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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Editorial From: Quality Assurance in Education, Volume 21, Issue 2
The re-election of President Obama and the, albeit temporary, avoidance of the “fiscal cliff” in the US has avoided the immediate short term funding crisis for education. However, the global financial crisis and the recessionary effects that came in its wake continue to erode the state funding of education at all levels. In the case of higher education, the contribution by states to the universities has been following a downward trajectory for some time and that has either continued or accelerated. This has resulted in the institutions having to support their activities through a combination of endowment funds and increased impost on students in the form of fees and charges.
The European education environment has been subject to considerable volatility in the period since the global financial crisis, with a number of countries struggling to manage the consequences of government debt. In 11 European countries, for example, the period since the global financial crises has witnessed a reduction of more than ten per cent in the public finding for the higher education sector, while a further eleven countries have either kept their public funding of higher education stable or increased it over the period.
The Singapore government has outlined its publicly funded cohort participation rate aspirations and is investing significantly in additional publicly funded higher education opportunities for its citizens. Singapore has also had an outstanding record for funding research in higher education institutions through matching funding and tax concessions.
In Australia, the first year of the federal government’s uncapped system for university education has just ended. The demand driven system has resulted in a net increase in enrolments, but the distribution has not been uniform. Prior to the introduction of the demand driven system, most institutions used a combination of historical data and the scores achieved by applicants to tailor the number of students that they admitted to the profile that had been agreed with the federal government. However, the demand driven system introduced significant complexity and uncertainty to the process, rendering historical intake data and previous applicant attainment scores much less useful as instruments to manage first year intake numbers. The federal government has developed an information source for university applicants in the form of “myuniversity” website. This is based on the same premise as the “myschool” website that transparency and comparability in information available about educational institutions will result in better informed and more appropriate choices being made by citizens.
Consequently, in various jurisdictions, the responses to the ongoing effects of the global financial crisis have varied considerably. However, the students who are currently in the education system at all levels will be the citizens who will form the professionals who will make goods and provide services in the future. In an increasingly globalising world, it is very likely that many of today’s students will be working in jurisdictions that are different from those where they were educated and credentialed. Thus the maintenance of academic standards and the comparability of capabilities of people educated to these standards constitutes an important element of quality assurance in the education domain. The harmonisation of qualifications through initiatives like the “Bologna process” and international accreditation by organisations like professional bodies, the European Foundation for Management Development and the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business are, therefore, assuming increasing importance in the international education landscape.
In the first paper of this issue, Ellen Dumond and Thomas Johnson present a conceptual paper that addresses the matter of certification and accreditation in the business education sector. This sector is extremely important to many institutions internationally, since many business schools are often valued for their provision of cross subsidies to other discipline areas. However, the sector is also very competitive, and schools always seek differentiation and competitive advantage. Competitive advantage may be attained by achieving recognition through an external accreditation of a school or a program that is recognised internationally. The discussion in the paper centres on whether accreditation through a process of peer review using, in this case, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business peer review structures and content is more appropriate than an external audit process carried out by a certification body using the framework of the International Organisation for Standards, ISO 9001.
The second paper by Colm Fearon, Maria Esyutina and Nicky Leatherbarrow also focuses on the international education market, in this case with an emphasis on Europe. The paper discusses the Bologna Process, designed to enable mobility of students and mutual recognition of academic awards and distinctions, with a focus on the particular case of the Russian education system. Fundamental to mobility and mutual recognition of academic awards and distinctions on the educational supplier side is the need for frameworks and standards that harmonise the broad content of units and courses so that learning outcomes and graduate capabilities are comparable and qualifications are portable and recognised across international boundaries. However, there is also the demand side that is required to understand the harmonisation process and the paper covers both the influence on the supply side and the demand side and the implications for the quality of education provision in the Russian context.
The third paper in this issue by Noha Elassy, also addresses an institutional matter with regard to quality assurance in education. Many jurisdictions have provision for student participation in the decision making forums of the institution. For example, in the UK, many higher education institutions have statutes and ordinances that enshrine student membership of the governing body of higher education institutions. In Australia, the Acts of state parliaments enshrine student membership of university governing bodies. This paper broadens the inclusion of students in the decision making forums of institutions by including students in the quality assurance systems and quality assurance processes at all levels in the institutional governance structures.
The fourth paper by Jeffrey Alstete provides an example of an approach to differentiation and competitive advantage in the business and management disciplines using tools and techniques from those disciplines. The focus of the paper is the opportunity offered by the process of curriculum renewal in core business units to identify opportunities for a strategic advantage to be gained over a group of potential competitor institutions. The approach enables the identification of differentiation and competitive advantage opportunities for the business school.
The final paper in this issue is by Hardeep Chahal and Pinkey Devi, who apply a well understood approach to service quality to the education sector. The critical incident technique has been extensively used since the 1950s (its origins can be traced to over half a century earlier) when it was used in psychology in the analysis of the performance of individuals. More recently, it has been adopted in the quality management environment to investigate service delivery successes and failures in service encounters. The authors used a variety of functions within an education provider to analyse and categorise service encounters that resulted in a satisfying outcome and those that resulted in outcomes where the service recipient was not satisfied. This approach was then used to identify good practice and opportunities for improvement.
In this issue, we present three papers that address issues related to standards and quality at a discipline level or an institutional level. The first two papers are focused on the influences on the quality of education provision from external factors, while the third paper focuses on an approach to extending the student influence on quality of provision through membership of influential quality bodies in institutions. These papers are followed by papers addressing effectiveness of quality mechanisms in affording improvement opportunities in various educational contexts. The Editorial Team offers the readership these contributions to inform their own research and practice in the improvement in the quality of education provision in the international arena.