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Rediet Abebe: Trust shapes the approaches to quality assurance in higher education

Rediet Abebe
The quality assurance of higher education is seen as a key instrument for improving higher education globally. However, a largely overlooked area in higher education is the relationship between the two principal actors in the quality assurance processes, namely higher education institutions and the external agencies that are mandated to monitor their quality standards. A key finding of the doctoral study of Rediet Abebe is that the focus of external quality evaluations on ensuring the accountability of higher education institutions to certain threshold standards or stimulating continuous improvements in their overall operations may be linked to the extent to which higher education institutions are believed to act responsibly and regulate the quality of their core activities.

In his doctoral dissertation, Rediet Abebe explores the trust between quality assurance agencies and higher education institutions and its implications for the nature of quality management models.

“The level of trust in higher education institutions may inform how the quality of their education, research and community engagement are externally regulated”, comments Abebe.

The findings also reveal that quality assurance may not essentially lead to the improved trustworthiness and legitimacy of higher education institutions.

The study found that trust in the quality of higher education institutions is linked to the assessment of their commitment, capacity, openness in communication and the risks that may arise in the absence of external regulation.

The findings suggest that the interest of quality assurance agencies to strictly regulate the quality of higher education institutions may stem from a lack of trust in the traditional academic self-regulation mechanisms, whereas the presence of more stable trust relations tends to lead to increased focus on quality enhancement orientation. The study also shows that public and private higher education institutions may not be accorded similar levels of trust by external stakeholders, such as such as quality assurance agencies, government ministries and the public.

“The concerns over the quality of education are likely to be serious where the profit-maximisation orientation of higher education institutions takes precedence over academic goals”, Abebe states.

The study suggests that trust may be key to achieving a balance between the accountability and improvement orientations of quality assurance processes. This requires better understanding and exploring trust issues in higher education based on the interdisciplinary theoretical applications.

The study also makes a pioneering attempt at identifying and assessing the risks that higher education institutions may pose to the quality of education, research and community services where external regulation is minimal.

When summarising the broader practical implications of the study, Abebe highlights:

“The transferability of quality management models from developed countries to developing ones with rapidly expanding higher education systems requires considerations of the differences in contextual needs”.

The insights from this study are expected to assist researchers, practitioners and policy-makers in re-examining the foundations of current procedures employed to externally regulate and improve the quality of higher education institutions.

The doctoral dissertation of M.Sc. Rediet Abebe in the field of Administrative Sciences titled Trust between quality assurance agencies and higher education institutions and its implications for quality management models will be publicly examined in the Faculty of Management and Business at Tampere University at 12 o’clock on Thursday 11 March 2021. The Opponent will be Professor Bjørn Stensaker from University of Oslo. The Custos will be Professor Jussi Kivistö from the Faculty of Management and Business at Tampere University.

The event can be followed via remote connection.

The dissertation is available online at
http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-03-1869-7

Photo: Saana Silius