In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Regulation of Standards in Higher Education

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • External Quality Assurance and Audit
  • Academic Standards
  • Challenges and Tensions of Regulation
  • Transnational/Cross-Border Education
  • Journals

Education The Regulation of Standards in Higher Education
Hamish Coates, Paula Kelly, Marian Mahat
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 August 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0158


The regulation of standards in higher education is a complex area of scholarship that intersects with several established and emergent fields including quality assurance, regulation, and legal theory, public policy, accreditation, audit, academic standards, transnational education, and the scholarship of higher education policy more generally. A dynamic and diverse area of scholarship, the literature focusing on the regulation of standards in higher education often reflects regional specific contexts, changing policy environments, and evolving debates relating to academic standards in the increasingly global, diverse, and mass higher education industry. The complexity of this area of scholarship is reflective of diverse and non-uniform practice across and within nation-states, and of new forms of regulation stimulated by the technologically enabled and global provision of higher education. For example, in some nations academic standards may be wholly the responsibility of internal institutional quality assurance processes, while elsewhere meeting externally imposed academic standards from state, federal, or independent agencies may be a condition of registration or have funding implications. There are a number of key works and authors who have influenced and propelled the scholarship around the regulation of standards in higher education since the 1990s. Primarily these works have origins in nations where the regulation of higher education has been aligned to national or regional public policy reform such as the United Kingdom (King) and the United States (Dill, Ewell), and more recently Australia (Baird). It is not surprising, therefore, that where regulatory frameworks exist for assuring standards in higher education, scholarship surrounding this area has flourished. It is important too, to recognize the emerging scholarship from regions where the regulation of standards in higher education is a relatively new concept including in Asia. This review provides a regional-specific section that captures the individual contexts of higher education regulation and quality assurance frameworks. The inclusion of texts that reflect the considerable challenges surrounding the regulation of standards in higher education signal the contested terrain of this area of scholarship and the implications for future research.

General Overviews

The citations included in this section have been chosen to illustrate the role of regulation in higher education in the 21st century. The edited volume Dill and Beerkens 2010 provides a broad overview of recent international developments from leading higher education experts who illustrate the role of public policy in the regulation of standards in different contexts. Other contributions offer a critique of regulation in relation to graduate outcomes (Blackmur 2010), and the tensions that exist within systems of institutional accountability, state-based and market regulation in higher education for the 21st century (Hall 2012, Hodgson 2006). An overview of risk-based regulation (Huber 2009) is useful as many risk-based frameworks with origins in the private sector are being adopted as the regulatory architecture for higher education in many setting. As a leading theorist and public policy practitioner in the United Kingdom, the author of King 2007 and King 2016 provides an authoritative critique on the regulatory state of higher education and risk-based frameworks more specifically.

  • Blackmur, D. 2010. Does the emperor have the right (or any) clothes? The public regulation of higher education qualities over the last two decades. Quality in Higher Education 16.1: 67–69.

    DOI: 10.1080/13538321003679549

    The paper calls for a new higher education performance evaluation paradigm in which the standards achieved by new graduates in areas such as logical thinking are the prime candidates for independent validation.

  • Dill, D. D., and M. Beerkens, eds. 2010. Public policy for academic quality: Analyses of innovative policy instruments. Vol. 30. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer Science & Business Media.

    This book provides an overview of 21st-century developments in higher education public policy in a range of national contexts. The book provides recent examples of regulatory and quality assurance frameworks and instruments used to assure standards with contributions from leading international scholars.

  • Hall, J. 2012. Higher-education accreditation market regulation or government regulation? The Independent Review 17.2: 233.

    The article explains the state of accreditation in higher education in the United States.

  • Hodgson, P. 2006. 21st century universities–less regulated but more accountable. Perspective 10.1: 3–8.

    Discusses the cost and purpose of regulation in the higher education sector in the United Kingdom.

  • Huber, C. 2009. Risks and risk‐based regulation in higher education institutions. Tertiary Education and Management 15.2: 83–95.

    DOI: 10.1080/13583880902869554

    This paper comments on a list of possible risks and changes that higher education institutions have to face when a framework of risk-based regulation is adopted.

  • King, R. P. 2007. Governance and accountability in the higher education regulatory state. Higher Education 53.4: 411–430.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10734-005-3128-2

    This paper suggests that, using the example of external quality assurance particularly, there is no intrinsic regulatory “exceptionalism” for universities and that analyses of the “higher education regulatory state” would benefit from greater application of regulatory concepts found more widely.

  • King, R. P. 2016. Regulating risk in the higher education state: Implications for policy and research. In Dimensions of marketisation in higher education. Edited by P. John and J. Fanghanel. London: Taylor and Francis.

    This chapter provides a critique of risk-based regulation within higher education settings, suggesting alternative frameworks for quality enhancement that are not borrowed from private sector models of governance.

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