This book contains a selection of some of the best essays submitted as the final assignment of the MARIHE Quality Management Module. The book is a reflection of the quality of the students’ work but also gives credit to the engagement and passion with which the students addressed issues relating to quality management in higher education. The students come from a wide range of countries from across the world and this diversity is reflected in the subject matter of the essays.
To date, the Quality Management module has run for four consecutive years and is usually one of the first modules taken by the students on the MARIHE programme. It runs for a week and it provides a valuable basis on which the students build their further studies. Quality management, arguably, runs through all aspects of higher education, so it is appropriate that it is the first module, inviting students to challenge their existing beliefs about quality in higher education.
The Module is carefully balanced between theoretical and practical. It challenges the students to think carefully about what is meant by the term ‘quality’ in the context of higher education and encourages them to engage with the growing research literature. At the same time, students are given concrete examples of the challenges facing universities as they seek to complete in a global context. Students are required to apply theory to practice.
The taught sessions during the Module cover a range of key areas. The Module begins with a reflection on how quality is defined in the context of higher education. There are sessions on how such definitions are operationalised, with perspectives on the development and management of universities. There are sessions on quality assurance agencies and their work. There is a session on feedback mechanisms and how to collect feedback from different stakeholders. The Module then explores the notion and implications of quality culture and the impact of quality management.
Teaching on the module is a mixture of presentations from the staff and student discussion groups. Staff input reflects their particular experiences and interests. The lead lecturer focuses on the theoretical aspects of quality, providing access to the research in the field; the second lecturer provided a hands-on management perspective; the session on quality assurance agencies has been led by the head of the Austrian Quality Assurance Agency. The students are encouraged to contribute in class discussions and this has proved effective.
The Module is assessed by four assignments. The first is a review of a chosen published work, either an article in an academic journal or a book. The second, performed on the last day of the Module, is a group presentation on any chosen topic relating to quality management. The third assignment is an essay on any chosen aspect of quality management. The fourth assignment has been a task to imagine the University of the Future. The focus of this e-book, however, is the third assignment, the quality management essay, because it is both the largest of the assignments and attracts the highest proportion of marks.
The students were incredibly engaged in the work they were asked to do. Students were encouraged to make their own choice of subject for their assignments. Hence, there was an incredible variety in the subject matter. Some assignments addressed broad issues of quality management whilst others focused on specific issues from their own countries. This provided a fascinating perspective on higher education.
The topics chosen by the students for their final assignments has been hugely varied and reflects a wide range of interests. In all, 77 essays have been submitted from across the four cohorts of the MARIHE programme. Nine of the essays have been reproduced in this book: they were chosen because they were the highest scoring of the essays.
The most popular single issue was that of how to engage students in quality management processes. Twelve of the essays dealt with student feedback processes as part of the quality improvement process. Four of these explored the value of student feedback in the students’ own countries. Four essays were written about the challenges to engaging students in the quality management process. An example of an essay on student feedback is by Isil Guney from Cohort 2, who asks whether student feedback is one of the cornerstones of quality assurance, following the title of Patrice Mertova’s 2010 edition.
Nineteen students explored issues relating to the development and challenges of quality management in their own countries. Eight essays looked at the general development of quality management in the students’ own countries. An example of this topic is the essay by Alexandra Zinovyeva from Cohort 4, who discusses the development of internal quality assurance in Kazakhstan, using academic perceptions of the issue.
Five essays explored the challenges facing quality assurance in specific countries. Four students explored the challenges of importing models of quality assurance into their own countries. An excellent example is the essay by Patricia Akamp from cohort 4, who explores the use of quality evaluation tools and cross national learning/importation of models.
Quality management in the context of internationalisation and globalisation attracted some interest, unsurprisingly, given the nature of the Marihe programme and its students. Essays have been written that explore the challenges of assuring the quality of transnational higher education (TNHE) programmes, online learning and massive open online courses (MOOCs). An example of work on quality assurance and TNHE is the essay by Van Truong from Cohort 4, in which she identifies the responsibilities of receiving countries in quality assurance in cross-border higher education. An excellent essay on MOOCs was written by Jon Maes from Cohort 3. Some interest was shown in areas relating to defining quality and its potential for stimulating institutional and sector change. Three essays looked specifically at how quality is defined, including one on the notion of quality as a transformational factor for stakeholders and institutions. An excellent example is the essay by Inga Zalyevska, who explores the relationship between quality assurance and change in higher education.
Four essays looked specifically at the challenges of developing effective ranking systems. One essay looked specifically at the U-Multirank system. An excellent example is the essay by Rediet Tesfaye Abebe from Cohort 1, who discusses the value of ranking in higher education, asking whether this was ‘A True Quality Evaluation Tool or a Misleading Indicator’.
Three essays took as their subject the question, raised by Jan Erik Karlsen at the 2012 EAIR (European Association of Institutional Research) Forum, whether quality management was an ‘Empty Signifier’ or a ‘Useful Vehicle of Continuing Improvement’. An excellent example is the essay by Ayenachew Aseffa Woldegiyorgism from Cohort 1.
Several students wrote essays on aspects of external and internal quality monitoring and the development of quality culture. Three essays discussed the appropriateness to higher education of approaches such as Total Quality Management. Three essays took as their subject aspects of external quality monitoring, in the main, focusing on their own countries, but not exclusively. An excellent example is the essay by Krisztina Jaksa from Cohort 1, who discusses the role of the External Examiner, asking whether this was an inspector or critical friend.
Although the four cohorts were in many ways very different from each other, they all shared a high level of engagement with the issues around quality management. Overall, the essays that are reproduced in this book reflect both the high quality of the work produced by the students during the Quality Management Module and that engagement.
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