23 SES 03 A, Governance and Monitoring
Evaluation and quality assurance has become increasingly common in governing education in Europe and elsewhere. This is perhaps particularly visible in higher education (HE) where European policy for HE in general, and quality assurance in particular, have evolved in the wake of the Bologna process. Especially the period from 1999 and onwards within the European Higher Education Area reflects an increased interest in policy formation.
Organizations like the European University Association (EUA) are occupied by different policy-making activities, and the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA) has taken lead responsibility for policies concerning quality assurance and published the second version of European standards and guidelines (ESG) for these activities in 2015 (ENQA 2015). These standards and guidelines have to be adhered to for membership in ENQA, something that Sweden was denied in 2014. After being member for several years the Swedish Higher Education Authority (SHEA) failed to live up to the requirements of having a national system that a) assessed HE institutions’ internal quality assurance systems, and b) was sufficiently autonomous from the government (Segerholm & Hult 2015). In 2017, Sweden implemented a revised national system of quality assurance. One component in this new system is that the SHEA evaluates the higher education institutions’ (HEI) own internal quality assurance systems, and it is hoped that that this revised system will meet the ENQA membership requirements.
This overall policy context forms the basis for this paper, in which we aim to study the most recent Swedish national evaluation and quality assurance system in HE by exploring:
a) The influx and embeddedness of European quality assurance policy in this system and
b) The enactment in two higher institutions’, with a particular focus on the design of the internal systems for quality assurance and the organisation, experiences and mobilization of resources in the external SHEA assessment of these internal systems.
Theoretically, we draw on resources that view evaluation and quality assurance as part of governing, where governing is understood as activities composed of assemblages of places, people, policies, practices and power (Clarke 2015, 21). We also recognise the active part the nation state (government, parliament and national agencies and authorities) (Sassen 2007), and higher education institutions take in policy learning (Alexiadou 2014), translating and interpreting European policy, where the particular national and local contexts are essential in how policies are enacted (Ozga & Jones 2006; Steiner-Khamsi & Waldow 2013; Ball, Maguire & Brown 2012).
Methodology This study is part of the research project “Governing by evaluation in higher education in Sweden”, in which a number of sub-studies have been carried out. To explore the influence of European quality assurance policy on the latest Swedish system, we lean heavily on some of these sub-studies in which we have described and analysed the relation between European quality assurance policy and Swedish national policy of quality assurance in HE. Our empirical data include national and European policy texts, and interviews with ten national Swedish ‘policy brokers’ with experiences from for instance government ministry and its agencies, and/or organised interests and associations in the HE sector. To explore the enactment of the latest Swedish system in two higher institutions, we draw on near 30 interviews with a) national officers at the SHEA, b) central management officers, teachers, and students at the two higher institutions and c) evaluators in the external assessment panels. These interviews were conducted at different stages of the evaluation process in order to capture experiences and impressions from the evaluation processes as they unfolded. In addition, we analyse a range of documentary materials produced during and before these processes, such as self-evaluations and descriptions of the internal quality assurance systems from the HEIs, the SHEA guidelines, evaluation reports and SHEA decisions. The two HEIs were selected out of four in a SHEA pilot process. They illustrate the internal work with quality assuramce systems at HEIs that are neither full universities nor extremely small and specialised HEIs.
Conclusions Our preliminary results indicate a strong influx of European quality assurance policy in the recent Swedish system. The Swedish policy brokers reported contacts and cooperation with a large number of European organizations and networks working with quality assurance issues in HE. To them it seemed a given that the Swedish quality assurance system should be compared and valued in relation to other European quality assurance systems. The most important actor to provide this information is the ENQA which opens up for mutual agreements and standards like the ESGs. The governmental directives for the new quality assurance system also clearly stated the ESGs as a mandatory starting- point (Skr. 215/16:76). The design of the internal quality assurance systems at the HEIs share some features like the incorporation of the ESGs, recurring processes at all levels, external evaluators, as well as diligent documentation concerning internal policies, regulations and routines, and levels of decision-making. It is mainly the central management at the HEIs that has been engaged in the SHEA evaluations. Teachers seem to have been fairly little mobilized and not noticed the SHEA processes much, while having been more engaged in actual internal quality work. Also, we discuss the possible consolidation of a “professional field”, in which individuals develop particular “expertise” in quality assurance, its special knowledge base and vocabulary. Furthermore, our preliminary results show that the SHEA processes consume quite a large amount of resources like time, number of persons involved (both at the HEIs and at the SHEA), and also trigger emotional strain and different feelings.
References Alexiadou, N. (2014). Policy Learning and Europeanisation in Education: the governance of a field and the transfer of knowledge. I: Nordin, Andreas & Sundberg, Daniel (Eds.) Transnational Policy Flows in European Education. The making and governing of knowledge in the education policy field. Oxford: Symposium Books, s. 123-138. Ball, S., Maguire, M. & Braun, A. (2012). How Schools Do Policy. Policy enactment in secondary schools. London and New York: Routledge. Clarke, J. (2015). Inspections: governing at a distance. In Grek, S. & Lindgren, J. (Eds.), Governing by Inspection. London: Routledge, pp. 11-26. ENQA (2015). Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG). May 2015. http://www.enqa.eu/index.php/home/esg/ Ozga, J. & Jones, R. (2006). Travelling and embedded policy: the case of knowledge transfer. Journal of Education Policy 21(1), 1-17. Sassen, S. (2007). A Sociology of Globalization. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Segerholm, C. & Hult, A. (2015). Manoeuvring in the European Quality Landscape: the significance of ENQA policy in governing Swedish higher education. Paper presented at the European Conference for Educational Research in Budapest, 8-11 September, 2015. Skr. 2015/16:76. Regeringens skrivelse. Kvalitetssäkring av högre utbildning. (Government Communication. Quality assurance of higher education. In Swedish.) Steiner-Khamsi, G. & Waldow, F. (Eds.) (2012). Policy Borrowing and Lending. World Yearbook of Education 2012. London and New York: Routledge.
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