Quality, compliance and task corruption

Within the next year AUQA are coming to pay a visit to my institution to “check our quality”. I am a major cynic when it comes to quality assurance or the various other associated buzz words. An organisational unit I joined was big on the whole quality stuff, and while it was certified it was my view that most of what it was certified to do was completely and utterly wrong for the organisation. Not to mention that it was inefficient, badly designed and we had consultants reports to tell us that (not just our own views).

In my thesis literature travels I came across this quote

These studies reinforce the view that quality is about compliance and accountability and has, in itself, contributed little to any effective transformation of the student learning experience. (Harvey and Newton, 2004)


My suggestion, based on local observations, is that quality assurance quickly descends into prescription from management and the quality folk and that this prescription is soon met with the appearance of compliance but the reality of task corruption.

I see this happening in the local context now. A small group of people are identifying what needs to be done to comply with AUQA’s visit. They are now asking/prescribing folk throughout the institution to do lots of things in preparation for the visit. The people asked to carry out these tasks are annoyed that they are being asked to perform these one off tasks on top of everything else they do and are consequently seeking to comply with the requirements with the minimum of effort – though with a maximum of complaining.

This brings me back to my point about reflective alignment (my knock off and remixing of Biggs’ constructive alignment) and prescription. Quality assurance has become about level 2 of reflective alignment – what management does.

Quality never transforms, in my experience, because it never embeds itself within the journey of staff. It’s always a bolt on because the quality folk think more about the destination prescribed by quality than about the teaching and learning.

Another quote to end from Radloff (2008)

Academic staff attitudes towards the ‘quality agenda’ can also act as an obstacle to engagement. Staff may question the institutional approach to quality which they perceive as compliance driven creating ‘busy work’ (Anderson 2006; Harvey & Newton 2004; Laughton 2003) with little positive impact on teaching practice and student learning experiences (Harvey 2006). They may therefore try to avoid, subvert or actively reject attempts to implement quality systems and processes. As Jones and de Saram (2005, p. 48) note, “It is relatively easy to develop a system and sets of procedures for quality assurance and improvement on paper. To produce a situation where staff on campus ‘buy into’ this in an authentic and energetic manner is much more difficult”.


Harvey, L. and J. Newton (2004). “Transforming quality evaluation.” Quality in HIgher Education 10(2): 149-165.

Radloff, A. (2008). Engaging staff in quality learning and teaching: What’s a Pro Vice Chancellor to do? HERDSA’2008.

2 thoughts on “Quality, compliance and task corruption

  1. Pingback: Why minimium standards (probably) won’t work and will probably become maximum standards « The Weblog of (a) David Jones

  2. Pingback: Loosing weight, improving learning and teaching and complex systems « The Weblog of (a) David Jones

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