Holistic Model for Quality in Higher Education: Development, Implementation and Implications

Alistair Inglis (Curtin University Sarawak, Sarawak, Malaysia)

Quality Assurance in Education

ISSN: 0968-4883

Article publication date: 27 September 2011



Inglis, A. (2011), "Holistic Model for Quality in Higher Education: Development, Implementation and Implications", Quality Assurance in Education, Vol. 19 No. 4, pp. 451-452. https://doi.org/10.1108/qae.2011.19.4.451.1



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Processes of quality management have been well worked out in manufacturing and service delivery over a long period, and they are now quite standardised and have been widely adopted. However, it is only in comparatively recent times that quality has become a focal concern in education and there is still not widespread acceptance. Interest in quality processes penetrated Higher Education from industry but the business of Higher Education is much more complex than typical manufacturing or service delivery businesses and consequently the quality processes applicable in one context are not necessarily applicable in the other. The core activities of Higher Education, teaching and research, are not able to be specified with anywhere near the same precision as the manufacture of a motor vehicle of the delivery of health services, to cite a couple of examples. There is good reason, therefore, for questioning whether the processes that have been adopted in industry are applicable to Higher Education. This is the central issue that the author of this recently published text has addressed in proposing a new model of quality management in Higher Education.

The central proposition of this book is not just that the core business of universities, education and research, is not just different from manufacturing and the service industries, but that it is so different that it requires a different approach to quality management.

Gitachari Srikanthan spent many years in teaching and research in the area of quality management at RMIT University and so is well versed in the theory and practise of the TQM methodology. However, he also has an abiding interest in teaching and learning, serving for many years as co‐editor of Quality Assurance in Education. So he is very familiar with the challenges of teaching and learning in Higher Education and is therefore well qualified to write on this theme.

Universities are multifaceted organisations and there are many parts of universities perform service functions. As the author points out, academic libraries, computer centres, cafeterias, sporting facilities and counselling services are all examples of service units, and for these, and for other university service units, a TQM approach is entirely appropriate. However, the core business of universities is education and research and for these domains of activity an entirely different approach is required. The author draws on the work of a range of contemporary theorists and researchers to tease out what is required of this alternative approach. The core elements of the QME model, it is argued, are a clear focus on transformation — both of learners and the institution, a synergistic collaboration at the learning interface, and a significant commitment to improving quality, supported by senior management.

What Srikanthan presents as his Holistic Model it therefore a hybrid or composite combining a TQM approach should be adopted in relation to service functions, but for the core business of Higher Education a different approach that is more closely aligned with the processes of teaching and learning should be adopted. A lot of the book is devoted to explaining what this different approach might be.

The book comprises just seven chapters plus an appendix. The first three chapters set the context for the development of the model that is put forward later in the book. Chapter 1 takes a wide sweep across Higher Education identifying a range of contemporary issues that have focussed the attention of political leaders, employers, the community, and university administrators. It concludes that there is a large gap between the rhetoric and the reality of quality improvement in institutions. Chapter 2 explains and justifies the choice of critical theory as the methodology employed to pursue investigation of the issues surrounding quality in Higher Education. Chapter 3 provides a comprehensive review of the literature on quality in Higher Education with particular emphasis on quality in relation to teaching and learning. Educators who are not familiar with the area will find this a valuable orientation to the field.

The model that the book puts forward is then laid out over the following four chapters. Chapter 4 describes the basic architecture of the model. Chapter 5 goes on to explain in detail the theory of the QME component of the model, including the way in which it would be embedded in an institution. In many respects this chapter can be considered the most important in the book: it describes the key features of transformative learning and then describes how these may be fostered through the quality management system. Chapter 6 then goes on to describe the implementation of the model, while in Chapter 7 some of the conclusions that can be drawn from the material covered in the earlier chapters are brought together.

The final chapter situates the model into an organisational management context and then goes on to discuss ways in which the effectiveness of the model might be tested. It concludes by briefly considering possibilities for extending the model into domains of activity beyond Higher Education.

The Holistic Model described in this book is a hybrid. In many spheres of activity hybrids are considered to be unhappy compromises — neither “fish nor fowl” they are said to satisfy no one. Yet here is a situation where a hybrid model may perhaps provide the best solution. For rather than proposing a solution that manages to straddle different contexts, the solution proposed in this case is a composite of two solutions, each intended to be applied to the type of context for which it is appropriate. Only testing of the model in actual educational settings will show whether this approach works and that testing has yet to be undertaken.

All in all, the book provides a thought‐provoking introduction to many of the issues related to quality in Higher Education. It also sets the issues in an historical context. Whether one accepts the synthesis that the author has produced, it cannot be denied that he sets one thinking about the way in which challenges many of the taken‐for‐granted assumptions about the management of quality in Higher Education.

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