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 9 January, 2017 , © Lee Harvey 2004–2017.


A fast-paced novel of conjecture and surprises


Quality culture

core definition

Quality culture is a set of group values that guide how improvements are made to everyday working practices and consequent outputs.

explanatory context

A quality culture is, arguably, a set of taken-for-granted practices that encapsulate the ideology of the group or organisation.


Quality (1985) culture is a specific aspect of organisational culture, which is defined, for example by Robbins (2001) as 'the social glue that helps to hold an organisation together'. Schein had suggested that 'the culture of an organisation is made up of many variables—modes of interaction, assumptions, rituals, membership, structures, control mechanisms and so on'.

Harvey and Green (1993) outlined the nature of quality culture, which was seen, at the time, as a functuon of manufacturing industry:

A culture of quality is one in which everybody in the organisation, not just the quality controllers, is responsible for quality. A central feature of such organisations is that each worker or team of workers is both a customer of, and supplier to, other workers in the organisation: they form a chain of internal customers and suppliers. It is the responsibility of each unit to ensure the quality of their own work. The emphasis is on ensuring that things are ‘done right first time’. When they are not then the process that has led to an unsatisfactory output is analysed so that corrections can be made in the process to ensure that the problem does not arise again. In a quality culture there is no need to check final output. Indeed to do so, is to shift responsibility away from those involved at each stage.

analytical review

Berings et al. (2010) state that the Flemish Bologna Expert Team had a working definition as follows:

quality culture is an organisational culture which contributes to the development of effective and efficient care for quality.

Berings et al. (2010), futhermore, argue that:

By using the concept 'care for quality' and not 'quality management' or 'quality assurance' the Bologna experts'...definition leaves a sufficient degree of freedom for proponents as well as for opponents of the managerial approach of quality in higher education (Helms et al., 2001; Youssef et al., 1998). Moreover it can stimulate a fruitful debate about the relation between the system and cultural approach and the dialectic nature of quality culture in itself (Harvey & Stensaker, 2008). Such a dialectical approach is also the core principle of the conceptual framework of Berings (2006; 2009) that is inspired by the work of Quinn and his colleagues on competing values (Cameron, 1986; Cameron & Quinn, 1999; Quinn, 1988).

Rapp (2011, p. 6) in the foreword to the EUA publication Examining Quality Culture Part 2:

The notion of quality culture is understood here as comprising (i) shared values, beliefs, expectations and commitments toward quality (ii) that are supported by structural and managerial elements and processes that enhance quality. Why is quality culture important? Simply stated, it is because it is the most effective and meaningful way that quality assurance mechanisms can ensure and improve quality levels and support a dynamic of change in universities.

The Office for National Education Standards and Quality Assessment, Thailand, (2012) states:

Quality culture: includes thinking processes, communication, action, and decision-making, which will lead to a better quality of the educational system and organization.

Hanze University of Applied Sciences, Groningen, (2011) states:

Culture of quality: Hanze (UAS) Groningen strives at a culture of quality in which quality and quality improvement can thrive. This culture is expressed in four key values: (1) individual development, (2) respect and 'active tolerance', (3) an entrepreneurial spirit and (4) responsibility.

Vlăsceanu et al. (2004) states:

Quality Culture: It refers to a set of shared, accepted, and integrated patterns of quality (often called principles of quality) to be found in the organizational cultures and the management systems of institutions. Awareness of and commitment to the quality of higher education, in conjunction with a solid culture of evidence and with the efficient management of this quality (through quality assurance procedures) are the ingredients of a quality culture. As quality elements change and evolve over time, so must the integrated system of quality supportive attitudes and arrangements (quality culture) change to support new quality paradigms in higher education.


Summarising the discussions on quality culture at the First European Forum For Quality Assurance, Harvey, (2007) wrote:

Quality culture

Although there was much discussion around quality culture, there were few attempts in the discussion sessions or the forum as a whole to define quality culture. However, there was considerable exploration of the characteristics of a quality culture.

The following features emerged as indicative of a quality culture:

There is academic ownership of quality.

There is a recognition by academics and administrators of need for a system of quality monitoring to ensure accountability (and compliance where required) and to facilitate improvement. However, this should not be a 'bureaucratic' system

Quality culture is primarily about the behaviour of stakeholders rather than the operation of a quality system.

The quality system needs to have a clear purpose, which articulates with the quality culture.

A quality culture places students at the centre.

A quality culture is about partnership and co-operation, sharing of experiences and team working.

A quality culture is about supporting the individual as an autonomous scholar but not at the expense of the learning community; there is a symbiotic relationship between individual and community.

Leadership in a quality culture is inspirational rather than dictatorial. Leadership is at all levels in the institution and does not refer to just senior managers.

A quality culture welcomes external critical evaluation from a variety of sources including formal external evaluations, external peers acting as critical friends, and internal peer review and support.

At heart a quality culture is about facilitating and encouraging reflexivity and praxis; self-reflection, developing improvement initiatives and implementing them.

There was a debate about whether a quality assurance system (internal and/or external) is a prerequisite for the development of a quality culture within an institution or department or whether it operates the other way round. Does an institution need to have developed a quality culture prior to (effective) implementation of a process of quality assurance? There was no clear answer to this and it seems most agree that the culture and the system need to grow together in harmony

associated issues

Aspects of Quality Culture

Gordon and Owen (2009) write:

Most importantly, developing a real culture of quality through effective learning means moving away from preserving what higher education already is towards an aspiration towards what it could be. (Stensaker, 2005)

In Europe, approaches to quality (for example, the EUA Quality Cultures Project1) have moved away from earlier guiding principles of 'fitness for purpose' and 'value for money' towards the ideal of searching for excellence through the demonstration and sharing of best practice. The EUA projects reported that any quality culture was based on shared values, beliefs and expectations but also included a managerial element that defined processes, co-ordinated efforts and established responsibilities and goals.

A recent paper by Harvey and Stensaker (2008) offers the following taxonomy which may be useful as a way for institutions to recognise, reflect on and discuss their own cultures:

Responsive quality culture: governed primarily by external demands, takes a positive approach to opportunities and seeks and shares good practice, but tends to view quality-related activities and strategies as a solution to externally-driven problems or challenges and lacks sense of ownership or control

Reactive quality culture: driven primarily by compliance and accountability, seeks opportunities for reward, tends to delegate 'quality' to a delineated space (e.g. quality office)

Regenerative quality culture: is focussed on internal development and has co-ordinated internal plans which include clear goals. External initiatives are recognised but are secondary to a taken-for-granted commitment to continual improvement and organisational learning. Embodies the potential for subversion of externally-driven initiatives

Reproductive quality culture: manipulates situations to minimise disruption from externally-driven quality initiatives in order to maintain the status quo. Has established norms, good internal practices and quality are an encoded and unremarkable part of daily practice and professional conduct. Resistant to reflection or re-conceptualisation of goals.

Although Harvey and Stensaker recognise that most institutions will embody a number of these characteristics they argue that these differential orientations will result in very different approaches to quality activities. Approaches to developing sectorally-appropriate quality initiatives thus 'depend on empirical investment into the culture, the identity and organisational climate of the given institution' (Harvey and Stensaker, 2008).

Addressing the issue of the ambiguity of the concept of quality culture, and referring to the original EUA Report from 2006, Harvey and Stensaker (2008) write:

The Report (EUA, 2006, p. 11) noted that most of the consultation groups took the notion of 'quality culture' for granted: a situation reflected in other publications that want to build (Mehta, undated), create (Enemark, 2000) or embed (Korbel & Lis, undated) a quality culture. In the EUA study, only the Student Support Services Network agreed on a formal definition of quality culture. It defined it as 'an organisational climate in which groups of staff work together to realise their specific tasks'.

Hence, if we relate the concept of quality culture as outlined by the EUA to more established perspectives on how to understand culture, it seems evident that the definitions and understandings brought forward are characterised by a relatively high degree of ambiguity. Quality culture is, on the one hand, impossible to define since every higher education institution is unique (culture as something an organisation is), while on the other it could be brought forward by structural or managerial efforts stimulating shared values and beliefs.

To further complicate the picture, one could also argue that the quality culture concept is heavily related to political ambitions, nationally and internationally, of changing the way higher education institutions work and function in a more fundamental way. The strong pressure for reform stemming from the European Commission has already been mentioned. The pressure for reform may be equally strong from national governments in certain countries. In such a political perspective, quality culture is a tool for preparing the institutions for the consequences of this autonomy, both with respect to how they handle external demands (e.g. the ability to respond to external quality assurance schemes), and internal developments in governance (e.g. promoting stronger internal management structures). As such, it seems that quality culture, in practice, is everything for everyone.

However, this account of the history of the notion of culture, combined with a brief overview of more recent developments concerning quality in higher education, is not just an esoteric analysis of a concept but raises important issues and relationships for the idea of a quality culture. First, in developing this notion, one needs to be aware of the critique of culture as a homogeneous, evolving elitist concept. Second, culture still retains a sense that it is about creative endeavours of a particular artistic form. Third, counter to a view of separate cultural producers and consumers is the dialectical synthesis of the 'producer' and the 'reader', which is important in thinking about the way quality cultures are developed. Fourth, culture, in its democratic form, is about a learned way of life, a context for knowledge production. Fifth, culture is symbolic as much as it is material. Sixth, culture and ideology are related, which tends to be overlooked in analyses of 'quality culture'. Seventh, there is, arguably, a dialectical relationship between culture and economy, not a deterministic one. Eighth, culture may be construed as transcending the human actors or as possessed uniquely by people. Ninth, subcultures can be sites of resistance; a documented effect of the quality movement in higher education (Newton, 2000).

Hence, if we are to take the whole concept of quality culture seriously, we need to acknowledge this complexity....

related areas

See also


internal quality monitoring


quality management

quality system


Berings, D., 2006, 'Concurrerende waarden: een intrigerend en integrerend concept voor het bestuderen en vormgeven van organisatieverandering', in Hovelynck, J., De Weerdt, S. and Dewulf A. (Red.) Samen leren en werken in en tussen organisaties. (pp. 159–185). Leuven: Lannoo Campus.

Berings, D., 2009, 'Reflection on quality culture as a substantial element of quality management in higher education', Paper presented at the Fourth European Quality Assurance Forum (EQAF ) of the European University Association (EUA), Copenhagen, 19–21 November 2009.

Berings, D., Beerten, Z., Hulpiau, L.V. and Verhesschen, P., 2010, 'Quality culture in higher education: from theory to practice', available at, accessed 18 September 2012, still available 9 January 2017.

Cameron, K. S., & Quinn, R.E., 1999, Diagnosing and changing organizational culture. Reading:Addison-Wesley.

Cameron, K.S., 1986, 'Effectiveness as paradox: consensus and conflict in conceptions of organizational effectiveness', Management Science, 32, 539–53.

Enemark, S., 2000, 'Creating a quality culture', in Nordic Council ofMinisters (Ed) Towards Best Practice: Quality Improvement in Nordic Higher Education Institutions (Copenhagen, Nordic Council of Ministers).

European University Association (EUA), 2006,Quality Culture in European Universities: a bottom-up approach (Brussels, EUA).

Gordon, G. and Owen, C., 2009, SHEEC Theme on the Management of Quality: cultures of enhancement and quality management systems and structures, Final Report November 2008, Published 23 January 2009, SHEEC.

Hanze University of Applied Sciences, Groningen, 2011, European Master in Social Work: Information dossier for Limited Initial Accreditation, available at, accessed 18 September 2012, page not available 9 January 2017.

Harvey, L., 2007, 'Conclusions: Quality culture, quality assurance and impact: Overview of discussions', in Embedding Quality Culture In Higher Education: A selection of papers from the 1st European Forum For Quality Assurance, Brussels, EUA, available at, accessed 18 September 2012, still available 9 January 2017.

Harvey, L. and Green, D., 1993, ‘Defining quality', Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 18(1), pp. 9–34.

Harvey, L. and Stensaker, B., 2008, 'Quality culture: understandings, boundaries and linkages', European Journal of Education 43(4), pp. 427–42.

Helms, M.M., Williams, A.B., and Nixon, J.C., 2001, 'TQM principles and their relevance to higher education: the question of tenure and post-tenure review', International Journal of Educational Management, 15(7), 322–31.

Korbel,A. & Lis, J., undated, Embedding the Quality Culture — Human Aspects of the Process (Kraków, AGH — University of Science and Technology).

Mehta, S., undated, Building a Quality Culture, available at info_quality_culture.php, accessed 4 April 2008, not available 18 September 2012..

Newton, J., 2000, 'Feeding the beast or improving quality?: academics’ perceptions of quality assurance and quality monitoring', Quality in Higher Education, 6, pp. 153–63.

Office for National Education Standards and Quality Assessment, Thailand, 2012, Director?fs Message, available at, accessed 18 September 2012, page not available 9 January 2017.

Quinn, R.E., 1988, Beyond rational management. Mastering the paradoxes and competing demands of high performance. London: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Rapp, J-M., 2011, 'Foreword' in Sursock, A. (ed.), 2011, Examining Quality Culture Part 2: Processes and Tools—Participation, Ownership and Bureaucracy: Brussels, EUA Publications.

Robbins, S. P., 2001, Organizational Behavior. 9th edn, Upper Saddle River, Prentice-Hall.

Schein, E. H.,1985, Organizational Culture and Leadership. San Francisco, CA, Jossey-Bass.

Stensaker, B., 2005, 'Quality as fashion: exploring the translation of a management idea into higher education', paper presented to the seminar “Dynamics and effects if quality assurance in higher education—various perspectives of quality and performance at various levels” Douro, October 2005.

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 9 January 2017.

Youssef, M.A., Libby, P., Al-Khafaji, A., Sawyer, G. Jr, 1998, 'TQM implementation barriers in higher education', International Journal of Technology Management, 16(4), pp. 584–93.

copyright Lee Harvey 2004–2017

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