What does 'free trade' among national quality assurance agencies produce and prevent? Speculations on difference and (e)quality in globalising knowledge economies

Year: 2005

Author: Gough, Noel, Gough, Annette

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

South Africa's Sowetan newspaper (14 March 2005) recently reported that 'The Higher Education Quality Committee of the Council on Higher Education (HEQC) has just signed a memoranda [sic] of understanding with quality assurance agencies in the UK and India' (p. 4). According to this report, signing the memorandum will enable the three national agencies to exchange information and expertise on (for example) 'key policy documents and operational information' and 'collaboration in joint research of mutual benefit'. Our experiences in South Africa and elsewhere, together with our methodological dispositions (feminist, antiracist, poststructuralist, Deleuzean) lead us to wonder what such 'free trade' between national quality agencies might produce and prevent - and to suggest that it will not necessarily be mutually beneficial. This is in part because 'quality' (as a Deleuzean 'order-word') produces different effects in different locations. For example, the deployment of 'quality' in the audit discourse of Australian higher education produces very different effects from its mobilisation in debates about 'quality versus equality' in South Africa's social transformation. We draw on these and other examples to argue that a more determined scrutiny of 'quality's' locatable effects should precede any 'trading' of quality assurance artefacts such as policy documents and operational information.