Relationship betweenquality and standards in higher education and means of assurance (items inparentheses are indirect assurance mechanisms)

Standards

Quality

Academic standards

Standards of competence

Service standards

Organisational standards

Exceptional

 

 

Emphasis on summative assessment of knowledge and, implicitly, some ‘higher-level’ skills.

Implicit normative gold standard.

Comparative evaluation of research output.

Élitism: the presupposition of a need to maintain pockets of high quality and standards in a mass education system.

Linked to professional competence; emphasis mainly on traditional demarcation between knowledge and (professional) skills.

Input-driven assumptions of resource-linked service/facilities. Good facilities, well-qualified staff, etc. ‘guarantee’ service standards. Reluctance to expose professional (teaching) competence to scrutiny.

Clear role hierarchy reflecting academic status and experience. Often a heavy emphasis on ‘traditional values’. Strong emphasis on autonomy and academic freedom. Aversion to transparency.

Assured by:

Standards monitoring

Research assessment

Teacher assessment

(Accreditation)

Assured by:

Standards monitoring

Professional accreditation

Assured by:

Accreditation

(Performance indicators)

Assured by:

Institutional Accreditation

(Audit of quality processes)

Perfection or consistency

 

A target level of academic standard is consistently achieved (year on year).

Expectation of a minimum prescribed level of professional competence. Problem in assessing for ‘zero defects’.

Primarily relates to reliable and consistent student grading and to administrative processes, such as accuracy and reliability of record keeping, timetables, coursework arrangements.

Right first time. Document procedures, regulations and good practice. Obtain ISO9000 certification.

Assured by:

 (Standards monitoring)

Assured by:

Standards monitoring

(Accreditation)

Assured by:

Participant/user feedback

(Audit)

(Assessment)

Assured by:

External QM certification

(Accreditation)

 

Fitness for purpose

(Fitness of purpose)

 

Theoretically, standards should relate to the defined objectives that relate to the purpose of the course (or institution). Summative assessment should be criteria referenced, although as purposes often include a comparative element (e.g., in mission statement) these are mediated by norm-referenced criteria.

Explicit specification of skills and abilities related to objectives. Evidence required to at least identify threshold standards.

Professional competence primarily assessed in terms of threshold minimums against professional body requirements for practice. This is similar to excellence approaches to checking minimum standards.

The purpose involves the provision of a service. Thus, process is assessed in terms of (minimum) standards for the purpose — usually teaching competence, the link between teaching and research, student support (academic and non-academic) , other facilities. Purpose is, for students, often judged against expectations.

Ensure appropriate mechanisms in place to assess whether practices and procedures fit the stated mission-based purposes.       

Assured by:

Assessment

(Accreditation)

Assured by:

Standards monitoring

(Accreditation

Subject assessment)

Assured by:

Customer charters/ surveys

(Accountability audit)

(Assessment)

(Accreditation)

Assured by:

Institutional accountability audit

Value for money

 

Maintenance or improvement of academic outcomes (graduate standards and research output) for the same (or declining) unit of resource. That is, ensure greater efficiency. Concern that efficiency gains work in the opposite direction to quality improvement.

Provide students with an academic experience (qualification, training, personal development)  to warrant the investment.

Maintain or improve the output of generally ‘employable’ graduates for the same unit of resource. Similarly, ensure a continual or increasing supply of recruits to post-graduation professional bodies.

Provide students with an educational experience that increases competence, in relation to career advancement, which ensures a return on investment.

Customer satisfaction analyses (student, employers, funding bodies) to assess process and outcomes. Students and other stakeholders are seen as ‘paying customers’.

Customer charters specify minimum levels of service (and facilities) that students (parents, employers) can expect.

 

Relies heavily on periodic or ad hoc reviews of whether organisational structure is effective and efficient, often informed by management information (especially basic output statistics).

Assured by:

Performance indicators

Graduate feedback

(Accreditation)

Assured by:

Performance indicators

Graduate feedback

(Accreditation)

Assured by:

Customer surveys and charters

(Performance indicators)

Assured by:

(Institutional accountability audit)

(Performance indicators)

Transfor-mation

 

Assessment of students’ acquisition of transformative knowledge and skills (analysis, critique, synthesis, innovation) against explicit objectives. Focus on adding value rather than gold standards. As transformation includes empowerment, formative as well as summative assessment is required. Transformative research standards are assessed on their impact in relation to objectives.

Provide students with enhanced skills and abilities that empower them to continue learning and to engage effectively with the complexities of the ‘outside’ world.

Assessment of students in terms of the acquisition of transformative skills (analysis, critique, synthesis, innovation) and the transformative impact they have post-graduation.

Emphasis on specification and assessment of standards of service and facilities that enable the process of student learning and the acquisition of transformative abilities.

Emphasis on organisational structure that encourages dialogue, team working and, ultimately, empowerment of the learner. Delegated responsibility for quality and standards. Innovation, responsiveness and ‘trust’ are prominent.

Assured by:

Value added performance indicators.

(External examination)

(Accreditation)

Assured by:

Value added. Professional

accreditation

Assured by:

Participant feedback

(Accreditation)

(Assessment)

Assured by:

Improvement audit

Source: Adapted from Harvey(1995)