Ehlers, U.-D. (2009): Understanding Quality Culture. In: InternationalJournal for Quality Assurance in Education. EmeraldU...
Introduction: A Culture of Quality in Higher EducationWe are entering a new era in quality management for higher education...
education has to focus on incorporating new values, skills and attitudes intoprofessional educators’ behaviour in order to...
word culture we can establish that it is stemming from the Latin term cultura whichin turn is coming from colere, meaning ...
industry this has been done already through the concept of total quality management,understanding quality as a characteris...
their routines without consciously thinking about them. This aspect becomesinteresting for the question if and how culture...
3. Observable Behaviour: The third layer of culture consists of visibleorganisational processes and various artefacts. For...
Figure 21. Symbols: “Symbols are words, gestures, pictures or objects which carry aparticular meaning only recognized as s...
(ibid) Values are the primary source of evaluation of our surrounding environmentand bring about the basic idea for the wa...
their action without them noticing it explicitly. Organisations are described associally constructed realities which are e...
•   Considering the above described approaches some common elements of culture    can be identified and used in a quality ...
A Model of Quality Culture for Higher EducationIn the following section a model for quality culture is presented. It is co...
Figure 3In figure 3 we show our model of quality culture for education with the differentcomponents of quality culture. It...
2002: 216)1. The various existing publications reveal a large number of differentconcepts and approaches for quality manag...
Figure 4Component 2: The Enabling FactorsThe enabling factors component comprises those elements which enable individualsa...
educational providers (e.g. the higher education institutions). Negotiation is thus   of crucial importance to any success...
c. Quality innovation: This dimension relates to the ability which goes        beyond the simple use of existing instrumen...
mislead many institutions to imitate classical face to face trainings instead of   fostering and leveraging strategic adva...
and tangible cultural artefacts. Heroes represent particular successful qualityenhancement processes in higher education (...
Summary and ConclusionsCan quality in higher education be explained as a result of a well defined process or isit rather a...
quality development demands a broader, a “cultural” view, up to now only little workhas been published in this very field....
11. Ehlers, U.-D. (2005a), “Bringing Collaboration to E-Learning. Making    Competence development Possible”, Proceedings ...
25. Friend-Pereira, J. C., Lutz, K. and Heerens, N. (2002), European Student    Handbook on Quality Assurance in Higher Ed...
Center for Higher Education Research, School of Education, Psychology and    Sports, Mannheim.40. Mabawonku, A. O. (2003),...
59. Tulloch, J. B. and Sneed, J. R. (2000), Quality enhancing practices in distance    education: Teaching and learning, D...
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Understanding Quality Culture (award winning paper) by Ulf-Daniel Ehlers


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The paper aims at developing a holistic understanding of quality in higher education which reveals the current debates about accreditation or quality process standards as insufficient, and proposes an enhanced model for quality culture in educational or-ganisations.

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Understanding Quality Culture (award winning paper) by Ulf-Daniel Ehlers

  1. 1. Ehlers, U.-D. (2009): Understanding Quality Culture. In: InternationalJournal for Quality Assurance in Education. EmeraldUnderstanding Quality CulturePurposeThe paper aims at developing a holistic understanding of quality in higher educationwhich reveals the current debates about accreditation or quality process standards asinsufficient, and proposes an enhanced model for quality culture in educationalorganisations.Design/methodology/approachThe conceptual framework is based on relevant research in the field of qualitydevelopment for education, and integrates it with a series of previously publishedworks related to quality methodologies, quality literacy and quality as amultidimensional concept. Quality is approached from an educational scienceperspective, and is understood as a relationship among all the participants andresources of an educational scenario.FindingsThe paper establishes the foundation for a comprehensive understanding and analysisof quality culture in organisations, focussing on higher education. While thisunderstanding of quality as part of the organisational culture seems to gain moreimportance there is still a lack of fundamental research and conceptual understandingof the phenomenon in itself. Quality development in higher education is often limitedto bureaucratic documentation, and disregards the development of quality as anorganisation’s holistic culture. However, there is a needs to focus on promoting aquality culture which is enabling individual actors to continuously improve theireducational practice.Originality/valueThe original value of the paper is to approach quality development in highereducation from an organisation’s cultural perspective. When the conceptualfoundations for empirical research are worked out, the professionals can benefit byunderstanding the interrelated nature of educational quality and organisational culturein higher education institutions.Paper Type: Conceptual PaperKeywords: Quality culture, higher education, quality, education, qualitymanagement, organisational culture 1
  2. 2. Introduction: A Culture of Quality in Higher EducationWe are entering a new era in quality management for higher education. While it isdifficult to mark its exact beginning, it is clear that it is moving away from amechanistic to a holistic and cultural view of quality in education. It is characterisedby an emerging understanding that quality development, in essence, demands for thedevelopment of an organisational culture based on shared values, necessarycompetencies and new professionalism. Whereas, much attention has been paid tomastering instruments of quality control or accreditation in the past decade, the focusis more and more on mastering change, allowing ownership for individualdevelopment, promoting champions in organisations and enabling professionals inhigher education contexts (Wolff 2004).Concepts like quality control, assurance and management are often perceived astechnocratic top-down approaches which frequently fail in higher education (Sursock,2004, F9.1). For a long time quality development has followed a modularisticapproach by singling out organisational processes, describing and quality assuringthem. The new generation – or era – focuses on change more than on control,development rather than assurance, and innovation more than compliance. Theformer – traditional – understanding of organisational management, promoted bytheorists like Michael Porter (1985, pp. 11-15), inherently represents the belief thatstrategies can be pre-determined and precisely planned. The latter and new generationof approaches, promoted most prominently by Henry Mintzberg (1994, p. 112),affirms that change in organisations is emergent and resulting from employees’competences and organisational culture. In this understanding aspects like qualitymanagement systems and instruments, competencies and individual andorganisational values are not seen as separate entities any longer, but are combined inholistic concepts. None of them is superior to the other. In this new view educationalquality can not be normatively pre-defined by experts but has to emerge in opennegotiation and through stakeholder participation. From such an organisationalcultural perspective it is important to approach quality holistically and combinecultural elements, structural dimensions and competencies into one holisticframework, enabling stakeholders to develop visions, shared values and beliefs. Thepaper shows that communication, participation and the combination of top-down andbottom-up interaction is of key importance to a successful development of qualityculture.A main problem which is addressed is that even though sometimes effectiveorganisational processes have been implemented, the educational quality (e.g.answering the question “what is good learning?”) is still lagging behind, and teachingstrategies of educators or learning strategies of students have not been improved. Thedevelopment of an education oriented and comprehensive concept for educationalquality in organisations is still underdeveloped (Newton, 2000, pp.153). In earlierworks, the elements of a new and more comprehensive understanding of quality foreducation have been spelt out. It has been suggested that quality development in 2
  3. 3. education has to focus on incorporating new values, skills and attitudes intoprofessional educators’ behaviour in order to have an impact on the teaching andlearning processes (Ehlers, 2006a, 2007, 2007a). The author proposed thateducational quality is the result of a co-production process in an actual learningsituation (Ehlers, 2006, 2005, 2004), and observed that in contrast to that manyquality strategies follow the implicit logic that the quality of educational processes isa direct result of a ‘faultless flow’ of planning, preparation, and teaching process. Theauthor was then emphasizing the importance of competences rather than mere processdefinitions in order to enable educators and students to act as competent qualitydevelopers of their own improved educational environments. The so-called qualitycompetences have been described as the concept of quality literacy (Ehlers, 2006a,2007, 2007a, 2007b).In view of the deficits in current quality research and management practices, we willtake further steps in this article and combine the elements of process oriented qualitymanagement and the concept of quality literacy in order to develop a comprehensiveconcept of quality culture for educational organisations, focussing on highereducation. Quality culture as such focuses on organisations’ cultural patterns, likerituals, beliefs, values and everyday procedures while following processes, rules andregulations. In the next section we will show that quality in higher education movesfrom a debate about regulations to a more holistic debate on organisational culture.We will then (in the following section) answer the question “what is organisationalculture?” by discussing and examining the state-of-the-art research in organisationalculture. In the current section we discussed approaches for organisational culture andcompared them. We then show (in the subsequent section) the relationship betweenquality and culture for higher education organisations. The final section introduces anew model of quality culture embedded into research findings in the field ofeducational quality and is followed by final conclusions.Moving from Regulation to Culture in the Quality BusinessIn the past 25 years, the concept of organisational culture has gained wideacceptance as a way of understanding human systems. From an “open-systems”perspective, each aspect of organisational culture can be seen as an importantenvironmental condition affecting the system and its subsystems. However, only littleefforts have been made so far to transfer the concepts to the field of quality culturefor higher education. Mabawonku (2003, pp. 117) defines culture as the “definitive,dynamic purposes and tools (values, ethics, rules, knowledge systems) that aredeveloped to attain group goals.” Kinuthia and Nkonge (2005, pp. 2613) define theseknowledge systems as “pertinent to people’s understanding of themselves, theirworld, and influences on education.” Taking a closer look at the very meaning of the 3
  4. 4. word culture we can establish that it is stemming from the Latin term cultura whichin turn is coming from colere, meaning ‘to cultivate’. Today it generally refers topatterns of human activity and the symbolic structures that give them their meaning(Williams, 1983: 87). There are, however, different definitions of culture whichreflect different theoretical basis of understanding human behaviour. Kogan (1999)states that a common description or agreed on definition can hardly be found, giventhe vast and diverse coverage in literature. In the field of higher education, he argues,often an uncritical approach has been followed and introduced the concept in a ratherunreflected way. However, it appears that for quality – and organisational –development in the field of education, the term bears so far unseen capabilities tocombine individual and organisational conditions of professional behaviour anddevelopment.Jean Monnet, an important figure in the European unification process, once said “If Iwould again start with the unification of Europe, I would start with the culture andnot with the economy.” (Haas and Hanselmann, 2005: 463 and 464) A similarobservation can be made when looking at the introduction of quality managementstrategies in higher education. Too often instruments and tools are introduced withoutrespecting given cultural situations. While the quality of teaching and learninginteraction between students and educators in higher education is influenced by avariety of factors, including attitudes and skills of teachers, abilities and motivation oflearners, organisational backgrounds, contexts and values and the existing structures,such as rules, regulations, legislation and alike, the majority of approaches to assess,assure, manage or develop quality is only partially taking these factors into account.Quality approaches are rather directed towards improvement or regulation oforganisational processes (in the case of process oriented quality managementapproaches), the assessment of the outcomes of activities (in case of assurance orevaluations approaches) or to development of individual abilities (in case of qualitydevelopment through professional training approaches).Two opposing developments in higher education quality regimes can be observed. Onthe one hand structures, accreditation, rules and regulations gain importance, mainlywith the rise of New Public Management approaches (Hood 1998: 212). On the otherhand the interest in culture as underlying concept for organisational improvement inhigher education performance is a dominant theme in much of the availablemanagement literature (Löffler, 2005). In essence, the important emerging message isthat an emphasis on values, norms and culture in an organisation is easily combinedwith question of organisational accountability and performance (Martin et al. 2000;Stratton 2006). While the awareness for the networked and “total systems” characterof quality as a holistic concept in higher educational is starting to spread (Wirth,2006; Harvey 2006), the basis for empirical research and conceptual development ismissing to date.Thus, there is a need to introduce an understanding of quality in education from amore comprehensive perspective than just analysing single isolated factors. In 4
  5. 5. industry this has been done already through the concept of total quality management,understanding quality as a characteristic of an organisational culture, seeing quality inthe wholeness of organisational factors interplaying when striving for improvement.For higher education (and education in general) the idea of a total qualitymanagement has so far had only little impact because of the complexity of factorsinfluencing quality in education, like attitudes and skills of teachers, abilities andmotivation of learners, organisational backgrounds, contexts and values, and theexisting structures, such as rules, regulations, legislation and the like. Thinking ofquality in terms of a culture, rather than limiting it to criteria and/or processes, istherefore of high relevance. Such a deep understanding of quality in higher education– understood as the “constitution, measured against the needs and expectations of thestakeholder groups.” (Seghezzi, 2003, p. 13) has at least two dimensions: a structuraldimension (quality management handbooks, process definitions, instruments, tools)and the dimension of values of an organisation (relating to the commitment of itsmembers, the underlying values, skills and attitudes).Quality culture is naturally connected to elements such as the organisation of work,technology, organisational structure, business strategy and financial decision-making.Through its networked and interdependent character it gains complexity which hasthe effect that it is often reduced to an everyday cliché that does not explain anythinganymore. The next section will explore some models of organisational culture inorder to construct a comprehensive model later to analyse it from a perspective ofquality considerations.Overview of different concepts of organisational cultureIn this section we will provide an overview on concepts of organisational culture bydifferent authors. The approaches are selected according to their influence on thescientific debate, and secondly according to the diversity of approaching the field oforganisational culture.Organisational Culture according to Edgar H. ScheinEdgar Schein is one of the most prominent theorists of organisational culture. Hedefines culture as “A pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group has learnedas it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration that hasworked well enough to be considered valid and therefore, to be taught to newmembers as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.”(Schein, 1992: 373) As groups evolve over time, they face two basic challenges:integrating individuals into an effective whole, and adapting effectively to theexternal environment in order to survive. As groups find solutions to these problemsover time, they engage in a kind of collective learning that creates the set of sharedassumptions and beliefs that we call culture. According the Schein, organisationalculture is the learnt result of group experiences, which is to a large extent,unconscious (Schein, 1992). He claims that culture is largely an invisible influencefactor. It functions in a way that members of organisations live their values and act in 5
  6. 6. their routines without consciously thinking about them. This aspect becomesinteresting for the question if and how culture can be manipulated or influenced.Especially the assumptions are invisible and unconscious, whereas rituals, values andsymbols can partly be explicit. This characteristic also differentiates the culture of anorganisation from the management or the quality system of an organisation. Whereasa system can be over time, described, analysed and measured, the culture is evolvinglargely without measures through interaction and to a large extent unconsciouslydeveloped. Schein considers culture to be a three-layer phenomenon (see figure 1).1. Underlying assumptions: Underlying assumptions relate to the group’s learnedsolutions to problems relating to external adaptation and internal integration. Thesesolutions gradually become self-evident assumptions that cannot be called intoquestion later. Schein (1985, 1992) also distinguishes so-called deeper underlyingassumptions, which relate, for example, to views of human nature as well as to thenature of information and the human activity in question. These are stronglyinfluenced by national culture, but an organisation always forms its own view of themin its operations. In other words, they influence how the members of an organisationperceive, think and feel in matters relating to the organisation. Underlyingassumptions function as an unconscious basis for action and a range of decisions thatshape the culture further. Culture is not static, it is in an epistemological sense, thecreation and recreation of shared reality. In Weick’s terms it can be said thatorganisational reality is an ongoing accomplishment (Weick, 1993).Figure 12. Espoused Values: The second layer in the Schein model consists of theorganisation’s espoused values. These are apparent in, for example, the organisation’sofficial objectives, declared norms and operating philosophy. Espoused values,however, do not always reflect a company’s everyday operations. Most important interms of operations is the culture’s deepest level, namely its underlying assumptions(Figure 1) (Schein 1985, 1992). 6
  7. 7. 3. Observable Behaviour: The third layer of culture consists of visibleorganisational processes and various artefacts. For example, dress codes and thegeneral tidiness of the workplace are artefacts that tell something about theorganisation’s culture. This level, according to Schein, is difficult to interpret,however, because it represents the most superficial cultural phenomena, i.e. onlyreflections of the true corporate culture.Schein states that even though underlying assumptions may direct the actions oforganisations’ members, an organisation’s underlying assumptions cannot be directlydeduced from these actions. Rather, the actions are always influenced by situation-specific and individual factors (Schein, 1999). Espoused norms and the official rulesmay be in conflict with everyday actions. They can also be in conflict with theunderlying assumptions, which in the end direct these actions. Organisations may notnecessarily perceive this conflict themselves or they may even actively deny itsexistence. Schein (1999) emphasises that an organisation’s culture is not merely asingle new variable which describes organisations and which can be examinedseparately from the other variables that affect organisations’ activities, such as thestructure, strategy, market orientation and the technology it uses. Organisationalculture as a scientific concept strives to describe and explain activity in theorganisation as a whole.Organisational culture according to Geert HofstedeHofstede was conducting empirical research to analyse differences in style and thediversity of thinking and acting of humans. The studies were involving responsesfrom over 100,000 participants and were largely conducted in the field of business(Hofstede, 1991, 1997). He concluded that there is no such thing like a universaltheory or approach to management for organisations, and that organisationalmanagement can not be viewed or analysed as a separate process. Rather, it isinteracting with the very context in which it is situated. Hofstede referred to culture asthe “software of the mind” (ibid). He defined culture as “mental coding”, which everymember of a society, organisation or group experiences and according to whicheveryone can act coherently. In his research Hofstede (1997) understands culture as aset of typical attributes / behaviours (manifestations of culture) with four differentimpact depths: symbols, heroes, values and rituals (Hofstede and Hofstede, 2005) –which are shown in figure 2, the cultural onion. The centre of the onion is formed byvalues. They are learnt from the beginning of life and are the most stable element –resistant against changes over time. The stability over time of the other elements ofHofstede’s cultural model sinks from the core to the periphery of the onion. Newrituals can be learnt over time, heroes established quickly and symbols installed inorganisations. Hofstede emphasizes that practices are concerned with all parts of themodel. “Practices are the visible part of cultures. New practices can be learnedthroughout our lifetime” (ibid, p. 12). Practices represent culturally motivatedbehaviour on the basis of values, rituals, heroes and symbols. The four elements arebriefly described follows: 7
  8. 8. Figure 21. Symbols: “Symbols are words, gestures, pictures or objects which carry aparticular meaning only recognized as such by those who share a culture.”(Hofstede, 2005, p. 7) Cultural Symbols can quickly change or disappear or newsymbols are created or adopted from other cultures. Of course there are differences inthe stability of symbols: Religious symbols and long introduced traditions usuallyhave a higher stability against change and force higher sensibility in their use thanthose used by advertisements or as corporate labels.2. Heroes: “Heroes are persons, alive or dead, real or imaginary, who possesscharacteristics that are highly prized in a culture and serve as models forbehaviour.” (ibid, p.7) Heroes also can change in their value and role as a model forhuman behaviour but are more persistent than Symbols because individuals canidentify themselves them.3. Rituals: “Rituals are collective activities, technically superfluous to reachingdesired ends, but which within a culture are considered as socially essential. Theyare therefore carried out for their own sake.” (ibid, p.8) Such rituals concern theusual way how people deal with each other (way of greeting, how to pay respect foreach others, how to eat properly, when, how and what to speak about). For examplein rather formal business situations rituals play a big role, and influence strongly theway people behave. Rituals may be different in different situations.4. Values: “The core of culture is formed by values. Values are broad tendencies toprefer certain states of affairs over others. …Values are acquired early in our lives.” 8
  9. 9. (ibid) Values are the primary source of evaluation of our surrounding environmentand bring about the basic idea for the way how to behave and decide in situations.They set the basic understanding of good and bad, natural and unnatural, moral andimmoral and other judgements.Organisational Culture according to Johannes Rueegg-StuermIn accordance with Geert Hofstede and Edgar H. Schein, Rüegg-Stuerm (Rüegg-Stürm, 2004: 50pp) describes the following elements as central for a corporate cultureof businesses: Norms and values, opinions and attitudes, stories and myths aboutimportant changes, and events of an organisation, patterns of thought, arguments andinterpretation, language habits and conducts, collective expectations and backgroundconvictions. He draws an interesting comparison between organisational culture andthe semantics and grammar of a language. Culture is for an organisation whatsemantics and grammar is for the language. He elaborates that a meaningfulinteraction and communication has always been based on semantic and grammaticalrules and agreements even though nobody would explicitly notice it. “A four year oldchild can make itself understood without ever having been exposed to explicitteaching of grammar or semantics” (Rüegg-Stürm, 2004: 56).In addition these rules and regulations are unfolding explicitly only in those momentswhen they are used, i.e. when communicating in a language, and are in that specificmoment reproduced and updated. An organisations’ culture is therefore comparablewith grammar rules and semantic regulations of a language (ibid: 56). Members of anorganisation, belonging to the same community of practice, are fulfilling a constantcollective, common, communicative interpretation process from the perspective oftheir specific contexts. They are making active influence on the differentiation of theorganisation’s cultural patterns through their discourse which is then, in turn, formingthe new cultural structure and symbols.Organisational Culture According to Gareth MorganGareth Morgan describes culture as “an active living phenomenon through whichpeople jointly create and recreate the worlds in which they live” (2002, p. 141). ForMorgan, the three basic questions of cultural analysis are: • What are the shared frames of reference that make organisation possible? • Where do they come from? • How are they created, communicated, and sustained?According to Morgan culture is expressing social realities. He explains that talkingabout culture usually means to refer to patterns of development which are manifestingin the knowledge, the beliefs, the values, the legislation and the everyday rituals of asociety (ibid: 156). Different societies and organisations have different patterns ofsocial development. Morgan emphasises that culture is a social and collectivephenomenon which refers to the ideas and values of a social group and is influencing 9
  10. 10. their action without them noticing it explicitly. Organisations are described associally constructed realities which are existing in the heads and through the ideas ofits members as well as in very concrete realities and relations (ibid: 186). Morganemphasises that organisations’ behaviour can only insufficiently be described throughrational explanations and mechanisms or objective reasoning but rather functionsaccording to prevailing symbolic and subjective ways of interpreting reality. Tounderstand and influence organisational culture it is important to analyse howmeaning is constructed in organisations and what are collective ways of interpretingreality.A Summary of Elements of Organisational CultureSchein (1992) states that organisational culture is the response to the challenges anorganisation has and to fulfilling its purposes (Ouchi, 1981 argues in the same lines).It can be observed in the way the organisation’s members communicate, in theirshared beliefs, shared values, symbols and rituals. It can be compared to the implicitunspoken rules of communication which are never touched upon but everybody isaware of. The culture of one organisation is distinct from other organisations, and itsmembers have to undergo a phase of enculturalisation when they enter theorganisation. Organisational culture is not uniform and there can be subcultures andsubgroups within an organisation which have partly or totally different culturalpatterns than others. Table 1 shows a summary of all elements which could beidentified as important in the different approaches to organisational cultures.Although organisations can have different cultural patterns, it is important toharmonise them in order to create a sense of direction. Therefore communication andparticipation becomes important within organisations to harmonise different(sub)cultures and establish collective commitment. Figure three shows that the qualityculture identifies communication and participation as a crucial element oforganisational culture.The approaches described have some elements in common and can be compared inthe following dimensions:• Quality culture is part of the overall organisational culture. Both can not be separated but rather quality culture is a part of organisational cultures. Different subcultures can be observed in organisations, like communication cultures, management cultures, and quality cultures. An analytic focus on an organisation’s quality culture can be established through the asking in which way an organisation is responding to its quality challenges and is fulfilling its quality purpose.• Organisational culture is a multifactorial phenomenon and consists of several elements (depending on the approach chosen) which can be described and identified. For the previously presented approaches they are summarised in table 1. Quality culture builds on these elements and represents configurations of these elements under the focus of organisational quality enhancement. 10
  11. 11. • Considering the above described approaches some common elements of culture can be identified and used in a quality culture model: All approaches are emphasizing shared values as a central element for organisational a culture. Most of them consider shared basic and underlying assumptions and shared beliefs and symbols, rituals and patterns as important. Quality culture is a socially mediated and negotiated phenomenon leading to shared results of meaning construction which is largely unconscious and only in some elements directly visible to the outside.• Organisational culture – and thus quality culture – is always there, and not a phenomenon which has to be established first. In all four presented approaches the view of culture as something an organisation is – rather than has – has been expressed. It is important to realise that the quality of educational processes is always using underlying assumption of what good teaching and learning is.• Quality cultures have tangible and intangible, visible and invisible parts. A culture of quality can be further developed best when tangible, structural elements, like quality management mechanisms, tools and instruments are developing in parallel with intangible elements like commitment, values, rituals and symbols.• Organisational culture is a social and collective phenomenon and individuals contribute and constitute culture through negotiation and interaction by establishing shared values, rituals and alike.• Culture is not a uniform but a diverse phenomenon – in organisations usually several cultures, amongst them also quality cultures, can be observed.Table 1: Different approaches to organisational cultureAuthor Approach Cultural ElementsEdgar Culture is a pattern of shared basic assumptions • ValuesSchein that the group learned as it solved its problems of • Artefacts(1992) external adaptation and internal integration that • Assumptions has worked well enough to be considered validGerent Culture is mental coding which allows acting • SymbolsHofstede coherently; it can be described according to • Heroes(1991) symbols, heroes, values and rituals. • Rituals • ValuesJohannes Culture is comparable with grammar rules and • Norms and valuesRüegg semantic regulations of a language, resp. a • Opinions and attitudesStuerm community. • Stories and myths(2002) • Patterns of thought • Language habits • Collective expectationsGareth Culture is a social and collective phenomenon • ValuesMorgan which refers to the ideas and values of a social • Knowledge(2002) group and is influencing their action without • Belief them noticing it explicitly. • Legislation • Rituals 11
  12. 12. A Model of Quality Culture for Higher EducationIn the following section a model for quality culture is presented. It is composed offour important elements: 1. A structural element which is representing the quality system of an organisation. This can be e.g. an existing quality management approach for higher education, the tools and mechanisms in place to assure and enhance the quality of the organisation. 2. The Enabling Factors which are representing those factors enabling organisations to incorporate quality regimes into their culture. 3. The quality culture element which represents the manifested artefacts, symbols, rituals of an organisation. 4. Transversal Elements which link different components to each other through participation, trust and communication.Quality culture is embedded into the organisational context and the organisationalcultures. As seen in the above theories about organisational culture there is broadagreement that culture is not something which an organisation has or has not butrather that it is an element of every organisation – be it consciously perceived or not.Organisational culture can be supported and further developed but does not have to bedeveloped or established from scratch (like marketing slogans of consultingcompanies suggest sometimes). The distinction between different types or kinds oforganisational cultures should, however, not be seen too fundamental: Describing aquality culture of an organisation is strongly connected to analysing also other“types” of culture, like management culture, communication culture, theorganisational culture as a whole. A good way of finding an analytic approach todifferent types of cultures is suggested in the definition of Schein (1992) who statesthat an organisations culture is the answer to the challenge an organisation has in acertain field. The way things are done in an organisation related to a certain challengeor problem. For the field of quality in higher education, an analysis of quality culturewould start with the question about how a higher education organisation is realisingthe challenge of enhancing quality in a certain field, e.g. the area of teaching andlearning or the area of research. The model of quality culture is then giving aframework of concepts which helps to analyse concepts and developments indifferent areas which are of importance to quality culture and identify strength andweaknesses. 12
  13. 13. Figure 3In figure 3 we show our model of quality culture for education with the differentcomponents of quality culture. It takes into account existing research and models andfurther develops them with a strong focus on quality and education. It is a conceptualand structural model which identifies the structure and different components of theconcepts of quality culture and relates them to each other. However, it is not giving aclear direction of impacts or effects the different components have in theirinterdependency, thus it is not a flow graph. In the following, the differentcomponents are described in detail and related to previous research work.Component 1: StructuresThe structural elements of quality in higher education are represented through qualitymanagement approaches. They relate to systems, tools, and mechanisms to assure,manage, enhance or accredit quality in a suitable way. A variety of concepts exist inthis field. In previous works we have developed classification schemes (Ehlers andPawlowski, 2004, 2006; Ehlers et al., 2005; Ehlers et al., 2004) and electronicdatabases to collect and make available quality approaches and strategies. In recenttimes there have been many efforts to design and implement instruments for qualitydevelopment in education in general and e-learning in particular. Several publicationssystematically describe and explain these approaches and their respectivebackgrounds (see Gonon et al., 1998; Riddy et al., 2002, Srikanthan and Dalrymple, 13
  14. 14. 2002: 216)1. The various existing publications reveal a large number of differentconcepts and approaches for quality management in the educational sector. Already asmaller study by the Danish Institute for Evaluation identifies and analyses up to 34quality assurance agencies in 24 countries (Danish Evaluation Institute, 2003: 17). ACEDEFOP study by Bertzeletou (2003) even identifies 90 national and internationalquality approaches for quality certification and accreditation. 2 Woodhouse (2004)lists more than 140 quality approaches that are associated with the InternationalNetwork of Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education (called INQAAHE).Most of these certification and accreditation bodies follow their own qualityapproaches and have their own evaluation, certification and accreditation offerings.Most of the studies mentioned and papers published address traditional certificationand accreditation frameworks for higher education, only few include newer qualityapproaches that specifically focus on recent educational innovations and e-learning.To compare different concepts and approaches to assure and develop quality withineach is difficult because of their different scope and nature. However, there areattempts to develop reference models, like the European Quality Observatory Model(Ehlers et al., 2004) or by the International Standardisation Organisation (ISO/IEC,2005). Wirth (2006) suggests a simple but effective method to categorise differentquality approaches and instruments. Figure 4 shows that he uses the well knownDeming-Circle terminology (see for example Seghezzi, 2003: 13) for categorisation. • Field 1 represents large international organisations can be identified which drive standardisation and the development of generic quality management approaches (Bötel et al., 2002; Dembski and Lorenz, 1995; Gonon, 1998). Their transferability to the educational sector is still being discussed and is controversial. Therefore recently three developments have been initiated (ISO 10015, DIN PAS 1032, DIN PAS 1037) which were focussed specifically on the educational context. • In field 2, recommendations, guidelines (i. e. Open and Distance Learning Quality Council 2001) or criteria catalogues and checklists (American Council on Education, 2001) are listed. • Field 3 represents accreditation and certification approaches which focus on different educational aspects and levels. • Finally – in field 4 – awards and prices are summarised.1 See also the European Initiative ‚European Quality Observatory’ ( CEDEFOP is the European Center for the Development of Vocational Education and Training inThessaloniki, Greece 14
  15. 15. Figure 4Component 2: The Enabling FactorsThe enabling factors component comprises those elements which enable individualsand groups to take up the new processes, regulations, mechanisms and rules whichare inherently represented in quality systems and incorporate them into their ownactions. In principle three groups of factors can be identified which support andenable actors and groups in these processes: a) commitment, b) negotiation and c)general and specific competences for quality development.1. Individual and collective commitment describes the degree of identification with the organisation’s goals and working processes. Ownership and being an important part of the organisation’s processes determine the elements of these factors (European University Association, 2006). The European University Association is advocating this factor in their approach to quality culture of universities and is stressing the fact that commitment is at the same time a necessary condition of quality culture as well as a result of a quality culture (ibid).2. Negotiation is an important element for successful quality development in higher education organisations. As educational quality is not an inherent characteristic of any educational material or teaching offering, but has to be developed in negotiation between learners and the educational environment (in our case the higher education organisation, the lecture room, the seminar, the project, etc.), the element of negotiation becomes a crucial element for a quality development process. Providing a successful process of negotiation between students and educational providers is a pre-condition for any quality development process which focuses on educational quality. In earlier works the author has developed this aspect in extensive research and publication (Ehlers, 2006, 2005, 2004). It is important to understand that quality first and foremost is a potential which can be realised through negotiation in educational scenarios but which is not automatically represented as a characteristic of an educational environment (ibid.). The potential exists on the part of students as well on the part of 15
  16. 16. educational providers (e.g. the higher education institutions). Negotiation is thus of crucial importance to any successful quality development.3. General and specific competences are a basis for any quality development process. General competences are constituted through the three elements of knowledge, skills and attitudes (Adelsberger et al., 2007; Ehlers and Schneckenberg, 2007; Ehlers, 2007c; Ehlers, 2005a). Any quality development process which is directed towards enhancing educational processes needs to build the capacity of professionals. Quality development which aims to have an effect on educational processes has to support teachers and other stakeholders in professionalisation processes. In literature this has been described as quality through professionalisation of teaching and learning processes (e.g. Arnold, 1997, 1999). Ehlers has added to this the focus on the learner (Ehlers, 2005). Professionalisation processes have to affect not only teachers but also learners and other stakeholders, for successful quality development. Professionalization – in the sense of building knowledge, skills and attitudes of stakeholders in the higher education organisation – is thus one important element when building quality cultures in organisations. Figure 5 Apart from general competences the author has elaborated a set of specific competences (Ehlers, 2007). Under the label quality literacy a set of four competences is described which are specifically important to the processes of educational quality enhancement: Quality Knowledge, Quality experience, Quality innovation, Quality Analysis. a. Quality knowledge: This dimension addresses the “pure” knowledge about the possibilities of today’s quality development and up-to-date quality strategies in e-learning and education. b. Quality experiences: This dimension describes the ability of using quality strategies with a certain intention. 16
  17. 17. c. Quality innovation: This dimension relates to the ability which goes beyond the simple use of existing instruments and strategies. It refers to the modification, creation and development of quality strategies and/or instruments for one’s own purpose. An innovative and creative aspect is important for this dimension d. Quality analysis: This dimension relates to the ability to analyse the processes of quality development critically in the light of one’s own experiences and to reflect upon one’s own situation and context. It enables actors to evaluate different objectives of quality development and negotiate between different perspectives of stakeholders. To “analyse critically” means the ability of differentiation and reflection of existing knowledge and experiences in the light of quality development challenges. Table 2 summarises the key factors of the four dimensions of quality literacy andgives some examples.Table 2: Dimensions of quality literacy (Ehlers 2007) Quality Literacy Questions/ Examples Dimension Dimension 1: Quality Knowledge What is a quality approach? What is evaluation, quality Information management, quality assurance, quality development? How can an evaluation questionnaire be applied in an Instrumental/ Qualification educational context, eg. a classroom? How can a benchmark be used to assess one system against another? Dimension 2: Quality Experience How can I use quality strategies in a certain way to improve the Intentional Use educational process? Dimension 3: Quality Innovation How can a certain quality management concept be extended to a Adaptation number of processes and categories in order to adapt it to the organisations’ specific needs? Create an evaluation questionnaire for the assessment of a course when existing tools fail to analyse the desired questions. Creation/ Innovation Create a new method to consult with learners before a course starts in order to assess their needs and goals.The concept is highly relevant today because research indicates reservationstowards the effectiveness of quality strategies to improve the quality of thelearning processes - in general and for e-learning in particular (Eaton, 2003;Franz, 2004: 107; Fröhlich and Jütte, 2004: 12; Leef, 2003; Simon, 2001: 155).Often it is argued that there is a danger of certified input, process and outputprocesses to become inflexible; dictatorial rules may stifle future innovations andreal quality improvements. With regards to the use of e-learning, Tulloch andSneed conclude that even the traditional quality systems in higher education 17
  18. 18. mislead many institutions to imitate classical face to face trainings instead of fostering and leveraging strategic advantages of media supported learning scenarios (Tulloch and Sneed, 2000: 9). Meyer in particular draws a negative picture of accreditation: „Accreditation has become a battlefield between those who would use traditional accrediting standards to forestall the changes wrought by distance education and those who would change accreditation” (Meyer, 2002: 9). Friend-Pereira et al. (2002: 22) agree to this by concluding that quality accreditation may become dangerous if it only serves for legitimation purposes. They point to moving to a stage of quality development in which the stakeholders change their behaviour and reflect upon their professional values and attitudes, as a result of a quality development process. Quality development understood in this sense becomes a matter of further developing a professional attitude stimulated by a set of processes, rules and values which are understood and incorporated and lead to improved behaviour in educational contexts – both of the provider as well as the clients (see also section 5 for an exact account on how clients and providers are co-producing quality). Recently, an empirical study by Lagrosen et al. (2004: 65) indicated that internal quality evaluation gains more and more in importance compared to external quality assessments. This is also confirmed and further elaborated by an international study by Ehlers et al. (2005) which shows that a distinction can be made between so called explicit quality strategies – official instruments and concepts of quality development, designed either externally or internally – and implicit procedures, in which quality development is left to individuals and is not part of an official strategy: • Quality strategies or instruments coming from externally adopted approaches (e.g. International Standards Organisation - ISO, European Foundation for Quality Management - EFQM, British Learning Association Quality Mark - BAL Quality Mark) (explicit) • Quality strategies that are developed within an organisation (explicit) • Quality development is not part of an official strategy but is rather left to individuals’ professional activities (implicit). The survey shows also that about one third of all organisations develop quality strategies internally (35 %) and a quarter externally (26 %). One quarter of the respondents (24 %) work in institutions in which quality development is left to the staff. Around one out of six (15 %) uses no quality strategies for e-learning. Overall therefore, around four out of ten respondents (39 %) do not use any official quality strategy.Component 3: The Quality Cultures ComponentQuality development leaves visible and invisible imprints in the organisationalquality culture(s). The cultural elements which are influenced through qualitydevelopment processes are summarised in the outer rim of the presented model.Quality development processes can thus have manifestations in the existingassumptions about quality and teaching, newly discussed and shared values, rituals 18
  19. 19. and tangible cultural artefacts. Heroes represent particular successful qualityenhancement processes in higher education (e.g. expressed in awards given to them)and can be the promoters of quality development within the organisations. Valuesabout teaching and learning (e.g. “what is good and successful learning?”) are agreedupon, and are documented. The organisation has shared symbols, practices, storiesand patterns.Quality culture is not necessarily a uniform concept for a complete higher educationorganisation. It is most likely to occur in plural form – Quality cultures, especially insuch diverse organisations like higher education institutions. Quality cultures canvary from department to department, might have a few elements in common whileothers being different. For higher education the situation of quality cultures is inmany respects different from more homogenous organisations, like, for exampletypical business enterprises. The heterogeneous nature of universities which arestructured in different chairs, institutes and schools, often find their reward systemsnot inside the organisation but outside from the peers. This suggests that culture is acategory which is rather applies to sub-units of the organisation than to universities asa whole. Quality culture is always a part of the organisations culture as a whole and issituated in the organisational context (represented through the contextual frame in thefigure 3). It is a context specific concept and only visible through actual performancein those elements which are described as cultural factors above. It can be perceived,but not directly and mechanistically installed in an organisation; it is the result ofindividual and collective involvement and interaction against the background of anexisting quality system. Quality culture as an artefact can not be transferred directlyto other organisations but it can be studied and learned from.Component 4: The Transversal ElementsThe model of quality culture contains three elements which are transversal in nature.They are necessary to provide a link between concepts and cultural representation.Organisations can have different cultural patterns. Therefore it is important toharmonise them in order to create a sense of direction. Therefore communication andparticipation becomes important within organisations to harmonise different(sub)cultures and establish collective commitment. A cultural representation ofconcepts is established through participation of stakeholders and mediated andagreed on through communication between them internally and with othersexternally. Trust is the necessary condition for the stimulation of individual andcollective efforts which are in turn the prerequisite for turning quality potentials intoculturally rooted quality realities, expressed in symbols, artefacts, values, rituals andother elements of quality culture. It is important to notice that especially theseelements suggest that development of a quality culture can not be totally externallysteered and managed. It is relying on a high identification and ownership ofindividual actors of an organisation. Only the conditions for the creating a qualityculture can be management and communication, and participation can be encouragedto stimulate trust throughout the organisation. 19
  20. 20. Summary and ConclusionsCan quality in higher education be explained as a result of a well defined process or isit rather a mater of a comprehensive culture? Setting out this question at thebeginning, the article started by outlining the main challenges which current practicesof quality management for higher education. It concludes that concepts like qualitycontrol and quality management are often perceived as technocratic top-downapproaches which frequently fail in higher education. It is suggested that in recenttimes the field of quality management in higher education has changed. The newgeneration – or era – uses different and more holistic quality approaches in order todevelop an organisational culture of quality. It is focussing on change instead ofcontrol, development rather than assurance and innovation more than standardscompliance. In this process quality management systems and instruments,competencies, and individual and collective values, are not seen as separate entities ofquality development but are combined into a holistic concept – the concept of qualityculture. Quality culture for higher education has not yet received a lot of attentionfrom research or management literature. Therefore the article’s purpose is to shedlight on its constituents – however, not on the question how to develop a qualityculture in higher education. Cultural change in an organisation is undoubtedly adifficult process and requires specific and long term efforts. The development of aconceptual model for quality culture, as it has been presented in this article, will helpmanagement strategies to support the advancement of quality cultures. Theconstituents are clear, now suitable supporting approaches have to be developed.In the research work presented we use organisational culture as a conceptual bridgeto develop quality culture. Therefore thorough an analysis of existing culturalconcepts from literature forms the basis for this article. From there quality culture hasbeen constructed as a concept with four basic components: A structural componentwhich represents the quality management system in itself, covering instruments,rules, regulations. A second component is representing the enabling factors. Theseare generic and specific quality competences, and commitment and the concept ofnegotiation as a basic concept for any quality development. The third component isrepresenting the cultural factors, like values, rituals, symbols and the like. All threecomponents are linked through communication and participation of individuals andgroups in social interaction with the aim to build trust. It is important to emphasizethat viewing quality in the light of a cultural perspective means taking a holistic standpoint: Quality culture combines cultural elements, structural dimensions andcompetences into one holistic framework, supporting stakeholders to develop visions,shared values and beliefs. Communication, participation, and the combination of top-down and bottom-up interaction, is of key importance to the success of qualityculture.The development of a quality culture, and its implementation in organisationalcontexts, as a part of the overall organisations culture, has not yet developed a strongtradition in research and theory. Although there seems to be ample evidence that 20
  21. 21. quality development demands a broader, a “cultural” view, up to now only little workhas been published in this very field. It is with this intent that we want to close thisarticle by suggesting to now move on to the field of empirical research and try to findevidence, good practices and methodologies to stimulate quality development androot them in holistic approaches of organisational culture. Necessary strategies couldevolve from these efforts and can help universities to improve educational quality.References1. Adelsberger, H., Ehlers, U.-D. and Schneckenberg, D. (2007), „Stepping up the Ladder”, Competence Development Through E-Learning, Proceedings of the World Conference on Educational Media ed-media, Vienna.2. Arnold, R. (1997): Qualität durch Professionalisierung – zur Durchmischung von Utilität und Zweckfreiheit in der Qualität betrieblicher Weiterbildung. In: ders. (ed.) Qualitätssicherung in der Erwachsenenbildung. Opladen, S.51-61.3. Arnold, R., Wieckenberg, U. (1999): Qualitätsverständnis und Qualitätssicherung bei kirchlichen Trägern der Erwachsenenbildung. Pädagogische Materialien der Universität Kaiserslautern, Heft Nr. 6, Kaiserslautern4. Bertzeletou, T. (2003), “Accreditation Bodies”, available at: (accessed 29 September 2008).5. Bötel, C., Seusing, B. and Behrensdorf, B. (2002), „Qualitätssicherungs- und Qualitätsmanagementsysteme bei Weiterbildungsanbietern: Ergebnisse der CATI- Befragung“, in C. Balli, E. M. Krekel and E. Sauter (Eds.), Qualitätsentwicklung in der Weiterbildung – Zum Stand der Anwendung von Qualitätssicherungs- und Qualitätsmanagementsystemen bei Weiterbildungsanbietern, Bundesinstitut für Berufsbildung, Bonn, pp. 25–44.6. Danish Evaluation Institute (2003), Quality procedures in European Higher Education: An ENQA survey, ENQA Occasional Papers 5, available at: (accessed 30 September 2008).7. Dembski, M. and Lorenz, T. (1995), „Zertifizierung von Qualitätsmanagementsystemen bei Bildungsträgern“, Renningen-Malmsheim.8. Eaton, J. S. (2003), Before You Bash Accreditation, Consider the Alternatives. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 49(25), available at: (accessed 30 September 2008).9. Ehlers, U.-D. (2004), „Heterogenität als Grundkonstante erziehungswissenschaftlicher Qualitätsforschung. Partizipative Qualitätsentwicklung im E-Learning“, in Bos, W. Lankes, E.-M., Plaßmeier, N. and Schwippert, K. (Eds.), Heterogenität. Eine Herausforderung an die empirische Bildungsforschung, Waxmann Verlag, Münster, New York, München, Berlin.10. Ehlers, U.-D. (2005), “A Participatory Approach to E-Learning-Quality. A new Perspective on the Quality Debate”, LLine - Journal for Lifelong Learning in Europe, Vol. XI/2005. 21
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