance. In the conclusions the report suggests that some rationalisation of agencies might be called for, and that the structure of agencies should perhaps more of a European dimension.

The report is valuable in many respects, but it follows the pattern of many quality assurance initiatives in that it concentrates on institutional arrangements rather than the more important question of what it is that these institutions are actually supposed to protect or assure or enhance. As I have noted before in this blog, quality understood as process is not always helpful, in that the main output of such an approach is often bureaucratisation. Even at a national level we have a pretty incomplete view of what constitutes quality, beyond a desire for clear evaluation processes. At an EU level such an understanding is still more remote. Right now it seems to me that we have never really addressed the question of whether a decade or more of quality assurance processes has really improved the actual quality of higher education, however understood. If we don’t know the answer to that, then there must be something wrong with the system we have adopted

Maybe the EU could play a useful role in stimulating a debate on what we want quality assurance systems to deliver in substantive terms, before spending more time fine-tuning the institutional elements. And within Ireland, and in the context of the proposed establishment of a new agency for higher education quality assurance, we should also pause to address this. I am strongly of the view that educational content is for institutions themselves to determine, but any quality assurance system that assesses this content should have a clear and comprehensible remit that is clear on the meaning of quality, and not just the procedures to apply to quality assurance. And we should develop a consensus that more paperwork and more complex processes is not necessarily the same as, or even conducive to, higher quality.

Explore posts in the same categories: higher education

Tags: ,

You can comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.

6 Comments on “Evaluating quality assurance”

  1. Paul Doran Says:

    Dear Professor.

    You have a brass neck advising people how to vote in the Lisbon Referendum.I wonder has that anything to do what funding you receive from the private sector.

    One does not have to get on bended to knee to appease them.

    your disgusted
    Paul Doran
    Clondalkin


    • Paul, not absolutely sure what this has to do with quality assurance, but actually I haven’t advised anyone how to vote. I was very careful to ensure that the statement put out by the IUA only indicated how we would ourselves vote – the rest was how it was reported by the media. But in any case, while I never advise anyone how to vote on anything, the case for Lisbon is a legitimate one to argue. And funding from the private sector has nothing to do with it whatsoever; in fact funding from the state might be more of a point of pressure.

  2. Vincent Says:

    The external examiners seem to preform the roll reasonably well between the Islands. Granted it needs tweeking here and there. However, I feel that until there is real movement of people at the professional level the EU will forever be hamstrung.


  3. Professor

    To me this is the results of a bureaucracy seeking ways to maintain itself and more bureaucratic regulations that end up with a box ticking exercise that will eventually, have to be attacked, and then defended, and ultimately use up valuable resources that only serve the bureaucracy, with little or no benefit to the students.

    IMHO I beleive universities are charged with conferring various forms of certificates, diplomas, degree,s and doctorates etc, that allow a person to pursue a career in a particular discipline, and therefore are, in a real sense, a public service. On that basis they should be objectively monitored for standards etc. However that also means they should be publicly funded. Any private funding outcomes should also be monitored for standards and quality etc, but in a very clear objective pre-agreed format.

    Universities need monitoring across the EU to ensure the public service element of their work is somewhat standardised for quality levels, but thats it. Thats where the bureaucracy stops.

    Considering the debate we are facing about the provision of public services and the inevitable cutbacks we face as a result of a bureaucracy running away with it,s own self importance, and ending up with the legal authority to dictate it,s own terms, (I remember Bertie Ahern justifying his benchmarking award, by telling journalists he was a public servant and he was just like any other public servant).

    The last thing the EU or the constituent countries, and ultimately individual universities, needs, is a centralised bureaucracy dictating to universities as to how they can tick the boxes that serve the bureaucracy, and ultimately do not help the students.


  4. Dear Friends:
    I agree with you regarding the necessity of a Quality Assurance System; maybe this is the most important point about disruptive innovation in Education.
    Education, as any other continuous process industry, needs to implement a quality control system; a Total Quality Assurance. There is a big difference between having a QC system, and measuring the quality of a given education. While the second choice provides metrics after the process has been completed, the first choice offers the managers (the teachers) the possibility to act according to the responses and make the necessary changes to achieve the desired quality. A QC system requires metrics in real time; a continuous evaluation.
    The other thing that the Education industry needs is a “measurement” system. Not a set of standardized tests. A QC system uses standard units to measure the different steps of a process. The concept of Learning Objects, used in the e-learning industry as standard of content, can easily be adopted by the Educational industry to measure the courses. Instead of using “credits” or “units”, LOs could be used to quantitatively and qualitatively measure the syllabus contained in a curriculum. Correlating content between institutions would be just a matter of matching the LOs of the desired curriculum. LOs also could be used for internationalization of career titles or certificates.
    This Virtual platform will potentiate teachers’ capacities to become “teaching managers”. I would like to paraphrase Deming: Teachers who will work ON the system, monitoring study performance data of individuals, and correcting their weaknesses on-time, will achieve the desired knowledge (quality).

  5. Dr. Zack Says:

    It seems that the quality of education is deteriorating pretty much everywhere except in China and probably India. I lecture economics in Europe and have firsthand experience with students who cannot even be bothered to do their own statistical analysis. They just want the degree. They don’t want the burden. Just look at http://www.drspss.blogspot.com and you see how students even outsource their SPSS statistical analysis to others. If it involves formulas, intimidating numbers, Greek symbols or anything that resembles hard work, students want to either abandon ship or outsource. In my opinion, augmenting the quality of universities starts with a change in student attitude. Laziness is typical of the 21st century.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: