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Manoeuvring the European quality landscape: the significance of ENQA policy in governing Swedish higher education
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Education.
2015 (English)In: ECER 2015, 7-11 September, Hungary: education and transition - contributions from educational research, 2015Conference paper, Abstract (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Europeanization in higher education has been going on for several years. In the wake of the Bologna process a number of initiatives, programmes and organizations have been launched. One of these, and from 1999 specifically directed at ensuring ‘more comparable, compatible and coherent systems of higher education in Europe’ is the European Higher Education Area, (EHEA n.d.a). One central purpose of the Bologna process, and hence the EHEA, is to ‘encourage European cooperation in quality assurance of higher education with a view to developing comparable criteria and methodologies.’ (EHEA n.d.b). For this reason the European ministers of education agreed to support the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the Higher Education Area in 2005, drafted by the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education, ENQA (Thune 2010).

Presently 38 quality assurance agencies in 23 nations are full members of ENQA, which means that they have to live up to requirements about quality assurance policy and practice set up by the organization. Since all evaluative activities, including quality assurance, are part of governing work (Ozga, Dahler-Larsen, Simola & Segerholm 2010), our argument is that ENQA membership can be significant in the European context of how certain governing policy and practice is learned, brokered and translated.

Quality assurance and quality work is increasingly viewed as a necessary activity in public as well as private sectors (Dahler-Larsen 2009), and ‘quality’ has become a semantic magnet. As part of the comprehensive web of evaluative activities that form part of NPM, quality assurance is also implemented and enacted (Ball, McGuire & Brown 2012) in higher education. Our overarching query therefore concerns in what ways quality assurance policy and practice influence higher education. This study is however limited to questions about the significance of ENQA membership and its relation to the governing of higher education. Here, Sweden is an interesting example in that it has been a full member of ENQA, but this status was questioned and changed to ‘under review’ in 2012, and in 2014 Sweden was no longer accepted. This state of affairs fuelled an intense debate about the shortcomings of the evaluation system in existence 2011-2014, and about the design of the new system not yet decided or fully developed. This debate has also touched upon governing issues, but these have seldom been fully explored or studied. Departing from the purpose and aim of ENQA and its requirements for membership, the aim of this study is to describe and analyse the significance of these requirements on the Swedish national quality assessment (evaluation) policy in higher education. Which ENQA requirements can be traced in the model before 2010, in the model 2010-2014 and in the coming model, and by that influence the governing of Swedish higher education?

Conceptually we draw on previous research on evaluation, quality assessment and inspection in relation to the governing of education (Grek & Lindgren 2014, Hult & Segerholm 2012, Dahler-Larsen 2013, Ozga et al. 2010, Segerholm 2001). This means that we find evaluative activities to be central in contemporary governing work, and that they influence both as policy and as particular (national) practices albeit in different ways. We recognise the different forms of governing work that takes place in processes of transnational/European policy learning, brokering and translation through regulative, inquisitive and medidative ways (Jacobsson 2010a, b). The importance of national and local contexts in these processes (Ozga & Jones 2006, Steiner-Khamsi 2004, Sassen 2007) is also noted. European education policy has to make national sense and be translated to fit the specific national context in order to influence already existing policy and practice.

Method Departing from stated motives, aims and the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area three successive Swedish models for evaluating higher education will be analysed for compliance with the ENQA requirements. The questions guiding the analysis are: What are the motives for evaluating quality in higher education? What ‘quality’ and how should quality in HE be evaluated? How has the ENQA membership requirements influenced the models? At the centre of the analysis is the relation between the Swedish models and the ENQA membership requirements. An important part of the analysis is also the influence of this relation, e.g. Sweden’s shifting membership status, on the national policy of evaluation of quality in HE, and hence also the governing of HE in Sweden. The material used are: documents describing the ENQA requirements and the Swedish evaluation models, review reports, communication between ENQA and the Swedish national agencies responsible for evaluating quality in HE, Swedish parliamentary minutes, and a selection of public debates. Additionally interviews with central Swedish so called policy brokers are used in order to present a more substantial picture of policy learning and ENQA influence in Sweden.

Expected Outcomes Tentative results suggest that ENQA is important in strengthening the European Higher Education Area and a vital actor in disseminating policy on quality assessment. As is shown by the Swedish example, the ENQA membership requirements are significant in European policy governing work in that they direct attention to certain ways of conducting quality assessment in higher education and by so doing also promote a more general policy about higher education, e.g. internal governing work in universities and a particular view of learning. ENQA’s denial of granting Sweden full membership status in 2012 fuelled an already existing national debate about how to design a new national system for quality assurance in HE. Here Sweden finds itself manoeuvring between a national political context characterized by different views of what higher education is about manifested in arguments about quality assurance, and a realization of the importance of being part of the European higher education community. Sweden’s desire to regain full membership status may also relate to ENQA offering an attractive platform for policy learning as well as a feeling of having lost face in the European education policy context.

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URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-110167OAI: diva2:861243
ECER 2015, 7-11 September, Hungary
Available from: 2015-10-15 Created: 2015-10-15 Last updated: 2016-01-15Bibliographically approved

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