23 SES 08 A, Recruitment and Evaluation in Education
Evaluation and quality assurance (EQA) policy and practice in higher education (HE) has expanded during the last decades. It picked up speed after the Bologna agreement, and today 27 countries are members of the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA). This organization promotes and disseminates EQA policy and practice through publications, workshops and meetings, etc. (ENQA n.d.). In Sweden, national EQA systems have been Implemented since the 1990s, and the most recent system has been particularly influenced by the European EQA policy.
In this presentation, our aim is to analyse the different national EQA systems in Sweden from 1995 until today. We are particularly interested in the relations between governing, evaluation and knowledge and our ambition is to pinpoint the particularity of evaluation in HE as a social practice that makes knowledge work for governing. We ask: What are the main characteristics of these systems? What is the European policy influence? How do the systems operate as modes of governing, by whom, and what types of knowledge do they require?
Drawing on Dahler-Larsen's metaphore "evaluation machine" (2012), we portray the Swedish systems as the development of an institutionalized evaluation machinery. We explore the evaluation machinery from a governing perspective by describing its automated technologies. We also highlight the work required to run the machinery, by highlighting its operators, who we have termed qualocrats (Lindgren, Rönnberg, Hult & Segerholm forthcoming). In understanding the quoalocrats and their EQA work, we draw on discussions on different forms of knowledge (Freeman & Sturdy 2014) and observe the “the burden of judgements” (Molander 2011) that are inevitably linked to these processes.
Theoretically, governing is conceptualised as a verb, as a way to emphasise the actual work that is done of and in evaluative practices. We see governing as activities composed of assemblages of places, people, policies, practices and power (Clarke 2015). In particular, we emphasize the "complexity, contestation and translation of governing practices” (Clarke 2015, p. 12-13). We also draw on the work of Freeman and Sturdy (2014), who conceptualise knowledge as embodied; for example, through tacit and verbal experience, inscribed in different forms of texts and artefacts, and enacted, via what is actually done or carried out. We identify and describe forms and movements of knowledge that are manifested, incorporated and transformed in governing by evaluation as a social practice encompassing several arenas and groups of actors.
This paper synthetises several sub-studies from the research project Governing by Evaluation in Higher Education, financed by the Swedish Research Council (2012-2018). The analysis draws on a range of different materials. We used public reports, including for instance Government Bills as well as material from the Swedish Higher Education Authority (SHEA) and ENQA reports, for the analysis of the national systems characteristics and the European influence. We also carried out six case studies of HE institutions. These studies include interviews with employees at different levels of the HEIs who have different functions in relation to EQA. Local documents were also collected and analysed. These case studies contributed to our understanding of the European influence as well as the details in the evaluation processes, and on the types of knowledge that is activated and needed in the evaluation processes. Interviews with ten top-level administrative and organisational staff, called national policy brokers, were also included in our analysis of system design and European influence. Furthermore, we interviewed staff at the SHEA to get detailed information about the evaluation processes from the Agency's point of view. Altogether during the six sub-studies we performed approximately 100 interviews and analysed an enormous number of documents.
Our analysis of the Swedish case displays a general expansion of EQA within and between the different national systems, making the “machinery” analogy particularly useful. Automated technologies such as visibility, comparability, standardisation and economic incentives have been embedded in the machinery over time, but we also show how embodiment is crucial for the construction and operation of the machinery. The analysis underscore how evaluation in HE includes extensive work when it comes to preparing, making, receiving and acting on judgements on the quality of intangible phenomena such as processes, responsibilities, routines, competences, relations, and support. A comprehensive evaluation machinery, like the contemporary Swedish one, requires many activities and operators and we draw attention to a particular group of “specialists”, the qualocrats, who are embodying particular forms of EQA knowledge that are crucial to carrying out the activities tied to the machinery. We argue that evaluation constitute a certain form of epistemic governing that presupposes, uses and produces certain forms of knowledge about a present condition that is extrapolated into a desired future. In this sense, there is a utopian dimension in which evaluation is used to generate, promote and mediate certain forms of knowledge to pledge (constant) change in ways that fits well with contemporary governing ambitions. High level of formalisation in Swedish EQA, in the forms of the detailed frameworks and guidelines that are intended to increase homogeneity and comparability, requires substantial human interpretation and translation in processes of enactment. Finally, our findings on the increased complexity in the construction and operation of the evaluation machinery is discussed by drawing on Tainter's (1988) ideas on organisational complexity. We discuss the expansion and increasing complexity of EQA work in higher education and point to some possible implications and problematisations.
Clarke, J. (2015). Inspection: governing at a distance. In S. Grek & J. Lindgren (Eds.) Governing by Inspection (pp. 11-26). London: Routledge. Dahler-Larsen, P. (2012). The Evaluation Society. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. ENQA (not dated). Members. https://enqa.eu/index.php/enqa-agencies/members/full-members/, accessed Januari 3, 2019. Freeman, R. & Sturdy, S. (2015) Knowledge in policy: Embodied, inscribed, enacted. Bristol: Policy Press. Lindgren, J. Rönnberg, L., Hult, A. & Segerholm, C. (forthcoming). Evaluation machines, qualocrats, judgements and the seemingly inevitable problem of expansion. In Segerholm, C., Hult, A., Lindgren, J. & Rönnberg, L. (Eds.) (forthcoming). The Governing – Evaluation – Knowledge Nexus. Quality assurance in Swedish higher education. Dordrecht: Springer. Molander, A. (2011). Efter eget skön: om beslutsfattande i professionellt arbete. According to ones own discretion. On decision-making in professional work. Socialvetenskaplig tidskrift 18(4), 320-335. Tainter, J. A. (1988). The collapse of complex societies. Cambridge University Press.
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