Quality models – a summary of 4 models

There are many quality models and approaches but essentially these can be situated on two axes:

  • control – enhancement/improvement
  • internal – external specification

These two axes do not incorporate all aspects of quality models and approaches but we have found that they are the 2 most important aspects that underpin the choice of or the design of particular quality systems used in university lifelong learning and therefore offer this analysis as part of the reflection on quality that has been undertaken in this Equipe project.

Control models seek to build into systems checks that will reveal problems and provoke responses that bring about a return to the norm or standard. Typically they rely on specifications defined externally (either external to the institution or to the particular team). They tend to include inspection by an independent ‘outsider’.

Enhancement/improvement models seek to build in a continuous process of review and reflection that promotes continuous adjustment and response to feedback. Typically they include bottom-up peer group processes.

Internal models are designed and implemented by the team or institution itself; they may draw on one or more pre-designed models but are essentially ‘home-grown’.

External models are those designed by outside agencies, often national or international. Typically these include standards or norms agreed by representatives from the sector and their customers.

These are not pure types and most quality arrangements combine elements into hybrid models but they tend nevertheless to emphasise some aspects more than others. In the EQUAL project it was clear that, at the time when the work was done, the Finnish model was much closer to an enhancement – internal model where, within very broad guidelines set down by the national evaluation council, universities were very much encouraged and expected to design their own evaluation procedures and choose the focus of the activity. At that time too (it has since been modified), the UK model was much closer to a control – external model where the national agency set down very clear and detailed lists of aspects of institutional life and required evidence of implementation. A team of evaluators visited over several days to carry out institutional audits of the documentation and interview key personnel. In Barcelona, the EFQM model was in use that provides an external framework but which requires key personnel from all levels of the institution to be involved in defining their own criteria – this model sits somewhere around the middle on both the control – enhancement and the internal-external axes. In Switzerland, the model was very much an improvement –internal model, which focussed on the development of a quality guide for practitioners but which none the less drew on a range of external models in designing its own.

The purposes of these models tend to be different: for example, the external control model is more closely linked to notions of public accountability and the enhancement/improvement is more closely linked to internal processes of the institution rather than its public face. The implications and consequences of these different approaches are complex and beyond the scope of this short paper but clearly the sense of ownership of the quality process by the teachers and managers at institutional level is likely to be very different in each model. The articles published by partners of the Equipe project pick up some of these themes in more detail.