Quality Assurance in Higher Education: The UK Experience since 1992

Quality Assurance in Higher Education: The UK Experience since 1992

Quality Assurance in Higher Education: The UK Experience since 1992

Quality Assurance in Higher Education: The UK Experience since 1992

Synopsis

Along with funding, quality assurance has become one of the major issues in higher education today. This text provides an analytical account of the changes to quality assurance of UK universities and colleges from 1992 to 2003. It documents the shift from institutional self-regulation to increased involvement of the state and examines the accompanying debate about the purposes, forms and ownership of quality assurance, as well as a wider consideration of the best means of regulating professional activities. All the key developments and issues of quality assurance are covered, including: * the background to thenbsp;current debates * the evolution of the post-1992 regime * the role of the Higher Education Quality Council (HEQC) * changes to assessment andnbsp;the creation of a single system * the formation and likely evolution of the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA). Roger Brown writes with an authority derived from his varied experiences innbsp;quality assurance. He argues that the external quality regime to date has provided poor value for money, andnbsp;draws from the lessons learnt during the 1990s to assess the conditions required for effective regulation.

Excerpt

Evaluation, assessment and assurance of academic quality is intrinsic to higher education. As with any profession that sets its own standards and is subject to constrained resources, questioning and evaluating quality takes place at a variety of levels - the individual (the reflective practitioner), peer networks of scholars, the department or discipline, the institution, and at system-wide level. And as with other professions that consume significant amounts of public funding, the emphasis has changed in recent decades from a focus on the individual - in this case teacher, scholar, researcher - and reliance on traditional forms of peer review, to the systematic application of external judgements that aim to satisfy the need for accountability. Universities, in particular, have perceived this external dimension at best as an added burden, but more commonly as intrusive or unnecessary. As higher education institutions have grown more complex and managerially more sophisticated, the criteria for evaluation have moved from informal, tacit and essentially internal academic values to wider and more explicit criteria which take into account broader socio-economic considerations. This both reflects and has contributed to the ongoing debate about the purposes of higher education, the role of the teacher in higher education and the relationship between research and teaching. It has also highlighted the distinction between the accepted approaches to evaluating quality and standards in higher education, compared with other levels of the education system where inspection is accepted as the norm.

The issue at the heart of the quality debate, therefore, is not whether higher education should be subject to evaluation and assessment but who should do it, how it should be done, what criteria should be used and what sanctions might be deployed if what is assessed is found wanting. The latter point has exercised higher education institutions particularly in the context of a perceived threat to create a direct link between teaching quality and funding - and both the Teacher Training Agency/Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED) experience and the recent further education approach certainly offer lessons here - but to date the link in general remains relatively loose, and the league tables which were so hotly contested less than a decade ago appear to be providing a foundation for a freer higher education

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