Improving the quality of quality assurance work in higher education institutions

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Work of external examiners in determining quality

External examiners are faculty, supposedly of higher standing, who are drawn from other institutions so that they mark end-of-term (semester) or end-of-year examinations and critically assess the questions, curricular and student performance. QAA (2009:8) found the external examining arrangements to be defective, yet some institutions were expressing confidence in the advice from external examiners while others complained that over-reliance on the external examiner system can mislead the quality assurance effort (QAA, 2009:18). An external examiner may be viewed as a critical friend who can help improve courses enormously, particularly where the system is functioning optimally (QAA, 2009).
Reynolds (1990) observed that academics welcomed the external examiner system, particularly in foregrounding arrangements for quality assurance. Institutions have found the process of external examiners useful, benefiting from their external views and comments on current and planned provisions (Materu, 2007:19). At some African universities external examiners are recruited from regional universities, but other institutions have completely stopped using external examiners due to the lack of finances (Materu, 2007:19). Variably external examiners are given powers over final marks – a move that lends credibility and legitimacy to the final grades (Materu, 2007:17). However there are numerous difficulties that have been experienced with the external examination system.

Difficulties with external examining

Difficulties with the external examining system have many origins and implications for quality at institutions of higher education. The QAA (2009:19) reports that matters relating to recruitment, work and the role played by the external examiner in the quality landscape are not well understood within and outside higher education institutions. Students have little understanding of the functional role of external examiners with many perceiving it as remarking and double-checking the work done by faculty members that are responsible for the class (QAA, 2009:19). Students would naturally welcome such a function, particularly where they have misgivings about the impartiality of their own lecturers. On the other hand, management that are poised to protect their favoured ones or deficiencies in the system do interfere with external examiner work and reports.
The QAA (2009:20) reports on an experience where “senior institutional managers were instructing their staff to tell external examiners that their institutions needed more first class honours degrees in order to improve their standing in the (unofficial) league tables published by national newspapers”. Other disappointing cases of meddling with external examiner functions involve institutional managers overturning external examiner decisions despite the manager having no expertise in the subject area.
Other observations involved external examiners being pressured to alter reports (QAA, 2009). The immorality of both some external examiners and some managers has left the external examining system in a dishevelled state, becoming a fig leaf that cannot guarantee academic standards any longer. However, where such irregularities have not been experienced, the confidence is high among faculty and administrator that external examiners play a strategic role in ensuring fairness in the assessment and comparability of institutions and course standards. External examiner contribution in cross-institutional comparisons will be constrained by the large diversity of institutions and their interaction with the host institution is time-limited. The lack of expertise in the many courses on offer is another limiting factor. Some African universities have done away with using external examiners however in cases where they continue to be engaged, they are domestically recruited and their stay periods have been cut to save costs (Materu, 2007:16). This means that their workloads have increased and this may affect their efficiency.
Due to institutional massification, external examiners may find it impossible to go through all candidates’ scripts. The quality of faculty is falling and this lowers the quality of external examiners that are available, thus too lowering the quality of external examination. Some difficulties with external examining arise because the recruitment is not as open, transparent and informed by the future roles to be run by the external examiner. In this light much can be done to improve renditions from the external examining system. Notwithstanding the importance of increasing the importance of internal quality assurance remains critical and QFD provides that vehicle.

Improving external examining

Recruiting institutions need be clear about the credentials of the ideal person and their expectations regarding the role to be assigned to the external examiner. Examiner training is an important contribution to the quality of their work. The other route to getting high-quality external examiners is through membership of a relevant ideagora. Pearce and Robinson (2009:440) define an ideagora as:
“web-enabled, virtual marketplaces which connect people with unique ideas, talents, resources, or capabilities with companies seeking to address problems or potential innovations in a quick, competent manner”.
Entry into an ideogora could be screened, say, by institutions and quality assurance agencies that have experience with the particular academic. It is also very important that management do not interfere in the work of external examiners so as to assure undue influence and the lack of duress in report writing. Shuib et al. (2007:1) are of the opinion that the use of external examiners, movement of academics around institutions locally and abroad, involvement of professional associations, and allocation of research grants by competitive assessment have had a continuous effect on the exchange of information and the maintenance of high academic standards. Whilst an institution’s response to rankings is optional and if done can be quite unique the possibility that lecturers and students in their individuality may be upset or inspired by some aspects of rankings cannot be denied. In this way ranking exert a latent micro-level force even on organisations that don’t subscribe to the rankings regiments.

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CHAPTER 1 PROBLEM STATEMENT, RESEARCH RATIONALE AND RESEARCH QUESTIONS
1.1 Introduction
1.2 Expansion of Zimbabwe education
1.3 The statement of the research problem
1.4 Research aim
1.5 Research objectives
1.6 Rationale for conducting the research
1.7 Research questions
1.8 Structure of the thesis
1.9 Conclusion
CHAPTER 2 THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK, CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK AND A DESCRIPTION OF Quality FUNCTION DEPLOYMENT
2.1 Introduction
2.2 The underlying Theoretical perspective
2.3 Conceptual framework underpinning the study
2.4 QFD: The three perspectives
2.5 Early uses of QFD
2.6 What QFD is being used for today
2.7 Customer: The focus of a QFD strategy
2.8 The growth and philosophy of QFD
2.9 QFD and the quality-innovation helix
2.10 QFD as a high-level strategy planning model
2.11 Application of QFD in Education
2.12 Stumbling blocks for implementation of QFD
2.13 Conclusion
CHAPTER 3 PROGRAMME QUALITY ASSURANCE IN THE PERSPECTIVE OF QUALITY FUNCTION DEPLOYMENT
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Towards a conceptual model of the relationship between QFD and PQA
3.3 Extending the theoretical examination
3.4 Traditional quality assurance and evaluation models akin to QFD
3.5 Organisational culture and model institutionalisation
3.6 Inconsistencies in quality assurance
3.7 Dimensions of quality assurance
3. 8 Global and international efforts at quality assurance
3.9 Stakeholders’ views of the purpose of higher education
3.10 Philosophy and methodology of quality assurance and the idea of an ideal master’s degree graduate
3.11 Improving the quality of quality assurance work in higher education institutions
3.12 Features of an effective quality assurance system
3.13 External Quality Assurance mechanisms
3.14 Professional associations and their influence on quality assurance
3.15 Impact of external examination on quality assurance
3.16 Modelling programme quality assurance through QFD: aligning and integration
3.17 QFD’s House of Quality
3.18 QFD and other strategy models
3.19 Conclusion
CHAPTER 4 RESEARCH APPROACH, RESEARCH METHODOLOGY AND DATA COLLECTION STRATEGIES APPLIED DURING THE INVESTIGATION
4.1 Introduction
4.2 The choice for a qualitative research approach
4.3 Epistemological grounds for this study
4.4 Adoption of a case study approach
4.5 Data collection methods
4.6 Sampling
4.7 Data analysis
4.8 The validation of the findings of the study
4.9 Ethical considerations
4.10 Conclusion
CHAPTER 5 FINDINGS AND THEIR ANALYSIS
5.1 Introduction
5.2 The higher education landscape today: a literature review
5.3 The nature of QFD
5.4 Emergence and motivation for adoption of QFD in the CUTGBS
5.5 Response of staff to QFD and the institutionalisation of the QFD model
5.6 The intensity of use of QFD tools and techniques and the implications on the level of adoption of QFD
5.7 Staff perception on the implementation and institutionalisation of the QFD model for the purposes of quality assurance in the M.Sc. Programme.
5.8 Management’s response to the results of the application of the QFD model
5.9 Conclusion
CHAPTER 6 DISCUSSION, RECOMMENDATIONS AND IMPLICATIONS OF THE STUDY
6.1 Introduction
6.3 Specific recommendations and implications of the study
6.4 Contribution of the study
6.5 Limitations of the study
6.6 Conclusion
References

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