What is quality?
‘Quality’ has been described in various ways in industry and in other areas such as higher education. A useful description is that provided in Table 1, below.
Quality assurance refers to the policies, processes and actions through which quality is maintained, developed, monitored and demonstrated (McKimm, 2009). The way in which quality is perceived has implications both for the way in which systems are set up and how quality is measured, including defining standards, performance criteria or learning outcomes.
Table 1 - Defining quality (adapted from Harvey and Green, 1993)
As exceptional or excellent – quality is seen as something special or distinctive, demonstrating the highest academic standards or conversely, meeting a threshold standard.
As perfection – here quality represents consistent or flawless outcomes suggesting that if consistency can be achieved then quality can be attained by all.
As fitness for purpose – in terms of fulfilling requirements or needs. In education, this view is usually based on the ability of an institution to fulfil its mission or of a programme to fulfil its aims. Quality here relates to the extent to which a product or service fits its purpose.
As value for money – funding bodies and students increasingly expect a ‘value for money’ approach. They want to know that the same outcome could not be achieved at a lower cost or that it is not possible to achieve a better outcome at the same cost.
As transformation or enhancement – this view sees quality in terms of change from one state to another. In education, transformation refers to both the enhancement (value-added) and empowerment of students.
In contemporary health professions education, most of the above definitions apply to a greater or lesser extent depending on the issues of the time. They operate in practice at a number of levels with the involvement of a range of agencies.