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The Quality Movement discourse in the higher education sector - A general review

Author - Aidan Kenny

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Within the workshops, early management assumed a variety of harsh and despotic forms, since the creation of a ‘free labour force’ required coercive methods to habituate the workers to their tasks and keep them working throughout the day and the year.
(Braverman 1998: 45)

Here I endeavour to chart some of the generic signposts that led to the emergence of quality as a tool in the business, production and management fields within the ‘capitalist mode of production’ (see note 3). This is not intended to be an extensive investigation but rather an introduction to the relevant material, the rationale being to support the assumption of the emergence of ‘quality’ as a philosophy, a tool and a standard within industry and business and to identify emergent academic issues, and concerns and questions relating to the utilisation of quality as a tool in the higher education sector, where there is a need for further research. Evidence and commentary will be confined to management texts, sociology, electronic management and business journals, and web sources, as well as my own experience as a practitioner in the higher education sector. The mode of enquiry is firmly subjective and located in the interpretative paradigm. From the outset I claim to be seeking to construct meaning and understanding from social phenomena; I do not intend to be objective, seek causality or propose theory for generalisation. In order not to let the focus of this paper drift into the trenches of the ‘paradigmatic wars’, I direct the reader to two works that give a detailed introduction into the interpretative paradigm and surrounding discourse: Schwandt (2003: 293–326, cited in Denzin and Lincoln 2003) and Blaikie (1993: 93–127).

The Quality Movement

The term ‘quality’ has become synonymous with contemporary management theory, practice and policy. Nearly every management textbook has a section or chapter dedicated to ‘quality’ in some shape or form; examples include Quality Control (Daft 2000), Quality Assurance (Shattock 2003), Total Quality Management (Tiernan et al. 2001), Quality Circles (Mintzberg et al. 1995) and Quality of Working Life (Boleman and Deal 1997). Some academic and professional journals are committed solely to exploring quality issues, as demonstrated by titles such as Quality Assurance in Education, Quality Progress, Quality Management, TQM Magazine and Total Quality Management. From a limited search, using the Emerald online journals search engine, inputting each of the above terms and restricting the search to abstracts only, the following number of hits were recorded (see Table 1).

When ‘Quality’ was entered as an independent item and not restricted to abstracts but instead opened to a full text search, over 34,730 hits were recorded. I am not attempting to undertake rigorous research in this example; instead the reader’s attention is drawn to the proliferation of literature on this subject and its diverse manifestations.

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