The management of quality in Australian higher education has had one eye on the quality agenda associated with accountability and the other eye on the major transformations affecting teaching and learning. This paper examines some of the ways in which these two trajectories are intersecting and forecasts how quality will be managed in the 21st century. The paper recognises trends towards diversity among institutions in the sector and the need to tailor quality approaches for particular market niches. The impact of communication and information technologies and the rise of collaborative teaching and social learning on the nature and quality of university teaching are discussed. A reduction in mistrust of the quality agenda is forecast as data and methods improve and academics regain a sense of control over formative uses of quality activities.
The 21st century is very near and very far. Concepts of `quality' and `teaching' will continue to carry the meanings they have today but they will also be transformed in the next hundred years in ways that we can as yet not envisage. Quality management will continue to reflect roots in terms such as `assuring processes' and `fitness of purpose' through self-evaluation, assessment of outcomes for generic and specific skills, graduate employability, indicators of efficiency and effectiveness and actions to enhance and improve quality. Processes for national and international certification of quality standards will continue as a means of re-assuring governments and other key stakeholders that the move towards universality in higher education will not occur to the detriment of quality.
In Australia, the major shifts in quality assurance will result from an increasing pressure for `diversity' where this is a euphemism for product and service differentiation on the one hand, and for status differentiation or stratification on the other. Some institutions will succeed in defining particular market segments as their niches and will offer courses, research focuses and services customised to these markets and not to others. Their brand names will be associated with these niches and will signify the distinctiveness of the university. Institutions that are rated, in public perceptions, more highly in terms of status will attract the most able students and excellent staff and have higher quality learning environments (e.g. state of the art libraries, laboratories and IT systems). They will strive to have their names recognised as a high quality brand, (although status may not always equate with objective measures of quality). All universities will seek strategic alliances with other national and international providers, will work collaboratively with major corporations on packaged curriculum products and/or R & D products and will use a variety of media to deliver teaching and learning in a manner appropriate to the needs of their students. The university as an ideal type, that always offers philosophy and physics as the foundation to a comprehensive range of courses, will be replaced by many types of universities, some of which are accorded higher status in the mind of the public. The current trend to classify universities is symptomatic of this trend.
The move towards greater diversity is one response to changes in both the supply and demand side of education markets. Deregulation has introduced new providers and increased competition. The student market is fragmenting into identifiable segments (Cunningham et al., 1997). The business of universities used to be to offer on campus classes for school leavers. Learning is now becoming a frequently repeated experience for most adults, in which teaching may occur at a distance mediated by a range of communication media. A growing percentage of students will be `non-traditional' learners. They will have a wide range of educational vendor choices; not only private universities, but also not-for-profit organisations and companies for whom education is a sideline or a way to sell more software. …