Research Handbook on Quality, Performance and Accountability in Higher Education
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Research Handbook on Quality, Performance and Accountability in Higher Education

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

As higher education becomes a key determinant for economic competitiveness, institutions face increasing pressure to demonstrate their fitness to meet the needs of society and individuals. Blending innovative research with richly contextualised examples this unique Research Handbook provides authoritative insights from around the globe on how best to understand, assess and improve quality, performance and accountability in higher education.
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Chapter 40: Changing system-level conceptualisations of performance in higher education

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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