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'Quality' as accountability in Australian higher education of the 1990s: A policy trajectory

Vidovich, Lesley (1998) 'Quality' as accountability in Australian higher education of the 1990s: A policy trajectory. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Abstract

In the education policy arena, the notion of 'quality' as a mechanism for increasing accountability to external stakeholders has risen to prominence in the 1990s, as part of the New Right reform agenda of many national governments. Global economic, political and ideological shifts have provided the macro context for initiation of such policies.

This study examines how the localised Australian context created a uniquely Australian version of a quality policy for universities in the early 1990s. Using documents and interviews, the study analyses how the original ministerial policy of 1991 was recontextualised through the Higher Education Council (HEC), to the Committee for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (CQAHE), to individual universities over the life of the policy and beyond. A theoretical framework of a policy trajectory is employed to examine how the policy process evolved through contexts of influence, policy text production and practice (effects). The study reveals the complex, contested and messy realities of this Australian quality policy process in higher education.

A central finding is that the operation of the Australian quality policy of the early 1990s provides an example par excellence of a policy mechanism of 'steering at a distance'. On the one hand, the parameters were clearly set by ministerial guidelines, but on the other hand, the minutiae of the program were shaped by CQAHE and institutional managers in universities. However, 'room for manoeuvre' at the micro political level of this policy process had definite boundaries. Although there was some variation in policy practices at different sites, the 'bigger picture' effects were clearly to increase Government control of higher education and to increase inequalities between and within universities.

A major conclusion of the study is that the quality policy under investigation was a 'clever'* strategy which diverted growing criticism and concerns about increasing demands for accountability driven by quantitative performance indicators. It is precisely because quality is such a complex notion that it is able to 'please some of the people some of the time', thereby facilitating the correspondence of macro level policy text and micro level practice.

* 'Clever' refers to the Labor Government’s sloganised push of the late 1980s and early 1990s to create a 'clever country' to enhance Australia's position in the international marketplace.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: Division of Social Sciences, Humanities and Education
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: repository@murdoch.edu.au. Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Currie, Jan and Porter, Paige
URI: http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/id/eprint/51464
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