Analytic Quality Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2004-22, 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 20 January, 2022 , © Lee Harvey 2004–2022.


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core definition

Auspices is the provenance under which a quality monitoring agency (or other evaluation body) operates.

explanatory context


analytical review

Harvey (2002) states:

A crude classification of auspices would suggest three significant dimensions:

·        whether the monitoring agency is established or empowered by legislation (law, decree, statute). Statutory agencies are usually government departments, agencies that are ultimately responsible to a government department (education, science, employment, treasury) or bodies with delegated regulatory powers; 

·        whether the genesis of the monitoring agency is within or outside the higher education sector. Sector-initiated agencies are often established by the Committee of Rectors or a similar organisation. Externally, initiated agencies tend to be government or state agencies or professional/employment linked evaluation agencies;

·        the degree of independence of the monitoring agency, which might be measured by the extent to which agencies are expected to show allegiance to initiators, are put under pressure by funders, or are constrained in the methods and processes of operation.

associated issues

Harvey (2002) notes the following:


For example, the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) is a crown agency empowered by the 1990 Education Amendment Act to require providers to develop and implement mechanisms that ensure they offer quality education to their clients. The government elected in November 1999 has re-affirmed the role of  NZQA as the 'overarching' body for quality assurance in the post-compulsory sector. Although able to develop its own methods of working it has been heavily influenced by government policies.

In Sweden, the National Agency of Higher Education (Högskoleverket), which is a government agency funded by government money  and established by law in 1995, has responsibility among other things for monitoring quality. However, it has a fair amount of autonomy to make its own enquiries and evaluations.

In the United Kingdom, there are regulatory bodies empowered by statute to control education in specific fields such as medicine (The General Medical Council) architecture (Architects Registration Council of the UK)  and social work (Central Council for the Education and Training in Social Work). Their work, although affected by changes in legislation is almost entirely independent of government interference.


The Hong Kong Council for Academic Accreditation, established in 1990 by ordinance, was an independent, self-financed organisation that reviews, validates and accredits programmes mainly on the basis of the standard of inputs.

The New Zealand Universities Academic Audit Unit, unlike NZQA, is a non-statutory agency with a governing board appointed by New Zealand Vice-Chancellor’s Committee and is paid for, in part, by fees from the universities it audits. However, although established by the NZVCC, the Academic Audit Unit in New Zealand operates independently of the sector. Nonetheless, it cannot avoid being mindful of the government’s ‘value for money’ expectations of the public sector.

Institutional accreditation in the United States is a voluntary process undertaken by six regional bodies. The government recognises accreditation agencies as providing a framework for evaluating quality but they are not statutory bodies.

In South Africa, the Quality Promotion Unit of the South African Universities’ Vice-Chancellors’ Association (QPU), established in February 1996, was owned and paid for by the universities. It acted relatively independently of both government and the sector but its lack of statutory status resulted in it being wound up very rapidly when South Africa embarked on a review of its external monitoring processes.

Another voluntary, non-statutory evaluation process is that established by the European Rectors’ Conference (CRE), which provides a Europe-wide, sanction-free, auditing procedure available, for a fee, to institutions on request. The use of international teams of peer reviewers and the lack of pressure from state governments affords a good deal of independence to the process.

In the United Kingdom, professional bodies validate and accredit programmes of study. Some have statutory powers such as the Law Society who effectively control the flow of graduates into the legal profession. Most professional bodies have no statutory powers, recognition by the Institute of Financial Accountants is not a necessary prerequisite for a career in accountancy (Harvey & Mason, 1995). A similar, well-established, process of professional accreditation also takes place in the United States. For example, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology undertakes visible and accountable inspections and graduates can only become licensed engineers if they graduate from accredited schools (Adelman & Silver, 1990). While, these agencies in the UK and US act independently of government, they act very much in the interest of the professional area.

The plethora of industry-originated, consultant-enabled, self-evaluation models provides another example of external, non-legislated evaluation. Having moved on from TQM the latest vogue in Europe is the Business Excellence model. These models appear to be independent, however, the consultants involved have a vested interest in ‘selling’ them.


Whether, in theory, the agency is independent the reality, in practice, will be mediated by the organisational  ethos, culture, and working practices. Hence any mapping of ostensive status has to take account of the sociology of the organisation.

For example, Teaching Quality Assessment in England used to be the responsibility of the Quality Assessment Division of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). It was established in response to legislation that said the Council must ensure quality monitoring took place. However, the assessment process was not as closely controlled by government as this might imply. The Minister that set this process in train really wanted an inspection system but ended up with peer review. Although government initiated, HEFCE is not a government department but a ‘quango’ — a semi-independent appointed body, government funded, but autonomous in operation, delegated with a specific task which otherwise might be a civil service function. Furthermore,  the quality function was the responsibility of the Quality Assessment Division (QAD), a division within a council primarily concerned with funding. So, as in any diverse organisation, QAD developed its own culture. In addition, the QAD was ‘overseen’ by an appointed steering committee made up of diverse people from higher education, industry and government. Finally, academics were used to do the assessments. All of this meant that despite its ‘provenance’, Teaching Quality Assessment, in practice, was a long way from being a government-controlled process. Indeed, the November 1997 budget letter to HEFCE stated ‘the secretary of state expects the council to consider further ways of linking funding for teaching with assessment of quality’ (Tysom, 1998, p. 48).

Thus, as a recent EC report suggests, the character of the process tends to be a different issue from, and independent of, the matter of formal ownership’ (EC, 1998, p. 7).

Although, independence is influenced by operational culture, it is also affected by both the responsibilities to stakeholders and the boundary constraints of its work. The funding, terms of reference, degree of permanency, sanctions available  and political agendas all impact on the responsiveness of the agency to the pressures placed upon it.

For example, in the UK, the new Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) is, supposedly, independent. Yet it is clear from talking to civil servants in the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) that they ‘network closely’ with the agency, indeed the head of the Higher Education Quality and Employability section of DfEE is on the QAA Board. There is a clear ‘expectation’ that QAA will be responsive to government priorities, a point no doubt reinforced in the occasional meetings between the Director of QAA and the Minister for Higher Education.

The formal auspices, the culture and ways of working of an organisation and its degree of independence offer considerable opportunities for detailed comparative research, based on the sociology of organisations, of the way agencies mediate their brief in practice.

In summary, quality monitoring agencies in most countries tend to have some statutory basis especially where they have accreditation responsibilities. In many cases accreditation of institutions was formerly a government activity that has been delegated to agencies and this is also often the case with programme accreditation, especially in professional fields. The British model of professional and regulatory bodies responsible for accreditation and review is somewhat unusual. The American system of voluntary accreditation, that derives from the market system in the US, is unusual and not easily imported into non-market systems or into countries such as Eastern Europe and South America that have witnessed a rapid burgeoning of relatively unregulated private provision. In these situations, a central, government-endorsed body has usually been set up to ensure private provision meets basic minimum requirements. The more the central agency works with the higher education sector the more genuine improvement appears to take place, especially if the agency is perceived to be relatively independent of both the universities and the government, as was the case in audit period in Sweden. Where the agency attempts to impose or cajole the sector, resistance builds quickly and confidence in the process breaks down, which has happened in the UK over the last three years. In general, as agencies mature they tend to place more emphasis on improvement activities rather than accountability while simultaneously becoming more influenced by politicians, keen to ensure that the agency retains or develops ‘teeth’.

related areas

See also


external quality monitoring


Adelman, C. and Silver, H., 1990, Accreditation: The American experience, London, CNAA.

European Commission (EC), 1998), Evaluation of European Higher Education: A status report, Brussels, EC.

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.

Harvey, L., 2002, 'Evaluation for what?', Teaching in Higher Education, 7(3), pp. 245–64. Final preproof available here as a pdf.

Tysom, T. , 1998, 'The quality street to cash', Times Higher Education Supplement, 16 January, 1998, p. 48.

copyright Lee Harvey 2004–2022

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