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


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Statistical indicators

core definition

Statistical indicators are any quantitative data that provide evidence about the quality or standard of higher education.

explanatory context

Statistical indicators may be collected on a regular and systematic basis by governments (especially where institutions are publicly funded) and these or other statistics may be included in quality review processes.


Statistical indicators are sometimes used synonymously with performance indicators and sometimes are meant to imply a lesser evaluative status than embodied in quantitative performance indicators.


In the UK, the QAA subject evaluations involved statistical indicators, deliberately referred to in those terms to avoid implying a set of performance criteria.

analytical review

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (2003), notes:

In general, the higher education sector is well served statistically. This good statistical coverage is largely due to the unique structure of the sector, in which all publicly funded tertiary institutions are required to provide statistics to the Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST). Therefore DEST collections provide the majority of statistics for this sector, although there are other collections which provide additional specific information.


In answer to the question ‘What are statistical indicators?’, West (1999) makes the following distinction between a statistic, an indicator and a performance indicator:

Statistics unlike indicators are purely descriptive; so, for example, the total number of trainees enrolled on a programme is an example of a statistic. Indicators on the other hand are generally conceptualised as having some reference point. So for example, the percentage of a particular age group entering initial vocational education and training is an example of an indicator. Indicators unlike raw statistics can assist with making a range of different sorts of comparisons as a result of having a common point of reference. As Nuttall (1992) comments: ‘An educational indicator tells us something about the performance or behaviour of an education system and can be used to inform decision-making. Not all education statistics qualify as indicators...To be an indicator, an education statistic must have a reference point against which it can be judged. Usually the reference point is some socially-agreed upon standard ..., a past value ..., or a comparison across schools, regions or nations’ (Nuttall, 1992, p.14). Further work on the concept of an indicator has been undertaken by van den Berghe (1997) who distinguishes between four types of indicators – descriptive indicators, management and policy indicators, performance indicators and quality indicators (a subset of performance indicators). Indicators that are linked to the achievement of particular goals or objectives can be seen as a special category of performance indicators.

associated issues


related areas

See also


performance indicators


Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2003, Themes - Education and Training Statistics National Centre: Review of Statistics on Higher Education, last updated 5 December 2003, not available 25 January 2012.

Nuttall, D., 1992, The OECD International Education Indicators (Paris, OECD).

Van den Berghe, W., 1998, Indicators in Perspective (Thessaloniki, Cedefop)

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)).

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