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«Supra-national Accreditation, Trust and Institutional Autonomy Alberto Amaral, CIPES and Universidade do Porto, Portugal Maria João Rosa, CIPES and ...»

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Outcomes of higher education: Enseignement supérieur :

Quality relevance and impact qualité, pertinence et impact

8-10 September 2008 8-10 septembre 2008

Paris, France Paris, France

Supra-national Accreditation, Trust and

Institutional Autonomy

Alberto Amaral, CIPES and Universidade do Porto, Portugal

Maria João Rosa, CIPES and Universidade de Aveiro, Portugal Diana Amado Tavares, CIPES, Portugal A selection of papers for the IMHE 2008 General Conference will be published in the OECD’s Higher Education Management and Policy Journal.

The opinions expressed and arguments employed herein are those of the author) and do not necessarily reflect the official views of the Organisation or of the governments of its member countries.

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Alberto Amaral, CIPES and Universidade do Porto, Portugal Maria João Rosa, CIPES and Universidade de Aveiro, Portugal Diana Amado Tavares, CIPES, Portugal European demands for increasing autonomy of higher education institutions exist for some years now. They have been counterbalanced by demands for increasing accountability and a European quality assurance system.

In London the ministers have decided to implement a European register of accredited quality agencies, and defined the standards for registration. Being part of the register needs “substantial compliance with all standards” instead of “full-compliance”. This might take into consideration the context of the national higher education system, the role of the agency in the quality assurance system and even the national culture and traditions, allowing for different interpretations, some imprecision and diverse degrees of flexibility and compliance.

News from the US indicate an emerging desire of the federal level to play a more visible role in regulating higher education by intervention in the accreditation system for ensuring increasing institutional accountability, which may strike a parallel with the European situation.

While in the US the attempts at increased federal control have so far apparently failed, in Europe quality systems linked to higher education institutions were replaced with “independent” accrediting agencies. We analyse these changes and offer a possible interpretation for the differences on the two sides of the Atlantic.

Introduction At European level we observe the emergence of a supra-national policy level following the implementation of the Bologna process. Other factors have contributed to this development such as the Lisbon strategy and the “creeping competence” of the European Commission (Amaral and Neave 2008).

Quality assurance has been on the agenda of Bologna since its very beginning, and it has evolved from a mere recommendation that quality agencies of nation-states should cooperate to develop comparable criteria and methodologies to the establishment of a European system and a register of accredited agencies. To be in the register, agencies need to be independent of higher education institutions, which would exclude the U.S. regional accrediting agencies.

Meanwhile, in the US there were failed attempts to promote the role of the federal government in the higher education accrediting system that has been criticised for not promoting institutional quality and accountability.

In this paper the developments in Europe and the US are compared to understand how far they are converging and to analyse the reasons for their different behaviour.

1 We are grateful to Glen McGhee for useful comments and suggestions.

–  –  –

National quality assurance systems In Europe the development of quality assurance activities has started much later than in the U.S. The emergence of the “Evaluative State” (Neave 1988: 7) was observed in the late 1980s, with increasing public relevance given to quality. A number of factors contributed to this emergence, such as the massification of higher education, creating very heterogeneous systems (Trow 1996); the increasing role of the private sector in replacing the state as the main employer of graduates (Neave 1996) and the increasing use of markets as instruments of public policy (Dill et al 2004). Instead of equality of provision to ensure a fair competition of graduates for public positions, institutions had to adapt to a more heterogeneous and less regulated private labour market while market regulation made urgent a higher degree of autonomy to adjust to market competition.

Higher education systems have become more complex and were forced to be more flexible and adjustable to change, which was incompatible with centralised systems of detailed oversight and control. The rise of the Evaluative state corresponded to an “alternative to regulation by bureaucratic fiat” (Neave 1988: 11), by looking for more flexible, less heavy and faster guidance mechanisms that would allow for increased capacity for institutional adaptation to change and shorter “administrative time’” (Neave 1998: 273). Instead of the traditional a priori authorization the state awarded institutions more autonomy while creating a posteriori control mechanisms via quality assessment.

The development of quality assurance in Europe has been fast. Schwarz and Westerheijden (2004) report that in the early 1990s less than 50% of the European countries had initiated quality assessment activities at supra-institutional level, while in 2003 all countries except Greece entered into some form of supra-institutional assessment.

The European quality assurance systems share important procedural elements – internal self-evaluation, visit by an external expert review panel, external evaluation and public reporting (Thune 2002). However, there are important differences in political discourses (Neave 1998, 2004) that range from a mainly European and political discourse, with universities assumed as a public service (e.g. France and Sweden) to a mainly economic discourse, market-based and inspired in the U.S. (e.g. UK and the Netherlands) with the role of the state seen as excessive (Neave 2004). There are also differences in the ownership of the system and in the consequences of quality assessment – with or without direct influence on funding.

There were even cases where trust between government and institutions allowed for the ownership of the quality agencies to be entrusted to organisations linked to the universities (the Vlaamse Interuniversitaire Raad – VLIR – in Flanders, the Veriniging van Universiteiten – VSNU – in the Netherlands, and the Fundação das Universidades Portuguesas – FUP – in Portugal). These agencies were similar to the US accrediting organisations, in that they also had a guild character.

Loss of trust, new public management and changes in evaluation systems

Recent literature shows a decline of trust in public institutions in general, and in higher education institutions in particular, as well as in professionals. Academics have been facing a gradual proletarisation of their professional status – an erosion of their relative class and 3 status advantages (Halsey 1992), and the academy no longer enjoys the prestige on which higher education can build a successful claim to political autonomy (Scott 1989).

One of the causes for the loss of trust has been the emergence of New Public Management and related concepts, such as new managerialism and reinventing government (Osborne and Gaebler 1992), which dominated public sector reform over the last decades.

New public management aims at replacing the slow, inefficient decision making processes of academic collegiality by fast, aggressive and efficient management processes imported from the private sector (Ball 1998). Under new public management, students became customers or clients, and systems quality assurance and accountability measures were put in place to ensure that academic provision meets client needs and expectations.

The attack on public services has destroyed the trust of society on institutions and increased demands for more accountability while new micromanagement mechanisms were put in place that contributed to the proletarianisation of the academia, progressively pushed from a position of professionals into that of employees, the new professionals being the managers, academic or not.

Other factor decreasing trust was the massification of higher education which created a large quality heterogeneity of both students and professors, and the emergence of new institutional forms, much different from the elite university (Trow 1996).

All this resulted in declining trust in the higher education systems, their institutions and their professionals. The loss of trust had obvious consequences for quality assurance.

Comparing state approval versus accreditation schemes, in the years 1998 and 2003, reveals an overwhelming movement from state approval towards accreditation schemes (Schwarz and Westerheijden 2004). All recently implemented quality systems are also based on accreditation rather than on quality assessment (e.g. Germany, Austria and Norway). This might reflect an increased lack of trust in higher education institutions to satisfy the government and society about their capacity to ensure adequate standards of quality.

In the Netherlands, a meta-evaluation system run by the Inspectorate for Higher Education was supposed to ensure that the assessment procedures were properly run. In Portugal, a commission was set up to coordinate the quality assessment process and to issue recommendations for the rationalisation and improvement of the higher education system; i.e.

to meta-evaluate the system. However, this has not been sufficient to protect the quality assurance agencies. In Flanders “… policy makers, employers and journalists questioned the vagueness of the visitation reports and the lack of a clear overall conclusion” (Van Damme 2004: 144) and in Portugal “…the Minister has publicly complained …that the conclusions of the reports of quality evaluation agencies were quite obscure...” (Amaral and Rosa 2004: 415These three national quality assurance agencies were extinguished by government and replaced with “independent” accrediting agencies (Amaral 2007).

Supra-national developments

The early 1990s saw a development of quality assessment initiatives at the level of the European Union. Under the Dutch presidency, the Ministers of Education and the Council initiated steps to create a European quality assessment system. The conclusions of the 25 November 1991 meeting of the Ministers of Education with the Council proposed that “arrangements for quality assessment in higher education on a national level could be 4 examined at Community level, with a view to reinforcing national quality assessment systems…” (Council 1991).

The Ministers and the Council further proposed that the Commission should undertake steps to strengthen the evaluation of higher education in Europe, including a comparative study of the evaluation methods used in the Member States, the development of a limited number of co-operative pilot projects in this area and the creation of mechanisms for strengthening European co-operation, taking into account the concrete evaluation experience that had already been established. The comparative study was published in October 1993 and a European Pilot Project on quality evaluation was carried out in 1995, including 17 countries and 46 institutions.

On 24 September 1998 the Council has agreed on recommending that Member States establish transparent quality evaluation systems and that the Commission promotes cooperation amongst the authorities responsible for quality in higher education and promotes networking (Council 1998). This resulted in the establishment of the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA).

The Bologna Declaration (1999) has contributed to encourage European cooperation in quality assurance of higher education with a view to developing comparable criteria and methodologies. Schwartz and Westerheijden (2004: 36) refer to the Bologna process as an important “driver for change with regard to quality in steering mechanisms”. The EU discourse supporting a European system of quality assurance is mainly economic and marketbased, a neo-liberal model that occasionally becomes visible in European policies that emphasise the importance of the efficiency of the systems.

Although none of the successive communiqués from the biannual meetings of the European Ministers of Education (Prague, Berlin, Bergen, London) has given primacy to accreditation, the fact is that accreditation was pushed forward against the opposition of a large number of European universities, as documented by Amaral and Magalhães (2004). In 2004 the Commission presented a proposal for a recommendation of the Council and of the European Parliament proposing, “Institutions must set up rigorous internal quality management and develop an accreditation strategy”. The Commission suggested the implementation of multiple quality assurance and accrediting agencies, public and private, national and international, and a European Register of accredited agencies. Higher education institutions should be allowed by their governments to choose any agency listed in the European Register. This is consistent with a stratified European Area of Higher Education, as some agencies will address excellence at an international level, others will be more appropriate to regional or local institutions, some will accredit research universities, while others will specialise in teaching-only institutions.

The efforts of the Commission in the area of accreditation may be interpreted as aiming at making visible an array of European higher education institutions with different missions and quality, emphasising the importance of efficiency and mimicking the American higher education model.

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