Concepts of ‘quality’: And the problem of ‘customers’, ‘products’ and purpose in higher education

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Research and Development in Higher Education: Quality Conversations Vol. 25

July, 2002, 794 pages
Published by
Tony Herrington
0 908557 54 X

Concepts of quality and methods of measurement appropriate to commercial settings have been applied to higher education without adequate consideration of their applicability. One result has been inconsistency between the desired outcomes of quality assurance, explicit philosophical choices about the concept of quality and the choice of methods to demonstrate quality. Within the commercial context where the concept of quality assurance originated, the concept of quality is referenced variously to features of the product, customer satisfaction, the fitness of the product for its intended purpose, the process of production of the product, or the culture of the organisation. An exploration of the relationship between different concepts of quality, and the purposes of quality assurance and quality improvement requires discussion of how concepts such as ‘customer’, ‘product’, ‘intended purpose’, apply in the context of higher education. The purpose of the paper is to clarify these relationships and develop a framework that will make explicit the different identifiable positions on ‘quality’ in higher education and describe the relationship between alternative definitions and key issues for the philosophy of education such as the nature of the relationship between students and the university, the purpose of higher education and how academic standards for degrees should be established. The paper concludes by indicating how this approach may be used to aid the process of designing and improving quality assurance and quality improvement processes.

Keywords: quality assurance, universities

Concepts of ‘quality’: And the problem of ‘customers’, ‘products’ and purpose in higher education

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Cooper, T.