In the report, Dimensions of Quality, Graham Gibbs (former Director of the Oxford Learning Institute at the University of Oxford) synthesised significant research over the last 30 years or so that identified valid success factors in undergraduate education. It attempted to identify what data we should take seriously when making judgements about the quality of learning and teaching and associated resourcing. Much more than input and output, what mattered most were process variables – what institutions do with their resources for the students they have.
In late 2012 he published another report, Implications of ‘Dimensions of Quality’ in a market environment, which considered how institutions are variously responding to demand driven, data based markets as they attempt to improve market share, quality and value for money.
Both reports draw evidence form the USA, Australia and elsewhere, but the higher education system Gibbs was most interested in was the UK’s. So as the Australian sector increasingly focuses on the market to drive quality, is there anything we can learn? Probably.
Implications found that reputation still dominates even though this is an invalid indicator of educational quality and institutions with already high reputations have a vested interest in resisting the introduction of more valid indicators. It found that quality assurance in most institutions overlooked the most crucial indicators of quality, namely: class size, who does the teaching and the contact students have with them, learning resources, feedback, collaborative learning, and belonging and engagement.
Gibbs went on to look at the practical consequences of the data market and the ways in which institutions are reacting. He observed a retreat from the unitised system toward program level organisation and assessment; quality enhancement focused at the team level (along with reward and recognition for leadership in teaching and learning); new processes for institutional change (including things like changing the students’ role from consumers to partners); a focus on hygiene factors and service delivery; promotion of institutional distinctiveness; and a re-built emphasis and systemic infrastructure for teaching (one that aligned things like recruitment, initial training, promotion, resources, library, priorities, etc.)
If, as the Minister for Education expects, the market will drive quality I believe these two reports offer much in providing us with a glimpse of a possible future, its opportunities, and mistakes to avoid. There is more in them than I can summarise here and I leave it to you to consider where we are and will be in the years hence.