Teaching to Clients: Quality Assurance in Higher Education and the Construction of the Invisible Student at Philipps-Universität Marburg and Universidad Centroamericana in Managua
The widespread applicability of quality assurance processes has induced a re-labeling of clients as students (see, for example: OECD, 1998), as well as an imposition of compatible evaluation and training processes for teachers. Quality assurance, a now globalised practice in higher education institu...
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|Summary:||The widespread applicability of quality assurance processes has induced a re-labeling of clients as students (see, for example: OECD, 1998), as well as an imposition of compatible evaluation and training processes for teachers. Quality assurance, a now globalised practice in higher education institutions, is an instance of the “audit culture” (Power, 1997, 2010; Strathern, 2000a), and has come to signify good government in universities. Its “rituals of verification” (Power, 1997) are now hegemonic and widespread practices. Quality assurance is also an intrinsic element of academic capitalism (Slaughter & Leslie, 1997; Slaughter & Rhoades, 2004), and deployed through the same mechanisms.
The phenomenon of quality assurance has created a technology (Foucault, 1988) in the practices of evaluation and accreditation, which largely ignores evident differences of context and culture that emerge in situ, and focuses on creating “virtual” (Miller, 1998) similarities through a “tyranny of transparency” (Strathern, 2000c) that instead of revealing, conceals important issues from the teaching/learning experience, fetishizing the classroom session.
Through quality assurance, universities present themselves to the public – and to each other – through a common language and common goals. The language of quality assurance, which I define as the ‘talk of quality’, describes quality as a summation of continuously changing and externally defined criteria that an institution must fulfil in order to be positively perceived by the public. This ‘talk of quality’ seeps into everyday decisions and transactions, generates alliances or competition, and continuously reinforces an imagined hierarchy of universities. Given the pervasiveness of this discourse, its visibility and repetitiveness, but above all, its use in day to day “rituals of verification” in which teachers and students are directly involved, to analyse higher education transformations it is not enough to look at policies, funding schemes, numbers of staff and students, facilities, research production or ranking achievements. For this reason, I analyse quality assurance practices and its discourse, as they are applied in specific contexts.
The results and discussion
The analysis revealed that the ‘talk of quality’ present in two universities displays almost identical concepts and notions and supports the development of specialised managerial capacity. Evaluation and accreditation processes are conducted in both universities and promote the enforcement of other “rituals of verification”, specifically teacher evaluation, which constitutes a technology (Foucault, 1988) for the subjectification of teachers, the effects of which have been described by several researchers. A fixed notion of good teaching has been defined in both universities through specific indicators. The results from each application of the process generate ‘truths’ about teachers supported by neutral sounding pedagogical concepts. Alongside the constant evaluation of teaching, both universities have also launched teacher training programmes and incentive – and punishment – systems tied to evaluation results. The transformation of students into clients emerges as a necessity for this technology to function.
In order to present teacher evaluation as a simple and effective guiding tool to better teaching, an honest feedback from students, the questionnaire relies on assumptions about students’ responses as clients genuinely concerned with filling it in the intended way. The empirical analysis revealed that instead, students at both universities have their own criteria for judging teaching, which instead of relying on standardised and specific indicators, like those of the questionnaire, relies on shared ideas about how teachers make them feel, how they relate to them, how they perceive the course in question, and how they define knowledge in general or university life. Students also approach the answering of the questionnaire – which they largely perceive as a power tool applied by the management – from their own strategies of “college management” and “professor management” (Nathan, 2005), which allows them to shape the university’s choices to their own schemes.
As evidenced by the empirical analysis, the ‘student-centred’ approach of quality assurance, which relies on the idea of the student as a demanding client and the teacher as a service provider, produces a management-centred higher education in which important elements are concealed by the same process that means to reveal them.|
|Physical Description:||335 Pages|