Document Type

Conference Paper


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence

Publication Details

Presented at the Higher Education in Transformation Symposium November 2 - 4, 2016 in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada


This is a comparative study of two reports on the assurance of quality in higher education that appeared contemporaneously in 2008. One was the result of a joint working group of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, the Higher Education Academy, and the Higher Education Funding Council for England. The other was the result of a task force of the Council of Ontario Universities and the Ontario Council on Graduate Studies. Both groups had the endorsement of government. Both groups began with extensive surveys of institutional opinion about existing quality assurance and enhancement regimes. Using NVivo software, documentary analysis, and archival records the paper identifies and compares several recurring themes, such as: the boundary line between academic support services and student services, the assurance of quality as separate from the enhancement of quality, balancing homogeneity and isomorphism, the institution versus the basic academic unit as the focus of assurance, self-regulation versus system regulation, the assurance of quality versus the enhancement of quality, the role and role of league ranking, performance indicators, and benchmarking, aggregation, and scope of jurisdiction. The paper pays particular attention to the balance between institutional autonomy and system-wide standards in promoting quality and innovation. Some particular findings are that the Ontario perspective focuses on assuring quality in contrast to the British approach’s orientation to enhancing quality. The British orientation is towards formative assessment while the Ontario approach is more normative. Neither report discusses the demonstration of quality. Both approaches, then and now, rely on external audits, but the meaning of “audit” is different between the two.