Analytic Quality Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2004-19, 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 23 January, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2004–2019.


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Quality standard

core definition

Quality standards are are norms, expectations or specifications that provide the basis for the assurance of quality.

explanatory context

Quality standards are often used as guides to the appropriateness of quality assurance procedures. The best known ones are the ENQA (2005) Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area.


It is instructive to note that this document is emphatic that the standards and guidelines outline the generic principles that should be in place rather than specifying how this should be done:

The EHEA with its 40 states is characterised by its diversity of political systems, higher education sys- tems, socio-cultural and educational traditions, languages, aspirations and expectations. This makes a single monolithic approach to quality, standards and quality assurance in higher education inappropriate. In the light of this diversity and variety, generally acknowledged as being one of the glories of Europe, the report sets its face against a narrow, prescriptive and highly formulated approach to standards. In both the standards and the guidelines, the report prefers the generic principle to the specific requirement. It does this because it believes that this approach is more likely to lead to broad acceptance in the first instance and because it will provide a more robust basis for the coming together of the different higher education communities across the EHEA. The generic standards ought to find a general resonance at the national3 level of most signatory states. However, one consequence of the generic principle is that the standards and guidelines focus more on what should be done than how they should be achieved (ENQA, 2005, p. 10).

The document also states:

The ‘guidelines’ provide additional information about good practice and in some cases explain in more detail the meaning and importance of the standards. Although the guidelines are not part of the standards themselves, the standards should be considered in conjunction with them. (ENQA, 2005, p. 15).


Quality standards are sometimes compared to benchmarks, although benchmarks tend to be rather more limited in scope and more precisely specified than quality standards.

Quality standards are also similar to organisational standards but distinct from service standards

The distinction between quality standards, quality and standards can be summed up by a sporting analogy. In golf, each course has a par score which is equivlent to the quality standard. The score achieved by a player is the standard achieved. The quality of the play is the execution of the shots (Harvey, 2006). See the entry on standards for more detail.

analytical review

The ENQA (2005, pp. 12–13) Standards and Guidelines do not define standards but allude to a definition:

The standards and guidelines for internal and external quality assurance, which follow, have been developed for the use of higher education institutions and quality assurance agencies working in the EHEA, covering key areas relating to quality and standards.

The purpose of these standards and guidelines is to provide a source of assistance and guidance to both higher education institutions in developing their own quality assurance systems and agencies undertaking external quality assurance, as well as to contribute to a common frame of reference, which can be used by institutions and agencies alike. It is not the intention that these standards and guidelines should dictate practice or be interpreted as prescriptive or unchangeable.

In some countries of the EHEA the ministry of education or an equivalent organisation has the responsibility for some of the areas covered by the standards and guidelines. Where this is the case, that ministry or organisation should ensure that appropriate quality assurance mechanisms are in place and subject to independent reviews.

Basic principles

The standards and guidelines are based on a number of basic principles about quality assurance, both internal in and external to higher education in the EHEA. These include:

• providers of higher education have the primary responsibility for the quality of their provision and its assurance;

• the interests of society in the quality and standards of higher education need to be safeguarded;

• the quality of academic programmes need to be developed and improved for students and other beneficiaries of higher education across the EHEA;

• there need to be efficient and effective organisational structures within which those academic pro- grammes can be provided and supported;

• transparency and the use of external expertise in quality assurance processes are important;

• there should be encouragement of a culture of quality within higher education institutions;

• processes should be developed through which higher education institutions can demonstrate their accountability, including accountability for the investment of public and private money;

• quality assurance for accountability purposes is fully compatible with quality assurance for en- hancement purposes;

• institutions should be able to demonstrate their quality at home and internationally;

• processes used should not stifle diversity and innovation.


In the health context the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE, 2012) states:

NICE quality standards are a set of specific, concise statements and associated measures. They set out aspirational, but achievable, markers of high-quality, cost-effective patient care, covering the treatment and prevention of different diseases and conditions.

More recently NICE (2017) states:

Quality standards set out the priority areas for quality improvement in health and social care. They cover areas where there is variation in care. Each standard gives you: a set of statements to help you improve quality; information on how to measure progress.

The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) (2011) states:

Quality standards – A set of benchmarks or indicators for courses, teaching, professional development, programs, etc., developed by a governing body, association, or accrediting organization.

Green (1994, p. 13) states:

Standard [in the sense of specification] is ‘a basis for measurement, or a ‘yardstick’ – a neutral term to describe a required characteristic of a product or service.

associated issues

related areas

See also


organisational standards


service standards


standards monitoring


ENQA 2005, Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG), Helsinki, ENQA, originally available at, accessed 22 September 2012. The ESG has now been updated and the 2015 version can be found at, accessed 3 January 2017.

Green, D., 1994, ‘What is quality in higher education? Concepts, policy and practice', in Green, D. (Ed.), 1994, What is Quality in Higher Education? pp. 3–20, Buckingham, Open University press and Society for Research into Higher Education.

Harvey, L., 2006, 'Understanding quality', Section B 4.1-1 of ' Introducing Bologna objectives and tools' in Purser, L. (Ed.) EUA Bologna Handbook: Making Bologna work, Brussels European University Association and Berlin, Raabe. A final draft of the paper can be viewed here as a pdf.

International Association for K-12 Online Learning, 2011, The Online Learning Definitions Project, October, available at, accessed 1 September 2012, page not available 9 January 2017.

National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), 2012, NICE quality standards, available at, accessed 22 September 2012.

National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), 2017, Standards and indicators, available at, accessed 9 January 2017.

copyright Lee Harvey 2004–2019

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