Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to critically review dominant conceptions of and approaches to quality in higher education. It suggests an alternative approach with potential to shift the focus of quality activities from accountability and control to improvement. Design/methodology/approach – The applicability and limits of quality concepts and models are critically reviewed against key systems concepts of purpose, boundaries and environments. The limited transferability and utility of such models and the tensions between control and improvement are discussed. Findings – The language and tools of industry‐born quality models are an imperfect fit to higher education. Authentic quality improvement is more likely to result from approaches to systemic intervention that encourage exploration of questions of purpose and of the meaning of improvement in context than from the imposition of definitions and methodologies from elsewhere. Research limitations/implications – Evidence to support the utility of systems approaches in higher education is limited. Research into their use is needed. Practical implications – Systemic approaches are complex but likely to be beneficial. Originality/value – The paper takes a systemic perspective on quality likely to be of value in encouraging debate and different interventions for improvement.
Quality Assurance in Education – Emerald Publishing
Published: Feb 1, 2008
Keywords: Quality improvement; Critical thinking; Higher education; Learning
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