Analytic Quality Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2004-17, 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 2 January, 2017 , © Lee Harvey 2004–2017.


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core definition

Criteria are the specification of elements against which a judgment is made.

explanatory context

In the higher education context, they are specifications of the quality of inputs, processes or outputs and/or standards (academic, competence, service or organisational) against which provision or performance can be evaluated. More specifically, in a learning context, they may be the articulation of the judgements of student learning against which students are (summatively) assessed.


Traditionally, many quality and standards criteria were implicit and neither codified nor communicated directly. Recent developments have put more emphasis on transparency of quality and standards criteria

analytical review

The UNESCO definition of criteria is:

Yardsticks/checkpoints/benchmarks by which the attainment of certain objectives and/or standards can be examined. Criteria describe, in a certain degree of detail, the characteristics of the requirements and conditions to be met [in order to meet a standard] and therefore provide the (quantitative and/or qualitative) basis on which an evaluative conclusion is drawn. (Vlãsceanu, et al., 2004, p. 32)


They differentiate this from:

Performance Criteria: Yardsticks/checkpoints/benchmarks that are used to judge the attainment of performance standards. As qualities, characteristics, or dimensions of a standard for student performance, they indicate how well students meet expectations of what they should know and be able to do, as expressed by varying gradients of success by (scoring) rubrics or by grades. (Vlãsceanu, et al., 2004, p. 32–33)


CHEA (2001) define criteria narrowly in relation to accreditation, thus:

Criteria: standards for accreditation or certification of an institution or program. These involve expectations about quality, effectiveness, financial viability, compliance with national (U.S.: state and federal) rules and regulations, outcomes, and sustainability (see standards). In the U.K., “criteria” refers to standards for degree-awarding powers and the title “university.”


For higher education institutions, criteria usually refer to assessment of student learning. Thus the University of Exeter (2007) notes:

Assessment Criteria: Descriptions of what the learner will have to demonstrate in order that learning outcomes specific to a module have been achieved. The purpose of assessment criteria is to establish clear and unambiguous standards of achievement in respect of each learning outcome. Level descriptors are used as a guide during this process.


The Credit Common Accord for Wales takes a similar view:

A description of what the learner is expected to achieve, in order to demonstrate that a learning outcome has been met. (QCA/LSC, 2004)


Mueller (2011) defines criteria as:

Characteristics of good performance on a particular task. For example, criteria for a persuasive essay might include well organized, clearly stated, and sufficient support for arguments.

The South African HEQC (2004, p. 26) refers to programme criteria:

Criteria for programme accreditation: Minimum standards necessary to support and enhance the quality of teaching and learning, research and service learning programmes.


Campbell and Rozsnyai (2002, p. 132) suggest that criteria are:

            Often used synonymously with “standards”.


INQAAHE (2001) points to the confusion between criteria and standards.

Standards and criteria belong to the most confusing terms. In the US there is often no difference made between standards and criteria, while in Europe standards are becoming more and more distinct from criteria.

The following definition is then proposed for criteria:

Criteria are seen as the checkpoints, the benchmark for assessing the quality of the input and process.  Auditing or assessing the HEI as a whole it concerns the benchmark to check the quality procedures and the performance of the HEI as a whole. (INQAAHE, 2001, p. 4)

associated issues

related areas

See also




Campbell, C. & Rozsnyai, C., 2002, Quality Assurance and the Development of Course Programmes. Papers on Higher Education Regional University Network on Governance and Management of Higher Education in South East Europe Bucharest, UNESCO.

Council For Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) 2001, Glossary of Key Terms in Quality Assurance and Accreditation, last updated 23 October 2002, accessed 18 September 2012, page not available 30 December 2016.

Council on Higher Education, Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC), 2004, Criteria for Institutional Audits, April (Pretoria, Council on Higher Education).

International Network of Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education (INQAAHE), 2001, Annex: Clarification and Glossary, to a questionnaire conducted in December, 2001. This is no longer the site of INQAAHE, document not accessible online 4 February 2011 but can be seen here.

Mueller, J., 2011, Authentic Assessment Toolbox at, accessed 21 January 2011, not available 12 July 2012.

Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and Learning + Skills Council (QCA /LSC) 2004, Principles for a credit framework for England: Terms and definitions, pp. 11–13. March (London: QCA /LSC). Uses definitions from the Credit Common Accord for Wales published in July 2003.

University of Exeter, 2007, TQA Manual, Learning and Teaching Definitions, Last updated August 2007, last reviewed September 2011 (originally 2002), accessed 21 September 2012.

Vlãsceanu, L., Grünberg, L., and Pârlea, D., 2004, Quality Assurance and Accreditation: A Glossary of Basic Terms and Definitions (Bucharest, UNESCO-CEPES) Papers on Higher Education, ISBN 92-9069-178-6, available at, accessed 20 September 2012, still available 29 December 2016.

Vlãsceanu, L.,  Grünberg, L., and Pârlea, D., 2007,  Quality Assurance and Accreditation: A Glossary of Basic Terms and Definitions (Bucharest, UNESCO-CEPES) Revised and updated edition. ISBN 92-9069-186-7. Available at, accessed 30 December 2016.

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