Quality and Power in Higher Education

Quality and Power in Higher Education

Quality and Power in Higher Education

Quality and Power in Higher Education

Synopsis

This book examines the power relationships that organize and facilitate quality assurance in higher education. It investigates power in terms of macro systems of accountability, surveillance and regulation, and uncovers the ways in which quality is experienced by academics and managers in higher education. Louise Morley reveals some of the hidden transcripts behind quality assurance and poses significant questions:

• What signs of quality in higher education are being performed and valued?

• What losses, gains, fears and anxieties are activated by the procedures?

• Is the culture of excellence resulting in mediocrity?

Quality and Power in Higher Education covers a wide range of issues including: the policy contexts, new managerialism, the costs of quality assurance, collegiality, peer review, gender and equity implications, occupational stress, commodification and consumer values in higher education, performance, league tables, benchmarking, increasing workloads and the long-term effects on the academy. It draws upon Morley's empirical work in the UK on international studies and on literature from sociology, higher education studies, organization studies and feminist theory. It is important reading for students and scholars of higher education policy and practice, and for university managers and policy-makers.

Excerpt

This book explores the relationship between quality and power. It is an examination of the power relations that organize and facilitate quality assurance in higher education. It interrogates power in terms of macro-systems of accountability, surveillance and regulation, and also in the microprocesses of organizational life, that is, how quality assurance influences culture, relationships, subjectivities and identities in the academy. Quality has become a universalizing metanarrative. The definition of quality in quantitative terms in the public domain is one of the ways in which discursive regulation takes place. In Britain, higher education institutions, subject areas and departments become totalized by the scores that they receive. It is an installation of power, with monolithic notions of what constitutes quality. Quality parades as a universal truth and therefore continually extends its domain.

Quality assurance can be like a prism through which other aspects of contemporary academic life are examined. Quality procedures translate particular rationalities and moralities into new forms of governance and professional behaviour. As such, quality is a political technology functioning as a regime and relay of power. Political technologies, with their norms and common-sense assumptions, disguise how power works. There has been a re-formation of the academic habitus itself. Quality in the academy has involved significant rehabilitation of the labour force. Yet there has been a lack of a sociological imagination in quality assurance. An aim of this study is to begin to uncover some of the ways in which quality, as a regime of power, is experienced by academics and managers in higher education.

The academy is encountering challenges to its epistemological presumptions. Limits are being set and prescribed by a wider range of actors. There are strong arguments in favour of holding an elite professional group and dominant organizations of knowledge production to account. Power has always been exercised in the definition of expertise and in academic judgements. Now, the dominant have become the dominated. Quality assurance has acquired a discursive orthodoxy in higher education, with material and symbolic consequences. There are those who believe that quality assurance . . .

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