Quality managers: Improving quality

Each partner was asked to make contact with at least one (many interviewed more than one) member of staff in their institution who had a role relating to quality assurance or enhancement. The term quality manager is used here to describe these roles but in reality there was a wide range of interviewees who had a variety of levels of seniority in the institution and were either in administrative, senior management or academic roles. In many ways this illustrates how diverse the quality agenda is within higher education and how differently quality is managed within different universities. However the comments from the interviewees which were reported by each partner and then summarised provide some helpful insights into the formal processes of quality assurance and some of the tensions which exist between these processes and the everyday business of teaching, learning and research. A full list of questions is available from the SPEAQ website, some samples of which are listed below:

  • What in your opinion are the elements of a good institution/programme/course?
  • What do you understand by the term quality within your university context?
  • Can you provide any examples of good practice of improving your teaching in your institution?
  • What would you like to improve in the study experience and how would you do it?

It is apparent that each institution considers quality assurance an area of utmost significance and there are some mechanisms in place everywhere to control and assess institutional and departmental quality. Quality assessment is primarily seen as an external procedure, but there is an increasing number of people in the universities, who believe that quality is or will become an internal matter as well. While quality managers seem to be in touch with the university management on a daily basis, they were not always able to maintain a similar close working relationship with students and teaching staff, although they agreed that it would be a desirable move and it would result in a beneficial change from the point of view of quality. They commented that quality managers usually work behind the scenes and in most cases their work becomes ’visible’ in their respective communities only during accreditation or other periods of official assessment. There is variation as to the perceived influence of quality managers on education and university policies. Some quality managers felt they had a voice in their communities, while others thought that although they are given the opportunity to speak they are not necessarily really listened to in a sense that they could influence decision makers.

Importance was also placed on ensuring that quality should be discussed when things go well at the university and not only when serious problems arise and radical changes are needed. Several quality managers also commented on the fact that too frequent structural changes, or changes in national educational policies make it impossible for institutions to deal with quality issues efficiently on a long-term basis.

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