Institutional Research and Quality Assurance: reflections on the nature and use of knowledge on higher education
Quality assurance and institutional research are both acknowledged tools in the global march of higher education reform. The critique levelled at them is usually constructed in terms of the relative loss of institutional autonomy, particularly in the case of quality assurance, and the bureaucratisation and instrumentalisation of the core functions of the university, in the case of institutional research. Both quality assurance and institutional research are singled out as examples of, and tools for, managerialism. What is less common in the literature is to look at both activities from the point of view of the generation of knowledge about higher education and the possibility of this knowledge contributing to both improving higher education provision and supporting a progressive politics for national HE systems and the societies in which they are located. Questions such as: ‘What kind of knowledge is generated through quality assurance and institutional research?’ ‘How is it used?’ ‘Who uses it?’ and ‘Does this knowledge amount to a better understanding of individual institutions and of higher education systems?’ are focused on issues that are not frequently tackled in the literature. This keynote address will try to explore different answers to these questions, and the assumptions on which they are based.