Quality in higher education approaches to its management and improvement
Abstract: Issues related to quality have received more attention in both society at large and higher education during the last decades. Concepts such as ‘Total Quality Management' and ‘continuous improvement' have become prevalent terms in the discussions around quality issues. The overall intention of this thesis is to study quality management in higher education, and more specifically, to see if and how perspectives with their origin outside higher education could provide means to improve the activities in that setting. The first element in the thesis is an attempt to formulate a general framework for quality management as it refers to higher education. Secondly, three specific investigations into quality issues in higher education are described. The first of these is a study of how self-assessments according to criteria in the Swedish Quality Award could be used in higher education. The second is a study of the use in higher education of quality systems and the ISO 9000 set of standards for such quality systems. The third is a discussion of similarities between developments in trade and industry on one hand and higher education on the other. As a very general conclusion, perspectives such as ‘Total Quality Management' are argued as being both relevant and meaningful in higher education. Interpreted comprehensively, this perspective and other related concepts seem not only valid, but also a means to find possible improvements. The areas which are discussed are both administrative or support activities and academic areas. As for results from the studies of self-assessments according to quality awards and of quality systems, both these instruments seem valid and useful in higher educational settings. The main intention with the actual kind of assessment which has been studied is that it could result in an understanding of possibilities for improvements. Even though the assessment method comprises some perspectives which are not common in higher education, it seems reasonable to assume that the intended result could beattained. The study of quality systems indicates that this kind of instrument can also provide a basis for improvements, although from another starting point. Implementations of such systems have in several cases resulted in a structure for quality management, whereby possibilities for improvements are more easily discerned. Both studies suggest, however, that use of instruments such as those considered is not unproblematic. Underlying motives and resource issues are some examples of possibly problematic aspects. The discussion of similarities between higher education and developments in trade and industry is finally an attempt to show that a TQM perspective is valid not only as means for improvement in areas such as administrative affairs, but also in core activities such as teaching and learning. However, even if the adoption of this perspective could result in improvements, there are obstacles to such an adoption. Change is seldom achieved in a straightforward manner in any kind of organisation. Besides any general obstacles, higher education also seems to bear a number of characteristics which may be particularly significant. Two such impediments which are discussed are the organisational structure and the use of grades.
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