Examines the emerging paradigm of total quality management and summarizes its implications for higher education. Rather than prescribing a set of generic implementation steps, suggests that there are other, more significant, factors to be considered related to the timing of the initiative rather than where it should begin. Discusses four necessary issues: the removal of abstraction from the concept of quality in higher education; organization‐wide understanding of the customer; the importance of assessing the current quality level; and the need for strategic quality planning. Also cites classical organizational facets such as structure, culture, human resource management and leadership as being among the determinants of TQM success – concentration on these key matters attenuates the importance of the method of implementation. Argues that to disregard these harbingers of success is to risk long‐term damage to the organization and considerably reduce the likelihood of sustained and self‐generating organizational improvement.
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