In today's environment, higher education HE institutions need to become more efficient and participate in a competitive global market where client expectations are continually rising. In this new reality, quality is critical for success. While the economic benefits of quality have been long established, many HE institutions still ignore them at their own risk. This is especially true for service quality and this paper will focus on HE service quality management and improvement.
This paper aims to discuss these issues. The paper implements Schneider and Bowen's model of the three tiers of service organizations and service quality management and improvement methods, on HE institutions.
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An analysis of the service process within HE institutions reveals that the quality of service given to the customer tier the students by the boundary tier all the employees who have contact with the students is greatly dependent on the coordination tier top HE management and its various departments. In this service chain, there are several problems and pitfalls that prevent the enhancement of service quality. A documental collection, revision and analysis was performed in order to enhance our understandings of the impact of quality audit in terms of Governance and Management.
The study focused on analysing the quality audit reports of 25 assessed Omani HEIs. It covered published reports of all private institutions who already completed the first stage of national accreditation process. In this context, the elevation of the National Student Survey NSS to such a level of importance that it might be used to determine fee levels that universities can set seems perverse at best and tyrannical at worst. The NSS is a low-cost, crude way of measuring teaching quality, although it does not actually measure quality at all so much as student reactions to their experience at university of which teaching is a part.
This illustrates a problem with metric led approaches to performance assessment—they often miss the point of what they are supposed to be measuring Muller It should be noted, however, that the TEF claims to combine judgement with metrics and is, therefore, not metric-led. Fifteen-page narrative reports are provided by institutions to supplement the metrics.
This role for narrative submissions needs to be qualified along two dimensions. Effectively, this weighs outcomes heavily in favour of metrics rather than narratives. Second, even if the metrics are departed from some limited extent, this non-metricised space is still not filled with any actual assessment of teaching quality, only stylized discussions thereof.
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To be clear, none of this criticism is tantamount to a suggestion that teaching quality should not be assessed in some way. On the contrary, just as Tourish and Willmott argue that peer review is a better mechanism for assessing research quality than journal rankings, Collini suggests that the largely metric-based system that makes up the TEF be replaced with a system of inspections, much as Ofsted does with primary and secondary schools in the UK. This would permit judgement, not measurement. Such a system would no doubt have its flaws—and would most likely be more expensive for the government 2 —but it would obviate many of the deleterious consequences outlined above by permitting a direct evaluation of the object putatively at the heart of the whole exercise, namely teaching.
The TEF argues Collini will succeed in producing the following: a cadre of experts whose job it is to administer the TEF, a greater role for business in shaping university curricula, more ludicrous posturing and self-aggrandizing by universities, more league tables and, more gaming of the system. However, what it is unlikely to produce is better teaching. Similar views are expressed by Shattock , p. Indeed, others have suggested that universities are already spending more time and money on preparing for the next TEF exercise than they are in trying actually to improve teaching Race Of course, the two are ostensibly equivalent, but there seems to be an increasingly widespread acceptance among academics that they are not the same thing, much as institutional responses to the REF are widely seen as being interested in something other than actual research excellence.
Many of the previous problems identified with the REF—stimulation of a bubble economy of research of dubious social import; expansion of performance measurement regimes at the university level which produce dysfunctional behaviour, etc. This is interesting precisely because of the different origins of both assessment exercises. The dysfunctional nature of both therefore must be explained by something beyond political orientation, as each was initiated by different governments and for different reasons. The problems lie with explicit programmes of consumerisation that privilege measurement over judgement 3.
Narrow focus on measurement gives universities the illusion that they are managing and controlling something more effectively, but doing so produces consequences that run counter to the spirit of the overall exercise. It has been argued that the management of both research and teaching in modern HEIs is distorted by an overarching ethos that privileges measurement over judgement.
From the evaluation of research impact through assessments of teaching quality and student experience, priority is given to those aspects which can be relatively easily subjected to quantification and, by extension, whose progress can be charted over time. Such measurement regimes invariably produce dysfunctional behaviour as many academics start to game the system and fudge the numbers by looking for quick wins on easy metrics.
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Early career scholars are particularly susceptible to this behaviour becoming part of their scientific habitus. However, the main losers are ultimately the students, who leave university increasingly ill prepared for the real world, and society, which fails to get what it needs from its public institutions.
But the customer is not always right, or necessarily fully aware of what is in his or her best interests. The solution to this measurement-induced dysfunction is not necessarily less management of teaching and research. This essay is not an argument against management per se. Rather, it is a call for more enlightened, more reflective and more holistic approaches to managing teaching and research.
The issue is not ultimately metrics or judgement, but ensuring that the former inform—and are ultimately subservient to—the latter. Pollock et al. However, Pollock et al. As painstakingly obvious and blunt as this might sound, the best way to evaluate the importance of a research output might be to actually read it. Of course, peer review systems are imperfect and subject to political dynamics of their own. Not all judgemental outcomes of peer review processes are good ones, and even higher quality journals can exhibit haphazard reviewing or editing behaviour at times.
However, such a system does at least open up the possibility that good judgements be arrived at by reflexive individuals whose intellectual dispositions have not been fully colonised by neo-liberal policy mantras. The same cannot be said of systems that crudely privilege numbers over anything else.
Metrics and ranking schema are not neutral but tend to reproduce dominant norms Pusser and Marginson This is not to say that numbers are not important, on the contrary. Metrics on journal outputs and citations can help inform judgements but cannot be used mechanically as a substitute for this. Numbers can help management, but management by numbers reduces homo academicus to an automaton geared towards the routine production of kilometres of sophisticated yet solipsistic verbiage.
More sophisticated measures could be developed, such as the Collegiate Learning Assessment CLA used in the Arum and Roksa , studies, which measure critical thinking and complex reasoning 4. Of course, the current institutional environment in the UK affords institutions very little agency in this respect.
More radical ways of circumventing such regimes would involve perhaps HEIs transforming themselves into private entities. In many ways, there might be certain logic to this, as the government currently expects them to behave as if they were subject to the laws of the market but continues to subject them to ever expanding evaluative forms of governance Ferlie et al.
However, in order to salvage what is left of a public service ethos, English HEIs would be better advised to defend the notion of university education as a public good Marginson and more aggressively seek to shape the institutional environment in ways that create greater room for the flourishing of actual teaching excellence.
The solution to the better managing of teaching and research is essentially twofold: relaxation of measurement in order to permit space for academic judgement, on the one hand; and, on the other hand, where metrics are used, to ensure that the metrics chosen are sophisticated enough to capture what actually matters most for students, cognitive ability. Current approaches to managing teaching and research focus on what is easily measured, easily managed and easily reported to external stakeholders. This is useful when calculating crude return on investment measures, but doing so avoids the more profound soul-searching that is an essential pre-requisite for the production of socially meaningful knowledge and cognitively adept graduates.
It has been argued here that such outcomes will be dependent upon the explicit privileging of an ethos of judgement —which is reflected in processes of collegial social control Martin et al. In the short term this might be true, but a full accounting of the money that institutions will spend on developing internal TEF infrastructures would quite probably show it as a misallocation of valuable resources. It should be noted, however, that metricisation is not exclusively a market-based phenomenon, as studies looking at performance measurement in various areas of the public sector have shown see, for example, Hood Indeed, Arum and Roksa even suggest that student graduations might be granted on the basis of achieving adequate CLA scores rather than on simply accumulating sufficient credit hours.
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The UK Quality Code for Higher Education
Download PDF. Open Access. First Online: 06 August Introduction In this interpretive essay, it will be argued that dominant modes of managing teaching and research in Higher Education Institutions produce significantly dysfunctional effects. Journal rankings and managerialism Many of the above concerns are embedded within the ongoing debate about the role of journal rankings and research performance measurement.
Summary Knowledge production in the modern university is increasingly devoid of passion and vibrancy. In the context of the REF, the problems are not the REF itself—although it is far from a perfect system Marginson —which proceeds on the basis of peer review, is staffed by eminent academics rather than managers and is open to significant amounts of professional interpretation and judgement.
Rather, the main problem is the subindustry of performance measurement that HEIs have established in response to REF imperatives, such as the reification of hugely contentious journal ranking schema or the elaboration of desperate and spurious approaches to demonstrating research impact. Even though some publication outlets are clearly of higher quality than others, any system that encourages academics to focus more on where they publish than what they publish is intellectually deleterious. The REF itself does not do this, but universities do. The removal of journal lists from internal REF management processes, hiring decisions and promotion panels, or at the very least approaching such lists with extreme scepticism, would go a long way towards the stimulation of intellectual discussion between academic colleagues rather than the muscular, frenetic competition that is promoted by the present system.
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Managing and improving service quality in higher education
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