Conference proceedings article

What is quality in higher education?: Vice-chancellors’ notions in times of accountability in Sweden


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Publication Details

Author list: Olofsson, Anders

Publication year: 2015



This paper is part of a research program that aims to explore and evaluate the Swedish quality evaluation system with respectto how it operates in governing higher education. Both internationally and in Sweden, quality has been the word of honor when discussing and evaluating higher education. However, what quality implies varies among different evaluation systems and purposes of evaluations (Dahler-Larsen 2008). Drawing on this, it is interesting to explore what the front representatives of universities and university colleges emphasize as quality in higher education. The aim of this paper is to map out and analyze all Swedish vice-chancellors’ notions on quality in higher education (HE). What different notions on quality in HE do they express? What are the means to accomplish this quality, according to the vice-chancellors? Evaluative activities are understood as closely linked to the governing of education (Ozga et al. 2011) and as part of education policy transfer through international organizations and networks like the OECD and the EU and ENQA (Grek et al. 2009; Dale & Robertson 2009). In-depth interviews with more than 90% of all vice-chancellors in Sweden have been performed and analyzed in order to highlight the main qualitative differences. Four categories of notions are identified, varying from quality being expressed by high international ranking to quality being a successful development of individual student talents. The paper will discuss the variations between and within these notions. Furthermore, the four notions will be analyzed in relation to old and new universities as well as universities and university colleges.


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