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

Effectiveness is the extent to which an activity fulfils its intended purpose or function.

explanatory context


analytical review

Fraser (1994, p. 104) defined it thus:

Effectiveness. This is a measure of the match between stated goals and their achievement. It is always possible to achieve ‘easy’, low-standard goals. In other words, quality in higher education cannot only be a question of achievements ‘outputs’ but must also involve judgements about the goals (part of ‘inputs’)


Erlendsson (2002) defines effectiveness as:

the extent to which objectives are met (‘doing the right things’).


The UNESCO definition is:

Effectiveness (educational): An output of specific review/analyses (e.g., the WASC Educational Effectiveness Review or its Reports on Institutional Effectiveness) that measure (the quality of) the achievement of a specific educational goal or the degree to which a higher education institution can be expected to achieve specific requirements. It is different from efficiency, which is measured by the volume of output or input used. As a primary measure of success of a programme or of a higher education institution, clear indicators, meaningful information, and evidence best reflecting institutional effectiveness with respect to student learning and academic achievement have to be gathered through various procedures (inspection, observation, site visits, etc.). Engaging in the measurement of educational effectiveness creates a value-added process through quality assurance and accreditation review and contributes to building, within the institution, a culture of evidence. (Vlãsceanu et al., 2004, p. 37)


Wojtczak (2002) defines effectiveness in the context of medial education:

Effectiveness: A measure of the extent to which a specific intervention, procedure, regimen, or service, when deployed in the field in routine circumstances, does what it is intended to do for a specified population. In the health field, it is a measure of output from those health services that contribute towards reducing the dimension of a problem or improving an unsatisfactory situation.

associated issues

Effectiveness as a political construct

Effectiveness is neither self-evident, ‘objective’ nor value neutral as a concept. Sammons (1996, p. 117) notes that ‘Effectiveness is not a neutral term ... criteria of effectiveness will be the subject of political debate’. Furthermore. ‘research demonstrates that judgements about schools’ effectiveness needs to make specific reference to questions such as: Effective in promoting which outcomes? Effective over what time period? Effective for whom? School effectiveness is perhaps best seen as a relative term which is dependent upon time, outcome and student group’ (Sammons, 1996, p.143). Her view is that effectiveness should be measured using  comparative value added criteria : what extra value does an institution add to its students compared to institutions serving similar intakes.


West (1999) argues that:

In relation to training, as opposed to education, one way of looking at the issue of effectiveness is in terms of whether there are ‘identifiable economic outcomes’.  A broader definition still focuses on the extent to which training ‘meets its objectives’.  Descy and Westphalen (1998) define this more precisely as training that ‘meets its objectives as defined by its funding body’.   This is a useful definition since it is undoubtedly the funding body that ultimately decides whether or not training will be made available. Whilst this is a useful heuristic, there are two points to bear in mind.  First, it is not always the case that the funders’ precise objectives are transparent, although their general aims may be.  Second, whilst the funders may have objectives, it is only by relating the extent to which these are perceived to have been met – by the various stakeholders (e.g. individuals, enterprises) – that one can really understand the extent to which the training has been effective.   There may also be unintended consequences of training that aid an individual’s employability – for example, improving ‘soft skills’  such as an individual’s self-esteem, motivation or ability to work in a team.


West suggests that effectiveness can be analysed at five levels (a) European; (b) national; (c) regional; (d) enterprises; (e) individuals.

related areas

See also



Descy, P. Westphalen, S-A., 1998,  ‘Measuring the effectiveness of training', Working paper, Cedefop.

Erlendsson, J., 2002, Value For Money Studies in Higher Education accessed 4 January 2002, not available at this address 4 February 2011.

Fraser, M., 1994, ‘Quality in higher education: an international perspective' in Green, D. (Ed.), 1994, What is Quality in Higher Education? pp. 101–111 (Buckingham, Open University press and Society for Research into Higher Education).

Sammons, P., 1996, ‘Complexities in the judgement of school effectiveness’, Educational Research and Evaluation, 2(2), pp. 113–49.

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.

West, A., 1999, Vocational education and training indicators project EU priorities and objectives related to VET, November (European Commission, European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop)).

Wojtczak, A., 2002, Glossary of Medical Education Terms,, December, 2000, Revised February 2002, accessed 2 September 2012, page not available 30 December 2016.

copyright Lee Harvey 2004–2021

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