23 SES 03 C, HE and Quality Assessment
This paper focuses on the impact of quality assurance on curriculum design and pedagogic practice in a UK Business School (UBS). Whilst it is beyond the scope of this paper to document the extremely complex history of quality assurance (QA) policy in the UK, some note is taken of specific policy orientations which appear to have been critical in shaping the character of quality assurance within UBS. For example, Brown (2004) identifies the Education Reform Act (1988) and the Further and Higher Education Act (1992) as landmarks in the dilution of university autonomy or self-governance. Post 1992, the funding bodies for Higher Education became agents of government in which funding became used as a mechanism to lever ideologically-driven government policy on teaching and research (Williams 2010). The setting up of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) in 1997 is also cited as a milestone in framing QA practices. The QAA, which subsequently became responsible for institutional audit regimes (the 'Academic Review'), is described by Salter and Tapper (2000, 84) as 'a pliable instrument of ministerial will'. One of the main criticisms of external QA in the UK is that the balance between its core purposes of 'accountability' and 'quality enhancement' has been lost. In essence, it is argued that the purpose of promoting the 'enhancement' of teaching and learning by academics within their own institutions has been negated by a disproportionate emphasis on the external regulation based on measurable standards (accountability). Gibbs and Iacovidou (2004) contend that under pressure from external QA, the discourse of accountability and efficiency now dominates the internal quality regimes of universities, which in turn is constitutive of professional practice (Fairclough 2003).
This paper contends that UBS-QA has appropriated the dominant external QA discourse of accountability and efficiency, which paradoxically, distorts UBS's educational mission and lowers standards. In summary: curriculum design is framed as an 'administrative process' in which programmes and modules are constructed within a rigid efficiency model. For example, UBS-QA stipulates that programme and module specifications are created using standardised templates with designated criteria relating to skills and measurable 'outcomes'. Timeframes for module and programme changes are also tightly prescribed in order to achieve a 'smooth and efficient quality administration process'. Because UBS-QA is required to release data relating to external QA academic reviews into the public domain, the quality function is also conceptualised by managers as an important aspect of the university's 'enhanced brand reputation' goal. One consequence of this is that student performance in modular assessments is now measured by UBS-QA against a set of key performance indicators (KPIs). The stated aim of the KPIs is to increase the number of 70%+ results and reduce the number of fails. Failure to achieve KPIs automatically triggers a review of the module, beginning with a detailed report by the module leader. This research also found that most UBS academics had become dissociated from the processes of designing curricula and pedagogy. This was evidenced, for example, by the bemoaning of QA restrictions on modular changes and a lack of involvement in curricular design at both the programme and module levels. Lastly, this paper contends that by narrowly framing curriculum design and pedagogic practice in UBS as an 'administrative process', the undergraduate degree programmes lack coherent organising principles beyond 'relevance to business'. In conclusion, this paper seeks to evaluate the current movement towards standardising quality assurance systems in the European Higher Education Area (ENQA 2010) and draw inferences in the light of the data provided by this case study.
Brown, R. (2004) Quality Assurance in Higher Education: The UK Experience Since 1992. Falmer: Routledge. ENQA (2010) ENQA: 10 years (2000–2010) A decade of European co-operation in quality assurance in higher education. Helsinki: European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education. http://www.enqa.eu/files/ENQA%2010th%20Anniversary%20publication.pdf Fairclough, N. (2003). Analysing Discourse: Textual Analysis for Social Research. London: Routledge. Gibbs, P., and Iacovidou M. (2004) Quality as a pedagogy of confinement: is there an alternative?, Quality Assurance in Education, 12 (3), 113-119. Salter, T., and Tapper, B. (2000) The Politics of Governance in Higher Education: The Case of Quality Assurance. Political Studies, 48 (1), 68-87. Williams, P. (2010) Quality assurance: is the jury still out?, The Law Teacher, 44 (1), 4-16. Yin, R.K. (2009). Case Study Research: Design and Methods. London: Sage Publications.
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