University of Limerick
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Exploring perceptions, tensions and possibilities of an integrated approach to quality assurance in higher education: a case study in an institute of technology in Ireland

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posted on 2022-09-02, 14:46 authored by Terry Twomey
National rhetoric speaks of Higher Education institutions as powerhouses of knowledge and innovation and staff are hailed as one of their greatest assets. Engaging the commitment and innovation of staff is the stated function of Higher Education management. However, tensions frequently emerge between the perceptions of staff role groups and the goals of the Higher Education endeavor that can hinder rather than enhance progress. This research explored perceptions and tensions between “tribes and territories” in Higher Education to determine if a collaborative approach to quality assurance processes in Higher Education can mitigate some of these tensions and achieve better outcomes for the institution. The research provided multiple insights into perceptions of and orientations towards quality assurance in Higher Education through a study in one Institute of Technology in Ireland. The importance of context, values and attitudes as drivers of quality in Higher Education was confirmed. Cognizant of changing staff profiles and changes in student engagement, the study was novel in exploring academic staff, professional staff and student views on QA. This inclusive approach was not previously documented in the literature and is an important contribution to understanding of QA in Higher Education. The research defines a novel, collaborative and inclusive methodology for developing quality policy. Building on Lipsky’s concept of street level bureaucracy, the research moved beyond the existing focus on management and academic tribes. Broader staff and student stakeholder group views within Higher Education were included. This wider view makes the contribution to knowledge of illuminating underlying tensions between different staff role identities in Higher Education. It was an important study in its questioning of traditional views of staff roles and identities. The study reveals how staff group understanding and engagement with academic quality has evolved, as staff profiles have changed to higher levels of qualification and professionalization in the Institute of Technology sector. The research methodology included the application of the survey approach early in the study to establish the thematic areas for investigation in semi-structured depth interviews for in-depth exploration. The Delphi method was used to research QA expert, management and participant communities’ perceptions of QA management, measurement and performance. Analysis of the surveys demonstrated that despite identity differences, a significant level of agreement can be established across all staff sub-cultures and role groups with regard to QA and QA Systems. These findings from the surveys were explored in semi-structured depth interviews with expert informants. The interviews triangulated the survey views on academic QA and revealed where current QA and management thinking differs from staff views discerned through an integrated academic QA process. The main findings of the research are the potential for wider collaboration of staff in academic quality assurance and the value for HE institutions in genuinely acknowledging the centrality of staff to QA development and implementation. Collegiate culture in HE can be deepened beyond the academic community through collaboration and inclusion across role groups.



  • Doctoral

First supervisor

Moore, Sarah

Second supervisor

Mannix McNamara, Patricia





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