Evaluation and quality assurance policies in Higher Education in Europe and in Greece.

Issue 11-12

“Evaluation and quality assurance policies in Higher Education in Europe and in Greece.”

Eleni Prokou


Τhis article argues that the historical persistence of European universities has been the result of a well-balanced combination of the intrinsic and the extrinsic qualities. However, until the 1980s, the intrinsic values were dominant. In the name of ‘trust’, governments were giving higher education institutions a large measure of autonomy in the use of the funds they provided. Furthermore, the emphasis was on ‘faculty work’, which was related to issues such as autonomy, merit, peer review, tenure and academic freedom. At the heart of higher education were the functions of ‘internalist evaluation’ and the mode of evaluation was connoisseurial, peer review, within the framework of the dominance of the Humboldtian model of the University.
Since the 1980s, there was a shift of emphasis from the intrinsic to the extrinsic qualities. ‘Faculty productivity’, according to which the central question was how to get more labour from faculty so as to reduce institutional costs, came to the fore. Accountability and quality assurance were considered as necessary for legitimacy, for justifying public funding (and in some cases, student tuition) and guaranteeing the product. The state began concentrating on the output of higher education, which was expected to respond to the needs of the ‘market’. It was within this context that greater ‘autonomy’ was given to higher education institutions to meet certain pre-specified ‘objectives’ in order to be ‘assessed’. Such an approach was related to the ‘state supervision model’. The emphasis on ‘accountability’ had various meanings: external, internal, legal and financial, and academic. Accountability was expected to raise the quality of performance of the universities by forcing them to examine their own operations critically and by subjecting them to critical review from outside. However, to a great extent, accountability was used as a regulatory device, through the kinds of criteria (expected to be met) and reports (on past actions) it required from the universities. Such an influence could vary from a broad steering, leaving to the institutions a measure of autonomy over the implementation of policy, to the direct commands of an external regulatory agency.Higher education was, thus, becoming a component of the regulatory state. In many European higher education systems, state administration of universities was giving way to more ‘remote steering at a distance’. Within this context, universities became accountable for the ‘quality’ of their activities and the state intervened through two basic models of evaluation systems, namely, accreditation systems or direct measurement systems. In many continental countries, accountability was discharged chiefly through financial and (increasingly) academic audits, rather than through direct assessments of the work of the institutions linked to funding. Accreditation and quality assurance (both internal and external), through European co-operation in the setting of mutually shared criteria and methodologies, were two issues interlinked in the Bologna Process. European governments sought to place peer-review and self-evaluation at the centre of their policies. But to incite self-regulating systems to come into existence, governments had to abandon the rigid detailed higher education laws, which were gradually replaced by framework laws. European higher education institutions placed emphasis on management. ‘New managerialism’ could take either a soft or a hard concept. Nevertheless, in general, it referred to the desirability of a variety of organizational changes, as well as to ‘academic capitalism’, a situation in which academics were expected to expend their human capital stocks increasingly in competitive situations. The emerging ‘entrepreneurial university’ was to actively begin innovating in how to go about its business.Although since the beginning of the 1990s there were efforts (through Law 2083/92) towards the establishment of the evaluation of the Greek universities, the shift of emphasis from the intrinsic to the extrinsic values took place in higher education developments in Greece mainly in the mid-2000s, through two major and complementary laws, namely Law 3374/2005 and Law 3549/2007. Within the framework of Law 3374/2005, following the state supervision model, the Greek state places emphasis on ‘faculty productivity’ and on the output of universities, expected to meet certain pre-specified ‘objectives’. Greek universities are to be assessed in meeting certain ‘criteria’, which refer to the quality of teaching, of research, of curricula and of the rest of the services of the University. However, these criteria are quantified as they are expressed through indicators. Also, in accordance with the Bologna Process, in which the issues of quality assurance and accreditation are interlinked, a “system of transfer and accumulation of credits” and the “Diploma Supplement” are introduced. The emphasis on ‘quality’ is associated with the special interest of the Greek state in higher education evaluation procedures. Evaluation is both internal and external. External evaluation is to be exercised by a committee of independent experts: the “Committee for the External Evaluation”. Although peer-review and self-evaluation are part of the process of internal evaluation, the latter is actually subjugated to the external evaluation. The dominance of the ‘state supervision model’ is, thus, expressed through the formation of an external regulatory agency, the “Authority for the Quality Assurance of Higher Education”, while at the same time, in every institution of higher education, a “Quality Assurance Unit” is constituted.‘Accountability’, ‘new managerialism’ and ‘entrepreneurialism’ are addressed in the framework of Law 3549/2007, in accordance with the idea of a state that supervises and exerts control from a distance. In the framework of its strategic planning for the fulfillment of its mission and aims, every Greek university must form a “four-year academic-developmental programme”, after having formed an “Internal Regulation” and taken state funding into consideration. Financial issues are central to the formation of the “four-year academic-developmental programmes”, which are assessed after the results of the processes of evaluation are taken into consideration by the Minister of Education. On the approval of the four-year academic-developmental programme, the Minister of Education and the University sign a “contractual agreement” for the fulfillment of the aims of the programme. If a university does not submit such a programme, a considerable part of state funding is withdrawn. To serve the special interest of the Greek government in the economic efficiency of higher education institutions, the “Secretary of the Institution” co-ordinates and administers the work of the financial and administrative services of the university. Accountability becomes, thus, a regulatory device, albeit through the emphasis on legitimacy and transparency. The management authorities of the Greek universities are expected to submit a complete record of the academic, financial and managerial work of the universities to be published in society. In the name of ‘social accountability’, the Minister of Education brings a yearly report on the situation in higher education to Parliament. The extent to which ‘academic capitalism’ will be generalised in Greece is an issue to be examined in the future.