Internal quality assurance in universities


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Keynote presentation at the Conference of the Japanese Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (JAQAHE) on 27 October 2011 in Tokyo

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Internal quality assurance in universities

  1. 1. Internal Quality Assurance in Universities: Academic Self-Regulation in a Context of Increasing Accountability in Higher Education Prof. Dr. Dirk Van Damme Head of the Centre for Educational Research and Innovation – OECDPresentation at the JAQAHE Conference – Tokyo, 27 October 2011
  2. 2. Outline1. The old ideal of academic self-regulation2. External quality assurance3. The concept of quality: definitions, dimensions, categories4. Internal quality assurance and ‘quality culture’5. Threats, risks and challenges to quality culture6. Conclusions 2
  4. 4. The old ideal• Quality is not a new concept in academia, but was a purpose of the academic community from the first days of the modern university• Quality was an integral part of the academic community’s quest for truth and the higher good• Quality was supported and controlled by an informal process of self-regulation in the community based on informal peer-review• Hence, quality is an integrative part of the academic core value system. 4
  5. 5. Erosion of academic self-regulation• Several factors contributed to the erosion of academic self-regulation and the ‘externalisation’ of quality: – Institutionalisation of universities – Massification and fear for decline of quality – Role of the state in higher education – Increasing public demand for transparency and accountability – Liberalisation and marketisation• The consequence was a loss of public trust in academic self-regulation 5
  7. 7. External quality assurance• The consequence was the emergence of external quality assurance systems, in most cases based on explicit mechanisms of peer review• The emergence of external quality assurance essentially was a renegotiation in the power field of the triangle of academia, the state and the market• Where powers gradually shifted from academia to the state and the market 7
  8. 8. State Licensing/ Recognition External quality assurance/Accreditation Internal quality ranking assuranceAcademia (Intl) Market 8
  10. 10. The concept of quality• Alternative – often conflicting – definitions: – Quality as ‘standards’ – Quality as ‘perfection’ or ‘excellence’ – Quality as ‘fitness for purpose’ (recognising different purposes and missions) – Quality as ‘value for money’ (stakeholders’ view on return on investment) – Quality as ‘transformation’ or ‘change’ (Harvey) 10
  11. 11. The concept of quality• Two dimensions: – low versus high – absolute standards versus (externally/internally) relative• Four approaches – excellence standards – fitness for purpose – basic standards – consumer satisfaction 11
  12. 12. Definitions of quality high excellence standards fitness for consumerinternally purpose absolute satisfaction externally relative relative basic standards low 12
  13. 13. Definitions and measurements• Different definitions of quality are linked to different measurements or assessments: – Basic standards: external review, benchmarking, accreditation – Excellence: peer review, reputation, benchmarking – Fitness for purpose: auditing processes – Consumer satisfaction: performance assessment, stakeholders review 13
  14. 14. Categories of assessment• Quality assessment typically focus on the following categories, which can get more emphasis in different definitions: – Input: resources invested – Process: the way to achieve objectives – Output: results, achievements – Feedback: institutional mechanisms in place to monitor and improve• Each can have its specific standards and indicators, and different assessment methods 14
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  16. 16. Quality: shifting concepts• Quality is a multi-dimensional concept with changing definitions over time and place• Any particular definition of quality at a given time-space configuration is function of interaction of dimensions and categories of quality• Importance of social, economic, political and cultural context• There is no single, absolute definition of quality! 16
  18. 18. Internal quality assurance• Internal and external quality assurance are not to be seen as opposite or conflicting approaches – External quality assessments always start with an internal self-assessment – Most quality assessments still rely on the use of peer review• In many quality assurance systems there is a shift towards quality audits, where not quality as such is assessed, but the institution’s capacity to monitor, assess and improve quality itself 18
  19. 19. Quality culture• An institutional quality culture includes: – A transparent and active commitment to quality at all levels – A willingness to engage in critical self-evaluation – An internal regulatory framework with clear and consistent procedures – Explicit and clearly assigned responsibilities for quality control and assessment – A drive to obtain feedback from a variety of internal and external constituencies – A clear commitment to identify and disseminate good practice – Prompt, appropriate, and sensitive managerial action to redress problems, supported by adequate information 19
  20. 20. Internal and external• Internal and external dimensions of quality assurance should work together: – External QA should support and encourage institutional quality culture – ‘Internalisation’ of quality assurance: self- regulation of the academic community in semi- autonomous institutional environments – ‘Externalisation’ of quality assurance: transparency and critical dialogue with stakeholders and society 20
  22. 22. Threats to quality culture• ‘Reputation race’, rankings and superficial quality perception• ‘Mission overload’: institutions trying to do everything and do nothing well• Very intrusive external quality assurance• Internal tolerance for low quality• Excessive competition, undermining academic self-regulation and collaboration• Over-demanding and over-critical consumers• Lack of society’s respect for academia 22
  23. 23. Challenges for quality culture• QA became situated at the crossroads of the main rationales defining the HE arena, each defining its dimension of quality – Public policy rationale: efficiency, rationalisation, access, relevance, produ ctivity – Institutional rationale: autonomy, expansion, cohesion, market share, revenue generation – Market rationale: rankings, reputation race and competition, world-class status – Academic rationale: academic freedom, flexible 23 networks, research driven, scientific quality
  24. 24. Balancing rationales Quality Assurance - intended Public policy 1 0.8 0.6 0.4 0.2 InstitutionalAcademia 0 autonomy Market 24
  25. 25. Balancing rationalesQuality Assurance - intended Quality Assurance - realised Public policy 1 0.8 0.6 0.4 0.2 Institutional Academia 0 autonomy Market 25
  26. 26. Risks• Instead of becoming a tool of transparency and public trust in a system supported by academia, QA risks to be captured in a deadlock between – Governments looking to increase their capacity to intervene and regulate – Institutions frustrated in their desire for autonomy – Market forces interested in reputation and resisting real transparency – Academia distrusting the added-value of evaluation 26
  27. 27. Overcoming risks• Governments, while protecting public policy interests, should respect institutional autonomy and develop trust in the capacity of the academic community to realise quality• Institutions should create favourable conditions for high quality teaching, research and service to the community, and should define their own mission 27
  28. 28. Overcoming risks• Markets should focus more on the real contributions of higher education and less on meaningless competition over perception and reputation• Academic community should see critical evaluation as the road to scientific progress and quality, and as part of the core value system of the academic tradition 28
  29. 29. 6.CONCLUSIONS 29
  30. 30. Conclusions• Well-performing higher education systems need to balance internal and external quality assurance• Academic quality needs to be based on genuine self-regulation, with internal and external feedback• Institutions need to invest in strong quality culture, aimed at their institutional mission• Evidence-based transparency is necessary• Critical evaluation and self-evaluation is part of the academic value-system! 30
  31. 31. Thank you ! 31