23 SES 14 D, Mixed Session
Universities and professional bodies share common aspirations of rationality, meritocracy and collegiality when it comes to important decisions in their respective domains. This is heightened in engineering, where academic researchers search for science based solutions to societal problems, and professional bodies cling to a notion of their duty to the public (Buchanan, 1989; Millard, 1988; Riley, 2005). However, both are undeniably interest groups in a political arena, where power is contested and different interests clash in contexts of scarce resources (Bolman & Deal, 2003). The nature of these political dynamics between universities and professional bodies is the central interest of this paper, which focuses on engineering in Canada and the United Kingdom.
A crucial structural link between professional engineering bodies and universities is accreditation, the process of periodically evaluating engineering degree programs to determine alignment with criteria articulated set by accreditation boards (Hanrahan, 2009; Patil & Gray, 2009). Historically, decisions about accreditation criteria were a matter of national policy, agreed upon by committees of professional engineers and academics. This changed in 1989 when accreditation bodies from six countries, including Canada and the UK, developed an international mobility agreement to align their engineering accreditation systems (Hanrahan, 2008). This agreement, the Washington Accord, is a powerful mechanism for spreading a model of accreditation premised on the assessment of student outcomes or graduate attributes to its growing membership of 19 countries (Lennon & Frank, 2014; Riley, 2012). Interesingly, countries have differ in how readily they adopted outcomes-based accreditation. The Washington Accord also shares common goals with the Bologna Process and the European Qualifications Framework, namely the alignment of degree requirements as a means to increased labour mobility across national borders.
This study looks at how national actors in different countries negotiate international agreements, using Canada and the United Kingdom as cases. Both were original signatories and yet have very different experiences. The UK adopted outcomes-based accreditation quickly despite a complex proliferation of parallal professional bodies responsible for accreditation. Canada, despite being an original signatory, was one of the last countries to finally adopt outcomes-based accreditation, nearly 15 years after peer countries.
The specific research questions investigated are:
1) Why did Canada and the United Kingdom differ in their adoption of outcomes-based accreditation, the international standard required by the Washington Accord?
2) Whose interests are reflected in engineering accreditation policy in Canada and the United Kingdom?
3) How have key interest groups exerted influence to make or resist changes to the key policies and structures of engineering accreditation?
This paper uses neopluralism to analyze the politics of accreditation policy change in Canada and the United Kingdom. First, I contextualize engineering accreditation within relevant literature from higher education and the sociology of the professions. Second, I develop the analytical framework that situates engineering as an elite group within society, with internal political dynamics best explained by elite theory using a neopluralist approach. Third, I explain the nature of the data and analyze the central actors in each country: provincial regulatory bodies and the national council of deans in Canada; and the disciplinary professional institutes in the UK. Fourth, I draw conclusions about which groups have power at different stages of the influence production process (Lowery & Gray, 2004) and what this means for faculty members and employers, who have limited direct influence on policy. Finally, I conclude with implications for actors in the current policy regimes, and lay out an agenda for future research.
The methodology used is document analysis of institutional websites, national independent reviews of the profession, and key public statements made by engineering interest groups related to national debates about changes to policy and legislation shaping the engineering profession. For the United Kingdom, the most important sources consulted are three major national and independent reviews of the structure and function of the engineering profession in the country, which include major recommendations for change. For Canada, the most relevant sources are documentation from a 2-year long consultation process led by the national representative body, Engineers Canada, to consider the future of engineering accreditation in the country. This included tangible proposals from key interest groups to make change, along with the detailed presentations and minutes from board meetings where Engineers Canada voted on those proposals. In addition to these contemporary sources, I draw heavily on a pair of important historical works that trace the early genesis of the engineering profession in each country. For Canada, Millard's (1988) Canadian Engineers and the Politics of Professionalism, 1887-1922 traces the internal political dynamics that led to the formation of provincial regulatory bodies through passing ten nearly-identical licensing laws in each province. This meticulous historical text gives deep insight into the debates, dilemmas and assumptions that underpinned the professionalization of engineering in Canada. For the United Kingdom, Buchanan’s (1989) The Engineers: A history of the engineering profession in Britain, 1750-1914 illuminates the genesis of the professional engineering institutes in the UK. This book, alongside other relevant articles by Buchanan on the institutional proliferation of engineering in the UK (Buchanan, 1985) and the role of diaspora of British engineering (Buchanan, 1986) sheds light on why the profession has evolved such different structures in the two countries. The specific analytical framework I use to draw together the findings from these various documents and historical texts is neopluralism (Lowery & Gray, 2004). I have operationalized this by developing summary tables that show, for each of the 4-6 major types of interest groups in each country, the main interests, the sources of available power, and the stage in the policy process where their power is most effective. This approach provides focus to my analysis and it allows more direct comparison between the two countries, demonstrating why certain interests may be powerfully represented in one context, and absent from policy debates in the other.
This paper argues that Canada’s slow adoption of outcomes-based accreditation and the United Kingdom’s resistance to organizational amalgamation of professional institutes are both explained by analyzing the power and interests of key influential groups within the engineering profession. In both countries, the most powerful actors are professional bodies, whose statutory powers grounded in legislation give them voting power over changes to accreditation policy. However, they are structured along very different lines. Canada is a federation, and so each each province and territory has its own regulatory body. These regulars focused narrowly on ensuring accreditation delivers engineering graduates that easily fit into existing licensing processes. In the United Kingdom, professional bodies are split along disciplinary lines. Each professional institute has its own Royal Charter and mandate to accredit, license and register engineer, and these These powerful interest groups have resisted changes to the status quo in their respective contexts: the Canadian provincial regulators blocked a proposal by the deans to reduce content requirements in accreditation, while the UK professional institutes have blocked repeated calls for consolidation and amalgamation in the name of protecting their disciplinary identities and territory. The Washington Accord is a powerful influence shaping accreditation policy and politics in both countries. The Accord assumes the existence of a single, powerful accreditation board at the national level based on the strong early influence of the models from Australia and the United States. This policy assumption has infiltrated the political arenas of engineering accreditation in Canada and the UK, and is increasing the zpower of the respective national accreditation boards, which now have oversight over the new outcomes-based accreditation systems. This institutional isomorphism has important implications for the Washington Accord as it spreads to more European countries such as Turkey (2011), Russia (2012) and possibly EU member countries in the future.
Abbott, A. (1988). The system of professions: An essay on the division of expert labor. University of Chicago Press. Bolman, L. G., & Deal. (2003). Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership (3rd ed.). Jossey-Bass. Buchanan, R. A. (1985). Institutional proliferation in the British engineering profession, 1847–1914. The Economic History Review, 38(1), 42–60. Buchanan, R. A. (1986). The diaspora of British engineering. Technology and Culture, 27(3), 501–524. Buchanan, R. A. (1989). The engineers: a history of the engineering profession in Britain, 1750-1914. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Dahl, R. A. (2005). Who governs?: Democracy and power in an American city. Yale University Press. Dobratz, B., Waldner, L. K., & Buzzell, T. (2015). Power, politics, and society: an introduction to political sociology. Routledge. Halliday, T. C. (1985). Knowledge mandates: collective influence by scientific, normative and syncretic professions. British Journal of Sociology, 421–447. Hanrahan, H. (2008). The Washington Accord: History, development, status and trajectory. In 7th ASEE global colloquium on engineering education (pp. 19–23). Hanrahan, H. (2009). Toward Consensus Global Standards for Quality Assurance of Engineering Programmes. In Engineering Education Quality Assurance (pp. 51–71). Springer. Harvey, L. (2004). The power of accreditation: views of academics. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 26(2), 207–223. Lennon, M. C., & Frank, B. (2014). Learning outcomes assessments in a decentralised environment: the Canadian case. In H. Coates (Ed.), Higher education learning outcomes assessment: International perspectives (pp. 89–112). Frankfurt: Peter Lang. Lowery, D., & Gray, V. (2004). A neopluralist perspective on research on organized interests. Political Research Quarterly, 57(1), 164–175. McDonnell, L. M. (2009). A political science perspective on education policy analysis. In Handbook of Education Policy Research (pp. 57–70). Routledge. Millard, J. R. (1988). The Master Spirit of the Age: Canadian Engineers and the Politics of Professionalism, 1887-1922. University of Toronto Press. Patil, A. S., & Gray, P. (Eds.). (2009). Engineering education quality assurance: a global perspective. New York: Springer. Riley, D. (2005). Engineering and social justice. San Rafael, CA: Morgan & Claypool Publishers. Riley, D. (2012). Aiding and ABETing: The Bankruptcy of Outcomes-based Education as a Change Strategy (pp. 1–13). Presented at the 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition. Salter, B., & Tapper, T. (2000). The Politics of Governance in Higher Education: The Case of Quality Assurance. Political Studies, 48(1), 66–87. Skolnik, M. L. (2010). Quality assurance in higher education as a political process. Higher Education Management and Policy, 22(1), 1–20.
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