Tertiary Education Quality

What Responsibility Should Academics Take in Shaping the Tertiary Education Experience?

 As I have observed previously, Pears 2010, the view that education is a type of service, or product, and that students are customers, poses serious challenges for all stakeholders in the tertiary education sector. Not least for those charged with "delivering" this service (education).

 I was struck by a comment I heard recently, where the possibility that one might get lower course evaluation results was proffered  as a reason to avoid teaching and learning approaches that might be unfamiliar or challenging for students. The remark was made in relation to the suggestion that student teams should be allocated by teaching staff, rather than allowing students to choose with whom they wish to work,  in order to avoid reinforcing the tendency toward student project cliques.

 This raises a very interesting question for higher education. Should fear of a backlash in the form of poorer student evaluation outcomes influence us towards teaching and learning practices that our expert judgement and research evidence indicate are not in the best interests of a balanced educational experience?  Extending this question beyond immediate classroom choices, who decides what constitutes a quality learning experience? What aspects of the learning setting can we assess regularly, and how would we use such assessments to systematically improve higher education?

Clearly student perspectives are important and students should hold a valued place in an ongoing dialogue on quality enhancement process. However, we also need to ask ourselves, what other metrics and stake holder perspectives can afford us valuable insights in our quest to offer students the best possible learning outcomes and learning experiences?

 Principles drawn from the quality management literature  (see for instance Owlia 1997) provide an interesting viewpoint. Monitoring and innovation processes used to achieve total quality improvement in an enterprise, should provide meaningful input, but, not be seen as onerous or constraining. I think we need to bear this in mind in higher education, since many of the quality assurance processes introduced in national education systems seem to me to reduce flexibility and impose a high overhead for administrators and teaching staff.

We need to ask ourselves, what do we really need to know in order to improve educational quality, and how do we achieve educational renewal in a spirit of trust and collegiality within the higher education academy? The future of tertiary education lies in our hands, we have a responsibility to lead the way in shaping an education, built on sound scholarship, which will expand and engage the minds of future generations.


 Arnold N. Pears. 2010. 'Does quality assurance enhance the quality of computing education?'.  In Proceedings of the Twelfth Australasian Conference on Computing Education - Volume 103 (ACE '10), Tony Clear and John Hamer (Eds.), Vol. 103. Australian Computer Society, Inc., Darlinghurst, Australia, Australia,  9-14. 

 Owlia, M. S. & Aspinwall, E. M. (1997), ‘TQM in higher education – a review', International Journal of Quality and Reliability Management 14(5), 527–543


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