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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 3
The fallout from the Global Financial Crisis continues in Europe with the Republic of Cyprus encountering financial difficulties. Inevitably, when governments are in a position where they are in significant debt, the public sector institutions and organisations are, together with the community, subject to financial stress. Consequently, we can expect that education at all levels will be adversely affected by the financial exigencies being experienced by the government. This follows the experiences of Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Greece when their governments, in turn, were required to adopt financial restraint in public expenditure.
In an era where there is a significant impetus, globally, to enrich the experience of students and staff of academic institutions, there is increasing mobility of students engaging with educational experiences in overseas institutions as part of their degree programs. This cross-fertilisation and internationalisation of student and academic experience is a cornerstone of modern educational experiences. In the UK, there has been a long history of interchange between UK institutions and institutions in the USA and other jurisdictions. Many successful international partnerships have been forged and, in Australia, the Federal Government has recently published a White Paper, “Australia in the Asian Century”. This White Paper devotes a chapter to education and training, an indication that this sector is seen as strategically important in government thinking on the future of Australia’s links with Asia. However, developments on the Korean Peninsula also provide us with an opportunity to reflect on how future educational interactions might be affected by national and international events.
The overwhelming response to all of these events must be to regard education as a significant contributor to the solutions to the problems, rather than part of the problem itself. Our contribution to this must be to ensure that quality improvement and enhancement of teaching and learning continue to be at the forefront of academic managers, practitioners and supporting functions and the insights in this issue will contribute to this goal.
In this issue, the first paper by Dennis C.S. Law compares two different instruments for the measurement of service quality in the context of a program in Hong Kong. In this context, the comparison is made between a more general service quality measuring instrument and an instrument that was developed for the specific case of higher education, but validated in a different context. The results are of interest to those who are contemplating the use of instruments that are related to SERVQUAL, since the portability of instruments between contexts cannot be taken for granted because the validity and reliability of such instruments must first be established before their use can provide helpful insights into improvement in higher education contexts.
The second paper by Hanna Ezer and Arielle Horin, reports on a longitudinal study of an institution engaged in teacher education that embarked on its quality journey with a perception of an external imposition of quality assurance. The authors describe how the academic community began to engage in significant reflection on the quality assurance processes when they were able to assume ownership of quality assurance and individual and organisational learning ensued. The development demonstrated a move from a quality assurance perspective to a quality enhancement perspective over time and all staff are now much more comfortable with the future quality agenda.
The third paper in this issue by Mukdashine Sandmaung and Do Ba Khang seeks to address a similar type of concern. In this case, the authors investigate the quality indicators developed by the Office of Higher Education in Thailand. The divergence between the government regulator’s mandated quality indicators and the indicators found to be important by key stakeholder groups in higher education is quite stark. The measures of quality valued by the academic and administrative staff are closely related, but these differ from those valued by student stakeholders. The measures mandated by the Office of Higher Education in Thailand do not reflect the priorities of students, academic staff or administrative staff. The authors conclude that it would be difficult to manage the inherent tensions between the measures of quality used by institutions to improve the service to key stakeholders, students and staff, whilst using the quality indicators mandated by the Office of Higher Education.
The fourth paper by Seema Arif and Maryam Ilyas, investigates the relationship between work-life balance for academic staff and quality of service provision in private universities in Pakistan. Clearly this is a rather narrow grouping, but the link between a contented workforce and stakeholder satisfaction with service quality has been recognised for some considerable time. At this stage of development, the major issues relating to perceptions of work are compensation package and job security, with other job-related characteristics contributing to the overall work-life balance. The authors note that there is a positive trend in the qualifications profile of the staff in private universities in Pakistan and the country’s Higher Education Commission has a goal of continuing to increase the proportion of doctoral qualified staff in the sector.
Gail Whiteford, Mahsood Shah, Chenicheri Sid Nair in the fifth paper in this issue, present views on an issue that is prominent on the higher education agendas of numerous jurisdictions worldwide, namely widening access to higher education and increasing participation rates from some of the underrepresented sectors of society. There is increasing recognition that innovation and improvements in standards of living in advanced economies demand a more highly educated workforce, with much greater participation in higher education. Most national statistical organisations producing demographic and other statistics indicate that lower socio-economic groups are underrepresented in higher education and this paper discusses the maintenance of academic standards in the context of a higher education system that is under pressure to admit students who would not, traditionally, have been participants in higher education.
The final paper in this issue is by Jonine Jancey and Sharyn Burns, who report on another facet of the participation agenda. The focus is on the policies, procedures, practices and structure of universities and the influence that these institutional factors have on the likelihood of student retention and, ultimately completion of a qualification. Using a case study method, the authors examined a cohort of students undertaking a taught postgraduate program in public health. This research is important in that it adds to the understanding of the factors that influence successful completion. The study included both face-to-face and online students and the service level to meet the needs of a postgraduate student cohort is explored.
In this issue, there are two papers that address the issue of reliability, validity and fitness for purpose of various instruments for measuring quality in the higher education sector. These papers are important since they seek to ensure the compatibility of measurement with the context in which measurement is being made to ensure validity and reliability of the instruments. The relationship between the perceptions of employees about their satisfaction with their employment circumstances and quality of provision in the education sector is a welcome development of some of the findings in the service quality literature applied in the education context. The two case studies, one a longitudinal study of quality implementation, and the other a study of a particular program and the diversity of requirements for postgraduate taught course students, are complemented by a paper that explores the relationship between widening access and participation and maintaining standards in higher education.
We trust that the readership will find the papers from a variety of diverse jurisdictions both interesting and instructive in the pursuit of quality improvement in their own institutions.
For the Editorial Team