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 18 June, 2021 , © Lee Harvey 2004–2021.


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core definition

Compliance is undertaking activities or establishing practices or policies in accordance with the requirements or expectations of an external authority.

explanatory context

Compliance may be the result of legal mandate, policy statement, code of practice, guidelines, procedural manual or stated (institutional, organisational or personal) preferences. Compliance is usually a concession to an external authority, where external may be external to the group complying, without it being external to the institution (i.e., a teaching team may comply with university requirements). Although compliance usually means compliance to an authority of some kind, compliance can be to an internally, communally-agreed process or practice.


Quality processes are often used to ensure compliance to a range of policy issues and accountability or reporting requirements (externally) and procedural and requirements (internally). For example, governments around the world are looking for higher education to be more responsive. This includes responding to value-for-money imperatives, making higher education more relevant to social and economic needs, widening access to higher education and expanding numbers, usually in the face of decreasing unit cost. In addition there is pressure to ensure comparability of provision and procedures, within and between institutions, including international comparisons.


There is also a personal side to compliance, which is not pursued here. An example of a definition of personal compliance is provided by Burn (2011): "Compliance is when a person does what he [sic] is told, when he is told to do it, with a good attitude.

analytical review

The University of Mississippi (2004) states:

A compliance program has been described as a commitment by an organization’s top management to ensure that the organization plays by the rules. Compliance, in its simplest form, is the act of meeting the expectations of others. In health care, it means meeting the expectations of those who regulate our business, pay our claims, and grant us money. Compliance means abiding by applicable legal requirements, including deterring and detecting violations of the law.


University of Melbourne (2004) in answer to the question ‘What is Compliance’, states:

Compliance is what we do to ensure that we meet the requirements of the law relating to our activities. The University has an obligation to its staff, students and to the community to ensure compliance with the law. Failure to comply with the law can have serious consequences for people, the environment and the University, either through injury, physical or financial damage, or though damage to our reputation. In addition to the University’s duties under the common law, there are hundreds of statutes and regulations that govern its activities. Therefore, the best approach to compliance is to take a proactive stance in meeting our legal obligations on a day-to-day basis.

University of Melbourne (undated) states:

The University of Melbourne recognises its obligations to its students, its staff and the wider community to provide an environment that is safe, a culture that promotes equity, and an administration that adopts the highest standards of probity and accountability in all its operations.

In its role as an international teaching and research based university offering quality undergraduate and postgraduate education, The University of Melbourne is committed to compliance with all statutory and common law requirements relating to the operations and governance of the University.

The University will maintain the highest standards of diligence in all areas of public accountability, through its policies and in meeting its legal obligations.

An example of internal enforcement of quality compliance is Nottingham University’s (2004) statement:

Where policies are made clear in the Quality Manual, the University's Teaching Committee, which is a sub-committee of Senate, has resolved that all Schools must adhere to them. It is the Head of School's responsibility to keep his/her School's practice under review, and in line with the Quality Manual.… Compliance with the Quality Manual is checked by the University Quality Audit teams.

associated issues

Quality and compliance


At the simplest level, quality evaluation has encouraged, or even forced, compliance in the production of information, be it statistical data, prospectuses, or course documents.  Such compliance means that taken-for-granted practices and procedures have had to be confronted and clearly documented. ‘It represents the minimum required shift from an entirely producer-oriented approach to higher education to one that acknowledges the rights of other stakeholders to minimum information and a degree of ‘service’.’ (Harvey, 1998)

Quality evaluation is also a tool that can be used to ensure compliance at the local level, that is, within an institution. For example, quality assurance can be used to unify disparate institutions behind a common goal or framework. In the early days of the polytechnic sector in Finland, some Rektors used the Finnish Higher Education Evaluation Council’s (FINHEEC) pilot quality audits as a way to focus the attention of very diverse component institutions onto the new polytechnic mission and procedures

In Australia, the first external quality processes in the early 1990s under the auspices of the Committee for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (CQAHE) was used by the Vice-Chancellor of Newcastle for internal purposes:


From the point of view of the Vice-Chancellor of the time, the quality rounds represented an invaluable opportunity to attempt to change both culture and practice in an institution which had not previously set great value on the formal processes of quality assurance.  The national quality assurance process therefore, was “harnessed and ridden” for all it was worth to assist the process of change management. (OECD/IMHE, undated)


Quality evaluation is also linked to overt political agendas as well as to less overt ones, such as attempts to reduce the autonomy of academia and questioning the extent to which mass higher education is producing ‘work-ready’ graduates. Rather more controversially, quality evaluation has been accused of creating a smoke screen to ensure compliance to resource restrictions by covering the issues that arise when student numbers increase rapidly without a commensurate increase in staffing and resources. Indeed, a quality-management system can be viewed ‘from a Foucauldian perspective as a method of controlling’. Control of academia is not via direct intervention, rather the state and the institutional management ‘maintain a degree of surveillance from a distance that ensures that the requirements of the system are met’ (Barrow, 1999, p. 35).

related areas

See also







Barrow, 1999, ‘Quality management systems and dramaturgical compliance’, Quality in Higher Education, 5(1), pp. 27–36.

Burn, J., 2011, 'The missing ingredient in education', available at, accessed 20 September 2012, page not available 31 December 2016.

Harvey, L., 1998, ‘An assessment of past and current approaches to quality in higher education’, Australian Journal of Education, 42(3), pp. 237–55. Final pre-proof available here as a pdf .

OECD/IMHE, undated, OECD/IMHE Quality Assessment – Newcastle, Australia: The University Of Newcastle, NSW Institutional Responses To Quality Assessment. (Paris, OECD/IMHE), accessed 20 September 2012, still available 21 June 2019.

University of Melbourne, 2004,  University Compliance Program, accessed 20 September 2012, page still available 21 June 2019 but content changed as stated above.

University of Mississippi Medical Center, 2004, What Is Compliance?, no longer at this address 15 February 2011.

University of Nottingham, 2004, Quality Manual: About the Manual undated, accessed October 2004, no longer at this address 15 February 2011.

copyright Lee Harvey 2004–2021

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