The development of quality assurance policy in higher education : a comparative analysis of England, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland
This research studies the development of policies for quality assurance in four European systems of higher education, namely England, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland. It compares how these four countries have adopted the policies for quality assurance that can be observed currently and investigates the extent to which cross-national convergence may be taking place. The theoretical approach to the topic is based on policy analysis. Quality assurance is approached as a policy domain within which particUlar public policies are formulated and implemented. These policies correspond to the responses of the different countries to a number of fundamental choices regarding the organisation of the quality assurance policy domain and are composed of ideational (the policy beliefs) and material (the policy instruments) elements. The type of response is influenced, it is argued, by a number of factors. These can be either internal or external to the system of higher education and can originate either from within the national environment or internationally. The comparative method upon which the empirical studies are based makes a distinction between diachronic and synchronic comparisons. First, the analysis focuses on the factors that can influence the emergence of quality assurance as a political issue in each national context. Then, the focus shifts to the factors potentially at play in the construction of the quality assurance policy domain. This distinction permits the assessment of the emergence of quality assurance as a problem and the kind of policies each country has developed to address the fundamental choices in quality assurance in HE. The data consist of documentary sources of different type as well as twenty-three interviews with actors involved in the process of policy formulation in HE in general and quality assurance in particular in the four countries. The comparative analysis of the national quality assurance policy domains reveals that crossnational convergence has been (and still is) taking place. This convergence, however, takes place at the level of the policy beliefs, the paradigm core of the national policies, whereas the policy instruments form~lated in each country tend to reflect, to a substantial degree, the impact of national factors.