Analytic Quality Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2004-16, 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 3 February, 2016 , © Lee Harvey 2004–16.


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Tertiary education

core definition

Tertiary education is formal, non-compulsory, education that follows secondary education.

explanatory context

In most countries some form of secondary education is compulsory. Tertiary education refers, in most settings to non-compulsory education provided via a specialist institution, usually labelled as a college, polytechnic, technikon, or university (with variants of these in other languages). Tertiary education may be delivered virtually or at a distance.


It is not always clear, though, what tertiary education includes. Is it only that which results in a formal qualification or might it include leisure classes? In the UK, are A-levels tertiary education as they are post-compulsory but taught in school settings as well as colleges? Is professional updating or on-the-job training part of tertiary education, even if it does not follow successful completion of secondary education?


Tertiary education is, in most countries, a wider and rather more vague term than higher education, encompassing what in England, for example, is called further education as well as higher education

analytical review

Campbell and Roznayai’s definition emphasises certification and continuation from successful secondary education.

Tertiary education: Any education entered after successful completion of secondary education, which may include vocational post-secondary education (leading to a certificate) and higher education (leading to a degree), even though the designation is often used synonymously with higher education. (Campbell & Rozsnyai, 2002, p. 133)

The World Bank (2011) states:

Tertiary education broadly refers to all post-secondary education, including but not limited to universities. Universities are clearly a key part of all tertiary systems, but the diverse and growing set of public and private tertiary institutions in every countryŚcolleges, technical training institutes, community colleges, nursing schools, research laboratories, centers of excellence, distance learning centers, and many moreŚforms a network of institutions that support the production of the higher-order capacity necessary for development.


HEA (2004) refer to ‘third-level education’, which the Authority defines as:

Synonym of higher education, includes all forms of tertiary education.

associated issues

related areas

See also

continuing professional development

further education

higher education



Campbell, C. & Rozsnyai, C., 2002, Quality Assurance and the Development of Course Programmes. Papers on Higher Education Regional University Network on Governance and Management of Higher Education in South East Europe Bucharest, UNESCO.

Higher Education Authority (HEA) [of Ireland] 2004, Glossary, no longer available, 29 January 2011.

World Bank, 2011, Tertiary Education (Higher Education), available at,,contentMDK:20298183~menuPK:617592~pagePK:148956~piPK:216618~theSitePK:282386,00.html#what_why , accessed 28 August 2012.

copyright Lee Harvey 2004–16

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