Measuring higher education from a quality assurance perspective: Evolving standards and indicators for institutional accreditation in Europe and Asia

Angela Yung-Chi HOU*, Arianna Fang Yu LIN, Ying CHEN, Hung Cheng SU, Kyle Ziwei ZHOU, Christopher Hong-Yi TAO

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Other Conference ContributionsPresentation


I. Topic relevant to CIES 2024
QA Context in the disruptive era
Quality assurance (QA), has existed for more than a century since it first appeared in US. Global QA development can be generally categorized into the three main stages before 2000. As an outset of the first wave beginning around the 1900s, external quality assurance (EQA) agencies in US as self-directed organizations “emerged from efforts to standardize a diverse system” due to economic concern and consumer protection (Kinser, 2021, p. 2). The second wave came after the World War II and European countries, such as UK and Ireland started to establish national external quality assurance mechanism. It was not until the 1990s that the third wave of EQA started with an explosion of the establishment of varying EQA agencies, professional accreditors, and self- funded agencies worldwide.
Moving into the 21st century, an evolution of QA has gone faster with a focus of “accountability” in response to several global manifestations in higher education, including massification, internationalization, and marketization, privatization as well as domination of global rankings. When the pandemic outbroke, global QA systems started to experience such a disruption over their traditional external review modes and standards, “which led to the need to reimagine, re-invent and redesign the diverse aspects of higher education to enhance relevance, trust and credibility in performance” (INQAAHE, 2021a, p.1). Hence, in addition to student learning outcomes and educational efficiency, the pandemic crisis of 2020 has aroused national QA systems to pay more attention to stakeholders’ engagement, social impacts and innovation, as well as how to engage third mission into the standards and indicators.

As the pandemic disruption continued to exert external influences in higher education and standard framework in global context, national QA polices were expected to quickly respond to emerging missions, to embed non- traditional learning pathway into qualification systems, and reframe QA procedures as soon as possible. Given that higher education in Europe and Asia, and its QA mechanisms have been seriously affected, it is significant to revisit traditional QA modes and standard frameworks which have been guided by national authorities as well as international networks over past decades.
Some questions have been addressed as follows, what does the future of higher education would look like? How do we see growing demand for a variety of quality assessment instruments, including publicly available data, which can be used for meaningful benchmarking of higher education institutions across borders? How would the pandemic continue to accelerate a search for more meaningful standards and indicators with a focus on social impact, innovation, digitalization, and a new format for ‘third mission’ which better connect to the needs of societies, students and governments in the 21st century.

II. Literature review
In general, QA has been defined most broadly by Harman and Meek as “systematic management and assessment procedures adopted by a higher education institution or system to monitor performance and to ensure achievement of quality outputs or improved quality” (2000, p. 4). QA with two internal and external approaches is often used as a policy instrument to establish stakeholders’ confidence and fulfil social expectation over the quality of the higher education institutions in terms of input, process, and outcomes at the threshold minimum requirements (Gray, 2009; INQAAHE, 2019). “Internal evaluation” focuses on the “process of quality review undertaken within an institution for its own ends” (INQAAHE, 2019, p. 1). Accordingly, the development and management of an internal quality assurance system is “at the discretion of the higher education institution, which usually carries out this mandate in the context of available institutional resources and capacities” (Paintsil, 2016, 4). It contains “intra-institutional practices used to monitor and improve the quality of its processes, both institutional and programme-oriented. These practices are completely the responsibility of the institution or department” (Van Damme, 2004, p. 129). In contrast, EQA agencies, with a “self-critical, objective, and open-minded” character, undertake third-party
Over decades, QA systems have been criticized for endanger diversification of higher education system, for not recognizing the emerging role of digitalization in institutional governance, curriculum reform, and online delivery modes, and even worst, for jeopardizing innovation (Van Damme, 2004). At present, several quality issues derived from standards and indicators have drawn global attention, such as inconsistency regarding the type of indicators used, a lack of standardized and shared references for IQA development, without a consensus of content of standards and indicators between universities and QA agencies, exclusion of non-traditional providers in the EQA framework, etc. As such, diversity, innovation and inclusiveness in a newly developed QA standard framework became a significant task in the era of disruption.

III. Methodology
The research adopted both quantitative and qualitative data collection methods. The study adopts purposive sampling to select samples that are judged to better capable to share useful information with the researchers (Neyman, 1992). Due to the lack of transnational data in the current situation of standards development in Europe and Asian context, an on-line survey, targeting 54 ENQA QA agencies and 50 APQN QA agencies, with a full membership, will be conducted in July 2023 to collect current development of standard development and their perception toward the new standards and QA direction in both regions.

IV. Initial findings and contribution
The study discovered that national QA systems have been developed in Europe and Asia after 2000. Second, divergence between QA and qualification recognition existed in most Asian nations, on contrary, a convergence mode has been formed in Europe. Third, only limited number of QA agencies in both regions prepared to include cross-border education, short learning program and distance education into the conventional QA framework and develop a separate set of standards for the emerging issues in higher education.

The findings are of value for policy makers, QA agencies and universities to advocate the new QA model as a systematic approach in response to changing higher education landscape in the post pandemic era.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 11 Mar 2024
EventThe 68th Annual Conference of the Comparative and International Education Society: The Power of Protest - Miami, United States
Duration: 10 Mar 202414 Mar 2024


ConferenceThe 68th Annual Conference of the Comparative and International Education Society
Abbreviated titleCIES 2024
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address


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