In the quasi-marketised environment of the new, mass higher education (HE), centralised policy continues to dictate conditions, and traditionally stable sources of income are being made increasingly unreliable. An increasing emphasis on student support within HE institutions (HEIs) has been made necessary by targets for student numbers and the funding that rests on these numbers. These tensions have been added to for 'post-1992' universities, by the Widening Participation initiative that brings with it particular issues around recruitment and retention. Rather than focusing on the models and systems of support that are being developed in different HE settings and their effectiveness, the aim of this paper is to theorise the imperatives behind these, to look again at the context that informs their inception and how the various support structures position and identify students. Through this, the tensions that exist between financial incentives, 'bums on seats', Widening Participation and academic achievement rates will be explored.
Cartwright, Martin J. (Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2007)
Purpose – The paper aims to describe research undertaken in two post-1992 universities into staff perceptions of and reactions to the rhetoric of the national quality agenda in the UK as expressed by bodies such as the Quality Assurance Agency and the discourse about quality implicit in that agenda. The research examined how academic staff engaged with the discourse and the extent to which the rhetoric of quality is reflected in the day-to-day realities of post-1992 universities. Design/methodology/approach – The research involved a qualitative investigation of the personal experiences of six academics employed in two post-1992 universities and comprised in-depth interviews around three themes which were undertaken during 2005 and 2006. The data from the interviews are summarised and paraphrased in a way which faithfully and accurately captures the sense and spirit of each of the interviews as validated by the interviewees. Findings – The paper concludes that from the point of view of the academic staff who formed part of this research there is a considerable mismatch between the rhetoric of the official paragons of quality represented by the Quality Assurance Agency and the experience of quality by academic staff embroiled in the quality systems that the two universities involved in this research had developed as a consequence of the requirements of government and government agencies. Originality/value – This paper will be of interest to academics and academic managers with responsibilities for quality assurance not only in universities with mature quality assurance systems but also in those in which such systems are being introduced or developed.
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