Quality policies and the role of peer review networks in the assurance of learning standards

Year: 2015

Author: Yorke, Jon, Vidovich, Lesley

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In a rapidly globalising knowledge society, ‘quality’ in higher education is being increasingly cast in terms of comparative performance on national and international scales using quantitative measures. These standardised performance measures have, in various settings, been seen as a policy ‘solution’ to the problems encountered when attempting to assess and compare the outcomes of higher education across and between institutions and nations. Inevitably, comparative measures of learning depend on learning standards and the assessment practices that determine whether a standard has been met. However, a growing body of research suggests that an excessive reliance on quantitative comparative data with respect to the outcomes of education may produce unintended consequences which potentially undermine academic standards instead of enhancing them.

This paper draws on research conducted within a ‘policy trajectory’ analytical framework, which analysed policy: influences; text production; practices/effects; and longer term outcomes, collecting data from interviews with policy elite participants in Australia, UK, and the USA. The findings reveal a range of unintended, and arguably undesirable, consequences which include threats to curricular diversity and changes to the nature of academic judgement. The importance of the development of consensus with respect to learning standards is highlighted, and the emergence of various networked approaches to collaborative peer review of learning standards is discussed. The different approaches undertaken by a range of these networked approaches is critiqued, and suggestions for onward development are advanced.