Analytic Quality Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2004-21, 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 22 September, 2021 , © Lee Harvey 2004–2021.


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core definition

The minimum expectations of student performance for the achievement of, or of programme content for, a particular qualification or award.

explanatory context

Threshold standards are minimum standards of either student performance or minimum expectations of the content of a programme.

analytical review

QAA (2011) refers to:

Threshold academic standard: The minimum standard that a student should reach in order to gain a particular qualification or award, as set out in the subject benchmark statements and national qualifications frameworks. Threshold standards are distinct from the standards of performance that students need to achieve in order to gain any particular class of award, for example a first-class bachelor's degree.

This becomes (QAA, undated):

Threshold academic standard:The minimum acceptable level of achievement that a student has to demonstrate to be eligible for an academic award. (See General Introduction to the Quality Code.) Threshold academic standards are set out in the national qualifications frameworks and subject benchmark statements.

Campbell and Rozsnyai (2002) write:

Quality as threshold. Defining a threshold for quality means setting certain norms and criteria. Any programme, department, or institution, which reaches these norms and criteria, is deemed to be of quality. The advantage of setting a threshold is that it is objective and certifiable. However, there are arguments that setting a threshold creates uniformity across the higher education system. This argument might well apply if institutions adopt a “compliance” mentality and only do what is sufficient to satisfy the minimum. There are significant disadvantages to this concept, especially when the criteria and standards are based on quantitative “input” factors enshrined in law. It cannot readily be adapted to changing circumstances or to stimulate change and innovation. In this respect, the “threshold” can mitigate against improvement. Neither does it take account of “output” standards, the actual level of achievement by graduates, the criteria used to assess these achievements, and how that assessment is verified. Nevertheless, in many European higher education systems, a “minimum standards” variant has been used if only as a starting point in the quest for quality.

associated issues

related areas

See also

academic standards


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.

Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), 2011, Glossary, available at, accessed 9 September 2012, page not available 11 January 2017.

Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), undated, Glossary, available at, accessed 9 September 2012, accessed 11 January 2017.

copyright Lee Harvey 2004–2021

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