The effectiveness of external quality audits on Australian Universities: a study of 30 Australian Universities

  • Mahsood Shah

    Student thesis: By Publication


    This research study investigated the effectiveness of external quality audits on 30 Australian universities. The main aim of the study was to determine the extent to which external quality audits by the Australian Universities Quality Agency (AUQA) have improved quality assurance in core and support areas of the universities. The study explored the following research questions. 1. Has government policy on quality assurance and external quality audit been effective in improving the core business of higher education institutions? a. Can government policy on quality assurance and external quality audit be credited for change and improvement in core areas of institutions? 2. Is there any evidence that quality assurance and an external quality audit improve student satisfaction and retention in institutions? 3. Are higher education institutions satisfied with the process used by the external auditing agency (AUQA) in Australia? The study examined the experience of 30 universities who had participated in cycle 1 external quality audits by AUQA, with some universities having also completed cycle 2 audits. This is the first time such a study has been undertaken in Australia and internationally using both qualitative and quantitative methods. Most literature on the topic is based on opinions and predictions with anecdotal evidence rather than the systematic collection of data. The study found that government policy on external quality audits has played a key role in improving systems and processes for quality assurance in core and support areas of universities. There is a strong belief that the self review process, as part of external quality audit preparations, has been beneficial for universities in identifying areas of good practice and areas needing improvement. The study also suggests that the improvement-led approach of external quality audit (rather than a compliance or inspectorate regime) is seen as supportive of the tertiary sector, and results in the effective engagement of universities. Some of the key findings are outlined below. a. External quality audits have played a significant role in improving quality assurance in core and support areas of universities. However, the study strongly suggests that it is not the audit process alone which has been responsible for improved quality assurance. Changing government policies and the impact of the internal and external operating environments, together with the external quality audits, have been drivers of change and improvement. b. External quality audits have been instrumental in improving systems and processes for quality assurance in core and support areas of universities. c. The areas where external quality audits can be credited for change and improvement include: quality assurance for offshore international education; the overall development and implementation of quality assurance frameworks across universities; using data to track and monitor university performance; review and improvement processes; and quality assurance for course development, approval and ongoing reviews. d. Despite these improvements, ten years of external quality audits have not contributed to the enhancement of the student experience in Australian universities. e. External quality audits in Australia have also failed to monitor academic standards and outcomes. Ten years of external audit have focused more on input and quality assurance processes. The consequence is that, wherever poor outcomes exist, they have been hidden by the excessive concentration on processes, and by a complacency that arises because good processes are easier to achieve than good outcomes. External quality audits have also failed to ensure compliance against national policies such as the National Protocols for Higher Education Approval Processes and the Australian Qualifications Framework. f. Not withstanding (d) and (e) above, the process used by AUQA in its external quality audit is seen as satisfactory. Two areas for improvement are: setting up audit panels composed of more relevant and appropriate members tailored to each university; and decreasing the large volume of supporting materials currently required with the self review documentation.
    Date of Award2011
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorRobert Fitzgerald (Supervisor), Ione Lewis (Supervisor), Cathryn MCCONAGHY (Supervisor) & Sid Nair (Supervisor)

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