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Edited by Ellen Hazelkorn, Hamish Coates and Alexander C. McCormick

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Jeroen Huisman

From the mid-1980s on, accountability has been part and parcel of the higher education fabric. Much research has highlighted accountability reforms and observed that balancing autonomy and accountability remains a challenge. This chapter highlights that many of the concerns can be traced back to different perceptions and expectations of pertinent stakeholders. To support this claim, insights from the public administration literature are presented, and particularly the notions of accountability forms, functions and forums. The latter notion suggests that audiences may reflect differently on accountability: a political forum (for instance, parliament) versus the public forum (for instance, mass media) versus market forums (for instance, customers). Using examples of accountability mechanism in the Netherlands, England, Norway, Austria and Italy, it is illustrated that accountability becomes quite complex particularly if types of accountability mix and accountability narratives move from one forum to the other. It is argued that a more fine-grained analysis of accountability – stripped from the normative connotations that figure largely in the higher education literature – is promising to gain more insight in the implementation and impacts of accountability regimes in higher education.

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Gama Perruci and Sadhana W. Hall

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George D. Kuh and Natasha A. Jankowski

Documenting what students know and are able to do and using that information effectively to improve student and institutional performance are fundamental to ensuring the quality of postsecondary education. This work, known as student learning outcomes assessment, is inherently challenging, in part because the data have historically served two purposes that are seemingly at odds: accountability and improvement. This chapter summarizes efforts in the US and in other countries to obtain actionable evidence of student learning and discusses some key lessons learned for how to make such efforts more consequential and visible. First, we describe the circumstances that are currently influencing quality assurance efforts with an emphasis on recent developments in the United States. Then we highlight major quality assurance advances over the past quarter century including the work conducted by our National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA). Next we discuss what policy makers, government entities and institutional leaders can do to assure that student learning outcomes assessment produces meaningful, quality, relevant data that can be used to enhance student and institutional performance while addressing accountability needs. We close with six overarching principles to make assessment work consequential.

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Robert J.W. Tijssen

An increasing number of contemporary national university systems have performance-based governance systems where universities are held accountable by public sector funding bodies and government stakeholders. These public ‘accountability regimes’ differ in terms of governance arrangements: from government-controlled regulatory systems to self-governing ‘internal’ academic practices. Nowadays such regimes may go beyond the two traditional missions of universities (education and research). This chapter sheds light on intricate relationships between accountability regimes and how universities report on their ‘academic research commercialization, entrepreneurship and innovation’ (ARCEI).After introducing a conceptual and analytical framework to assess ARCEI accountability regimes within and across national university systems, an empirical analysis of public reporting practices by university associations introduces a global overview of ARCEI-related mission statements. Moving from the domain of PR-driven ‘rhetoric’ by those university associations to the academic ‘reality’ of individual universities, further web-based information is presented on their ARCEI activities and outputs, which can be used a ‘soft indicator’ of accountability compliance. The illustrative case study deals with two European countries that are subjected to quite distinct accountability regimes: the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. The results illustrate the impact of those regimes on the choice of ARCEI performance indicators. The subtle effects of world university rankings on reporting practices are also highlighted.

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David D. Dill

In recent decades the higher education systems of most developed nations have been substantially expanded and reformed with a greater policy emphasis on market competition as a means of achieving institutional coordination, improvement and efficiency. During this period, new policy instruments have been introduced as a means of assuring the quality of university performance, particularly in teaching and research. Empirical research on these instruments suggests the strengths and weaknesses of existing national policy approaches. While competition is pervasive in academic research, attempts to design regulatory policies utilizing market forces and pricing mechanisms to improve universities have had distorting effects on academic costs and quality. Current policy reforms have also stimulated university deregulation and the consequent need for greater strategic management at the institutional level. This suggests that public policies designed to enhance university-based collective actions to assure and improve the quality and cost of education and research warrant increased attention and study.

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Roger King

The advance of the quality assurance agency in higher education has appeared remorseless since the early 1990s, reinforced by the international tide of ‘new governance’ that enthused national governments and which was applied across a range of public sectors. This stressed transparency, accountability and value-for-money for taxpayer-funded expenditure. Yet today, such agencies face major challenges, including from alternative assessors and methodologies associated with consumerism, markets and rankings. Additionally, academic research has questioned ‘sanctions-based’ approaches for their ineffectiveness, while governments have queried whether bureaucratic quality monitoring is less effective than well-informed consumer choice and provider competitiveness. Some governments have sought to reduce both regulatory resources and ‘red tape’ evaluation of institutions with the purpose of releasing more entrepreneurialism and innovation in universities and colleges. Risk approaches and an associated regulatory turn in higher education are beginning to transform both quality assessment and quality assurance agencies across a number of higher education sectors.

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Roger Brown

This chapter discusses the main changes in quality assurance in the UK, and specifically England, between 1992 and March 2017. It summarises the main developments, offers an analysis of the causes, and discusses changes in the balance of accountability. The central argument is that accountability for quality in English higher education is shifting away from the academy to a combination of increased accountability to the state and the market, with uncertain but probably damaging impacts on both quality assurance and quality.

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Peter Noonan

There is growing interest in the performance of higher education systems to complement interest in the performance of higher education institutions. However, the concept of a higher education system is relatively recent, arising largely from the institutional and governance structures established by governments to support the transition from elite to mass higher education. Higher education systems vary significantly in character and in the political, social and economic contexts in which they operate. Aggregate national outputs from higher education institutions should not be seen as or confused with system performance. Higher education systems should be seen as complex systems comprising higher education institutions, the key agencies involved in system governance and other agencies and actors that have critical relationships with higher education institutions. Higher education system performance requires an assessment of the effectiveness of the policy settings, agencies and processes underpinning the system. A three-tier conceptual higher education system performance framework is proposed in this chapter. The framework comprises three domains: system characteristics and system context – which vary between systems – and common system performance benchmarks across systems. The primary purpose of the framework is to support improvement in all elements of higher education systems.

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Paul Benneworth and Nadine Zeeman

This chapter is concerned with the accountability conundrum for civic and regional engagement by universities, namely how to hold universities to account for a mission that is best delivered as a spillover effect. Despite widespread agreement that universities should contribute to societal development processes, there is an absence of satisfactory metrics to measure that performance. Effective metrics would measure both individual impacts along a wide of dimensions as well as the ways that these are integrated strategically by university managers. The chapter explores a number of quantitative metrics and notes that their lack of popularity suggests that they are not properly capturing what is important. The chapter also explores a set of qualitative approaches in which universities self-report on their strategic efforts as a means of improving their effectiveness. The chapter concludes that metrics for civic engagement only make sense where universities have already committed strategically to driving engagement and there is only limited potential to use metrics to steer HE systems to more engaged outcomes.