The Standards Paradox: How quality assurance regimes can subvert teaching and learning in higher education

Norman Brady, Agnieszka Bates

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)
13 Downloads (Pure)


The quest continues to standardise quality assurance systems throughout the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) under the auspices of the Bologna Process and led by the European Network for Quality Assurance (ENQA). Mirroring its member organisation in England, the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), ENQA identifies, as one of its core aims, the development of quality assurance processes as instruments for both ‘accountability’ and ‘enhancement’. However, the recent history of QAA appears to indicate that the balance between these core aims has been lost and the discourse of accountability and efficiency prevails. This paper presents a case study of a Business Faculty (BF) in a post-1992 English university based on interviews with academics and documentary data. Findings suggest that the BF’s Quality Assurance Unit affirms the primacy of accountability and efficiency, resulting in, paradoxically, a distortion of academic professional practice. For example, undergraduate curriculum development is narrowly framed as an ‘administrative process’ from which most academics feel ‘dissociated’ and approaches to teaching appear to lack coherent organising principles beyond standardised learning outcomes expressed as ‘skills’. The paper concludes by briefly considering the implications of the case study findings for the future direction of ENQA Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-174
Number of pages20
JournalEuropean Educational Research Journal
Issue number2
Early online date10 Dec 2015
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2016


  • standards
  • quality assurance
  • accountability
  • enhancement
  • discourse analysis

Cite this