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Congruity and contradiction: student and institutional perspectives of learning and quality in higher education

Jovan F. Groen (University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada)

Quality Assurance in Education

ISSN: 0968-4883

Article publication date: 17 June 2021

Issue publication date: 27 September 2021




This paper aims to examine graduate student learning experiences and perceptions of quality and the extent to which these learners were living the intended experiences that academic programs are seeking to foster.


Using a multiple case-study design, a three-stage interview protocol used with six PhD candidates across three faculties as well as 25 institutional, provincial and national documents served as principal sources of data. A within-case analysis was performed for each case and compared via a cross-case analysis.


The four principal factors that characterized the PhD candidate learning experience emerged as the significance of intentional individualized guidance; the importance of social interactions and community; becoming an independent scholar; and the transformative nature of learning. Gaps were identified between institutional intent and the learner experience. Recommendations are made regarding the adoption of indicators of quality that focus on student learning and notions of transformation.


This investigation attempts to tell distinct and shared stories of the highly contextualized and complex phenomenon of quality in PhD student learning. With limited information regarding how programmatic development is lived by students, this study’s comparison of institutional characterizations and student perceptions of quality sheds light on existing strengths to leverage, and gaps to invest in, at the institutional and program levels.



The author wishes to thank Drs. Maurice Taylor, Ruth Kane, Peter Milley and Christine Suurtamm for their guidance and insightful feedback in the context of this study.


Groen, J.F. (2021), "Congruity and contradiction: student and institutional perspectives of learning and quality in higher education", Quality Assurance in Education, Vol. 29 No. 2/3, pp. 151-165.



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