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

A profession is a group of people in a learned occupation, the members of which agree to abide by specified rules of conduct when practicing the profession.

explanatory context

There are many professions and they are controlled to varying degrees by professional, regulatory or governmental bodies. Typical professions are medicine, dentistry, law, engineering, architecture, social work, nursing, accountancy. Most definitions of profession identify ‘working for the public good’ as among the characteristics of the profession.


The terms ‘profession’ (the area of study and work) and ‘professional body’ (the organisation that regulates or has oversight of the profession) sometimes merge in popular usage.


Sometimes professional is used not to refer to members of regulated professions but in a broader sense (see also professional programme) For example, Allen and van der Velden (2007, p. xi–xii) in examining the work undertaken by graduates, state:

There are different conceptions within the academic world, and between academics and lay people, in what we mean by the term “professional”. The term can be used very generally for example as a contrast to work done by “amateurs”, to indicate someone who has followed specialized training in a given domain, or, as in the anglo-saxon tradition, to indicate occupations which normally require a higher education degree. There are also much more restrictive conceptions, in which a only very limited range of occupations like physicians and lawyers are regarded as professionals. Such definitions or typologies usually point to professionalization as a process that can be analyzed using the so-called escalator model: first a school is established, then an association, then examinations, then licensing, then an ethics code, and finally the occupation arrives at its destination. Others place more emphasis on autonomy, expertise, a body of knowledge as defining concepts of professionals. In order to do justice to the range of conceptionizations [sic] of professions and professionals, a typology of occupations was developed, which allow us to differentiate between broad areas of work of higher education graduates. This typology of professions is used as a way of looking at the professional role and identity of graduates, the professional expertise and the aspects of power like income and exclusivity.

Five more or less distinct types of profession are distinguished, namely business and social science experts (e.g. psychologists, business professionals; 29% of working graduates), science and technology experts (e.g. engineers; 20%), semi-professionals (e.g. teachers and nurses; 20%), classical professions (e.g. medical doctors; 9%), and managers (8%). Only around 13% of all graduates were non-professionals (e.g. clerks).

analytical review

The Australian Council of Professions (2004) defines ‘a profession’ as follows:

A profession is a disciplined group of individuals who adhere to ethical standards and uphold themselves to, and are accepted by, the public as possessing special knowledge and skills in a widely recognised body of learning derived from research, education and training at a high level, and who are prepared to exercise this knowledge and these skills in the interest of others.

It is inherent in the definition of a profession that a code of ethics govern the activities of each profession[al]. Such codes require behaviour and practice beyond the personal moral obligations of an individual. They define and demand high standards of behaviour in respect to the services provided to the public and in dealing with professional colleagues. Further, these codes are enforced by the profession and are acknowledged and accepted by the community.


Boone (2001) states:

Professions are based on scientific and philosophical facts acquired through scholarly endeavor (1).  Individuals who enter a profession do so for reasons that distinguish them from other work or vocations.  They understand that their work renders a unique public service with a scientific or philosophical basis and/or body of knowledge that requires an extended period of academic and hands-on preparation.  Professions are also based on specialized skills necessary for the professional to perform the public service.


Southern Illinois University  (2004) proposes that professions have the following common characteristics:

·      Associated with a profession is a great body of special knowledge.

·      Preparation for a profession includes training in applying that knowledge.

·      The standards of a profession are maintained at a high level through the force of organization or concerted opinion.

·      Each member of a profession recognizes his or her responsibilities to the public over and above responsibilities to clients or to other members of the profession.


This matches the earlier views of Burbules and Densmore (1991) identify the characteristics of a profession as:

professional autonomy; a clearly defined, highly developed, specialized, and theoretical knowledge base; control of training, certification, and licensing of new entrants; self-governing and self-policing authority, especially with regard to professional ethics; and a commitment to public service.


Pratte and Rury (1991), focus more on status and remuneration in their list of the characteristics of a profession:

remuneration, social status, autonomous or authoritative power, and service.


The UK Inter-professional Group (UKIPG, undated, p. 1) defines a profession as:

an occupation in which an individual uses an intellectual skill based on an established body of knowledge and practice to provide a specialised service in a defined area, exercising independent judgement in accordance with a code of ethics and in the public interest.

associated issues

Shift towards indirect monitoring

The report of the Higher Education Better Regulation Group (HEBRG) (2011) explored changes over the last decade and a half.

Over 15 years ago, the Quality in Higher Education (QHE) (Harvey, Mason and Ward, 1995) project reviewed the extremely varied field of professional and regulatory bodies (PRBs) and surveyed 110 organisations relevant to HE. Of the 74 respondents who identified themselves as professional bodies, only 10 had both statutory powers and offered chartered status; 21 offered chartered status but did not hold regulatory powers; three had regulatory powers but did not offer chartered status; and 40 possessed neither regulatory powers nor chartered status. The review identified that PRBs define knowledge and competence, assure standards and quality provision, and provide CPD.5 It was also noted that there was a growing tendency for professional bodies to trust HEIs to provide initial education, and to delegate responsibility in this area to them. The authors found that most professional bodies placed maintenance of standards at the heart of their work often as part of their statutory responsibility to ensure minimum standards to enter a profession. The burden of quality monitoring was identified as a significant issue for HE staff and the report recommended that professional bodies shift away from direct control of standards, and move towards indirect monitoring instead. Fifteen years later, there is clear evidence of PSRBs moving towards indirect monitoring and a number of initiatives to better align quality assurance and data collection in HE. (HEBRG, 2011, pp. 9–10)

related areas

See also

professional body

professional programme

programme accreditation

regulatory body


Allen, J. and van der Velden, R., 2007, The Flexible Professional in the Knowledge Society: General Results of the REFLEX Project, Maastricht, Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market, Maastricht University.

Australian Council of Professions, 2004, About Professions Australia : Definition of a Profession , accessed 23 August 2012, still available 30 June 2019.

Boone, T., 2001, ‘Constructing a Profession’ Professionalization  of Exercise Physiologyonline: An international electronic journal for exercise physiologists, 4(5) May, ISSN 1099-5862, not available 23 January 2012.

Burbules, N., & Densmore, K., 1991, The limits of making teaching a profession. Educational Policy, 5(1), pp. 44–63.

Harvey, L. and Mason, S. with Ward, R., 1995, The Role of Professional Bodies in Higher Education Quality Monitoring. Birmingham: Quality in Higher Education Project.

Higher Education Better Regulation Group (HEBRG), 2011, Professional, statutory and regulatory bodies: an exploration of their engagement with higher education, available at, accessed 23 August 2012. Page redirects to Regulation of higher education, 30 June 2019

Pratte, R., & Rury, J. L., 1991, ‘Teachers, professionalism, and craft’, Teachers College Record, 93, pp. 59–72.

Southern Illinois University, 2004, Engineering as a Profession, undated page,  accessed November 2004, not available 23 January 2012.

UK Inter-Professional Group, (UKIPG) undated, Guide to the Revalidation of Professional Competence, available at pdf, accessed 2 December 2010, not available 23 January 2012

copyright Lee Harvey 2004–2021

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