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

Transformation is the process of changing from one qualitative state to another.

explanatory context

Transformation as a process of transmutation from one state to another can apply to an individual or an organisation or the product or service supplied by the organisation. When related to higher education, transformation usually refers to the transformation of the student via learning or the transformation of the institution so that it is better able to provide transformative outcomes, that is, transformative learning or research.


In South Africa, transformation has a particular meaning related to the political transformation of society: higher education having a transformative role in moving from apartheid to an inclusive society.


Transformation, as a definition of quality, focuses on process: on the enhancement and empowerment of the learner and is linked to, but not limited to, value added.

analytical review

As one of the five broad definitions of quality, Harvey (1995) states:

Quality as transformation is a classic notion of quality that sees it in terms of change from one state to another. In educational terms, transformation refers to the enhancement and empowerment of students or the development of new knowledge (see Harvey and Green, (1993)) {see associated issues below}


Campbell and Rozsnyai (2002, pp. 20–21) also discuss quality as transformation:

Quality as transformation. This concept focuses firmly on the learners: the better the higher education institution, the more it achieves the goal of empowering students with specific skills, knowledge, and attitudes which enable them to live and work in the knowledge society. This notion of quality may be particularly appropriate when there have been significant changes in the profile of learners, for example, when changes in society or politics have enhanced access to higher education for large numbers of disadvantaged learners. It is argued that the delivery of a transformational quality approach involves five key elements (Harvey and Knight, 1996, p. 117):

·      envisioning quality as a transformational process designed to enhance the experience of students;

·      a bottom-up approach to continuous improvement;

·      responsiveness and openness as the means of gaining greater trust;

·      an emphasis on effective action;

·      external monitoring which is sensitive to internal procedures (and values).

While this notion is popular, it may be difficult to measure quality as transformation in terms of intellectual capital (Lomas, 2002).


In the South African context, transformation relates to societal change., not just overcoming apartheid but addressing technological change. As the Green Paper on Higher Education Transformation (Department of Education,1996, section 4) proposed:

Transition and Transformation …. higher education policy in South Africa confronts two sets of challenges simultaneously… Successful policy will have to overcome an historically determined pattern of fragmentation, inequality and inefficiency; it will have to increase access for black students and for women; and it will have to generate new models of learning and teaching to accommodate a larger student population…. Successful policy must restructure the higher education system and its institutions to meet the needs of an increasingly technologically oriented economy; and it must deliver the requisite research, the highly trained people and the useful knowledge to equip a developing society with the capacity to participate competitively in a rapidly changing global context.

These challenges effectively define the need to transform higher education in South Africa …. The transformation of higher education intended by the Ministry is a far-reaching process. It has three central features:

Increased participation … Greater numbers of students will have to be accommodated, and these students will be recruited from a broader distribution of social groups and classes. Such ‘massification’ of South African higher education will necessarily involve different patterns of teaching and learning, new curriculums and more varied modes of delivery. In a situation of financial constraints, planning and negotiations will have to ensure that wider participation is affordable and sustainable.

Greater responsiveness …In essence, heightened responsiveness and accountability express the greater impact of the market and civil society on higher education and the consequent need for appropriate forms of regulation.

Increased cooperation and partnerships The new system will emphasise cooperation and partnerships in governance structures and operations of higher education. The model of cooperative governance, proposed by the NCHE and endorsed by the Ministry, reconceives the directive role of the state with a steering and coordinating role. …Relations between higher education institutions will see new partnerships and cooperative ventures among regional clusters of institutions in order to optimise the use of scarce resources.


For Harvey and Knight (1996), transformation involved transforming institutions to enable learner transformation. For many governments and intergovernmental organisations, higher education has a key role in providing the change agents for the future. Higher education should provide a transformative experience for students, so that they can, themselves, take a leading role in transforming society. Thus, Harvey and Knight argue that higher education must itself be transformed if it is to be successful as a transformative process. In brief, such transformation requires the following:

·      shifting from teaching to learning;

·      developing explicit skills, attitudes, and abilities as well as knowledge;

·      developing appropriate assessment procedures;

·      rewarding transformative teaching;

·      encouraging discussion of pedagogy;

·      providing transformative learning for academics;

·      fostering new collegiality;

·      linking quality improvement to learning;

·      auditing improvement.


Eckel et al. (1998) defined transformation in relation to higher education as follows:

Transformation (1) alters the culture of the institution by changing select underlying assumptions and institutional behaviors, processes, and products; (2) is deep and pervasive, affecting the whole institution; (3) is intentional; and (4) occurs over time.

Watty (2006, p. 298) defines transformation as:

a unique, individually negotiated process between the teacher and the learner, where the participant is transformed

associated issues

Quality as transformation

In ‘Defining quality’ (Harvey & Green, 1993), quality as transformation is elaborated as follows:

The transformative view of quality is rooted in the notion of ‘qualitative change’, a fundamental change of form. Ice is transformed into water and eventually steam if it experiences an increase in temperature. While the increase in temperature can be measured the transformation involves a qualitative change. Ice has different qualities to that of steam or water. Transformation is not restricted to apparent or physical transformation but also includes cognitive transcendence. This transformative notion of quality is well established in Western philosophy and can be found in the discussion of dialectical transformation in the works of Aristotle, Kant, Hegel and Marx. It is also at the heart of transcendental philosophies around the world, such as Buddhism and Janism. More recently it has been entertainingly explored in Pirsig’s (1976) Zen and the Art of Motor Cycle Maintenance.

This notion of quality as transformative raises issues about the relevance of a product-centred notion of quality such as fitness-for-purpose. There are problems, as we have seen, in translating product-based notions of quality to the service sector. This becomes particularly acute when applied to education (Elton, 1992). Unlike many other services where the provider is doing something for the consumer, in the education of students the provider is doing something to the consumer. This process of transformation is necessarily a unique, negotiated process in each case. The same reasoning applies to research. The provider does not just produce ‘new knowledge’ in a vacuum but is involved in transforming a given body of knowledge for particular purposes. Again, this transformation is not unidirectional, a dialectical process is taking place with a negotiated outcome (Kuhn, 1962, 1970; Price, 1963; Lakatos and Musgrave, 1970; Mullins, 1973; Holton, 1973).

Education is not a service for a customer but an ongoing process of transformation of the participant be it student learner or researcher. This leads to two notions of transformative quality in education, enhancing the consumer and empowering the consumer.

A further issue is the perceived relationship between qality and transformation. Chen and Taylor (2011) summarise it thus:

[The definition of quality] has shifted from ‘fitness for purpose’ during the 1990s to ‘student transformation’ in the 2000s. The latter is related to the notion of ‘transformative learning’, which grows out of a confluence of post-60s radicalism and critical pedagogy theories … and a new interest in adult education as part of social welfare…. The concept of ‘transformative learning’ has attracted considerable research, for example, about its complex nature, and criticisms on its limitations…. Harvey and Knight (1996) developed this concept by arguing that quality is transformation. The concept of transformation was interpreted as more than a momentous cognitive change towards rationalism, as Mezirow suggests, but a continuing process of students developing confidence, challenging assumptions, developing new understandings and acting upon them…. …

To provide an insight into the understanding of quality as transformation, this research explored how quality and transformation are interrelated, from the perception of both academic staff and students.… The research data reveals that the main difficulty in measuring transformation is due to its different forms, which could be critical, intellectual, personal, physical and emotional. Therefore it is hard to standardise these for assessment purposes. Critical transformation means challenge and doing something different. It also refers to change of oneself and the world around oneself. Intellectual transformation refers to understanding about change, and is not necessarily involved with change of individuals. Personal transformation is associated with change of individuals’ opinions, behaviour and attitudes. Emotional transformation is closely related to intellectual and personal transformation in that individuals would feel motivated to learn and become ready, eager and committed to make changes in study and life, and to move forward. Physical transformation can be interpreted as an age-related physical feature change. (Chen and Taylor, 2011, pp. 1–3)

related areas

See also

value added




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.

Chen, M. and Taylor, J., 2011, Quality as Transformation: Explore Understandings at Doctoral Level Education (0099) extended abstract for SRHE Conference 2011, available at, accessed 28 January 2011, still available 11 January 2017.

Department of Education (South Africa), 1996, Green Paper on Higher Education Transformation December, 1996 (Pretoria, Department of Education). Available at, not available 28 January 2012.

Eckel, P., Hill, B., and Green, M., 1998, On change, En route to transformation.  (Washington, DC, American Council on Education).

Elton, L., 1992, ‘University Teaching: A professional model for quality and excellence’, paper to the ‘Quality by Degrees’ Conference at Aston University, 8th June, 1992.

Harvey, L. and Green, D., 1993, ‘Defining quality’, Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 18(1). pp. 9–34. pre-publication draft available here

Harvey, L. and Knight, P., 1996, Transforming Higher Education (Buckingham, Open University Press and Society for Research into Higher Education).

Harvey, L., 1995, ‘Editorial: The quality agenda’, Quality in Higher Education, 1(1), pp. 5–12.

Holton, G., 1973, Thematic Origin of Scientific Thought: Kepler to Einstein. Cambridge, Harvard University Press.

Kuhn, T. S., 1962, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

Kuhn, T. S., 1970, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. (Second edition, enlarged with postscript). Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

Lakatos, I. & Musgrave, A., (Eds.), 1970, Criticisms and the Growth of Knowledge. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Lomas, L. 2002 ‘Does the Development of Mass Education Necessarily Mean the End of Quality?', Quality in Higher Education 8(1).

Mullins, N. C., 1973, Theory and Theory Groups in Contemporary American Sociology. New York, Harper and Row.

Pirsig, R. M., 1976, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An inquiry into values. London, Corgi.

Price, D. J. de S., 1963, Little Science, Big Science. New York, Columbia University Press.

Watty, K., 2006, '‘Want to know about quality in higher education? Ask an academic’, Quality in Higher Education, 12, pp. 291–301.

copyright Lee Harvey 2004–2021

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