Analytic Quality Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2004-21, Analytic Quality Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 22 September, 2021 , © Lee Harvey 2004–2021.


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core definition

Approval is an overarching term to cover various forms of academic recognition of a programme or institution.

explanatory context

Approval is a term mainly used in the UK to indicate the successful formal acceptance of a programme, by either or both an internal or external validating or accrediting panel, or, in some circumstances, the recognition of an institution. In New Zealand, for example, approval tends to refer to internal processes of higher education institutions.

The Quality Assurance Agency for HIgher Education (QAA, 2006) in the UK in Section 7 of its Code of Practice states:

Institutions ensure that programme approval decisions are informed by full consideration of academic standards and of the appropriateness of the learning opportunities which will be offered to students, and that:

the final decision to approve a programme is taken by the academic authority, or a body acting on its behalf that is independent of the academic department, or other unit that offers the programme, and has access to any necessary specialist advice
there is a confirmation process, which demonstrates that a programme has fulfilled any conditions set out during the approval process and that due consideration has been given to any recommendations.
With regard to the responsibility of an individual institution for the assurance of the quality and standards of its awards, and in the interests of transparency, it is important that there is a clear designation of the body responsible for approving a programme and for ensuring that all conditions have been met before the programme begins.

analytical review

Brown (1994) used the term ‘approval’ to cover both  accreditation and validation and noted that approval involves a variety of procedures. These include exchange of correspondence, scrutiny of documentation, special on-site visits; attendance at internal validation events.


The University of Canterbury (2004), for example, notes:

The course approval process at the University of Canterbury … [specifies] the requirements for the introduction and discontinuation of programmes, courses and limitations of entry. The flow charts for programme and course approval show the various categories of academic approval and the route which the proposals take to get them through the approval process.


Henley Management College (undated) states:

Approval is defined as the formal decision that a proposed programme of study, or a substantial amendment of an existing programme of study, which leads to an award has satisfied the requirements for the standard of the award concerned.


The US National Council of State Boards of Nursing (1997) in a position paper identified the difference between approval and accreditation

A review of the nurse practice acts and rules and regulations of the 61 Member Boards of the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) indicates that most state boards of nursing use the term approval to describe oversight of nursing education programs. Some boards use the term accreditation, and a few boards use both terms interchangeably. The purpose of this position paper is to differentiate between the terms approval and accreditation as they describe a state regulatory body's role and responsibility in nursing education programs.

The term approval is defined as "official or formal consent, confirmation or sanction" (American Heritage Dictionary, 1993, p. 122). In the National Council's Model Nursing Administrative Rules, approval is defined as "official recognition of nursing education programs which meet standards established by the board of nursing" (NCSBN, 1994, p. 2). Implied in approval is permission to carry out an act, in this case, the operation of a nursing education program. In the regulatory arena, approval refers to mandatory and legal recognition of a nursing program to begin and/or continue to operate. Graduation from an approved program is necessary for a student to be eligible to take the NCLEX® examination for registered nurses or licensed practical/vocational nurses.

Approval also requires compliance with essential educational standards to protect both the students who are enrolled in the program and the public who will receive nursing care from the graduates of the program. Participation by regulatory bodies in the approval process is congruent with their legal responsibility.

The term accreditation is defined as "recognition of an institution of learning as maintaining prescribed standards requisite for its graduates to gain admission to other reputable institutions of higher learning or to achieve credentials for professional practice" (American Heritage Dictionary, 1993, p. 122). In the National Council's Model Nursing Administrative Rules, accreditation is defined as "the official authorization or status granted by an agency other than a state board of nursing" (NCSBN, 1994, p. 2). Inherent in the accreditation process is evaluation by peers (Bogue & Saunders, 1992).

Whereas approval is a mandatory process related to permission for an education program to begin and continue operating by meeting essential educational standards, accreditation is generally considered a voluntary process that focuses on program excellence. In addition, approval processes (initial and continuing) are generally carried out by governmental agencies while accreditation is conducted by peers.

Both approval and accreditation are important components in the successful operation of nursing education programs designed to protect the public and provide appropriate educational experiences for future nurses. Thus, it is important that boards of nursing review their state nurse practice acts and rules and regulations to ensure that terminology is consistent with the inherent differences between the terms approval and accreditation.

associated issues

Harvey and Mason (1995) note that:

Approval of initial education varies from a very ‘hands-off’ approach based on receipt of documentation through participation in internal validation and review events to a very close scrutiny involving specially arranged visits following the receipt of specified documentation.

Approval of professional education is similarly varied but professional and regulatory bodies tend to get more closely involved than when validating initial education and to have more closely specified validation processes. For example, in nursing, midwifery and health visiting validation is undertaken by National Boards in each of these disciplines and processes are minutely documented.


Somewhat differently, Centrex refer to ‘Quality Approval’, which is described as a model of a quality system for training organisations. It can be applied either to a training establishment or to an individual course and enables training providers to demonstrate the quality of their training products. (Centrex was the working name of the Central Police Training and Development Authority a Non- Departmental Public Body formed in April 2002, to replace National Police Training (NPT)).

related areas

See also

academic recognition




American Heritage Dictionary. 1993, Boston, Houghton Mifflin Co.

Bogue, E.G. & Saunders, R.L., 1992, The evidence for quality: Strengthening the tests for academic and administrative effectiveness. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.

Brown, R., 1994, ‘Quality and standards: the HEQC perspective’, in Harvey and Mason, (Eds.), 1995, Proceedings of the Third QHE 24-Hour Seminar, Quality and Standards: The Role of the Professions, 15–16 December, 1994. Birmingham, QHE, pp. 22–30.

Harvey, L and Mason, S. with Ward, R., 1995, The Role of Professional Bodies in Higher Education Quality Monitoring. Birmingham, QHE. Reconstructed report 2014 available here.

Henley Management College (undated), College Regulations, Regulation no AR4, quality assurance relating to programmes of study leading to academic awards$file/AR4.doc. No longr at this address, 2 February 2011.

National Council of State Boards of Nursing (1997) Use of Terms Approval and Accreditation, National Council Position Paper, 1997

National Council of State Boards of Nursing,1994, Model Nursing Administrative Rules. Chicago: NCSBN.

Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), 2006, Code of Practice, Section 7, available at, Second Edition, accessed 2 February 2011, not at this address 29 January 2012.

University of Canterbury, 2004, Academic Programmes Approval 2004, No longr at this address, 2 February 2011.

copyright Lee Harvey 2004–2021

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