In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Academic Audit for Universities

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Concepts and Definitions
  • Historical Developments
  • Rankings and Quality Assurance
  • Critiques of Academic Audit
  • Program Evaluation

Education Academic Audit for Universities
Michael J. Wells
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 November 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 November 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0177


Academic audit for universities is a topic that is complex, technical, and laden with controversy. While the term “academic audit” is associated with evaluation in higher education, the term “quality assurance” is often linked to, and more frequently used in, frameworks of governance, regulation, and academic standards discourse. For this reason, and as many key works note, academic audit is often synonymous with quality assurance in higher education. However, while quality assurance within higher education includes academic audit, it also encompasses precursory accountability and subsequent accreditation. These three processes dynamically relate and overlap under the umbrella of quality assurance. Although accountability and accreditation are greatly interesting and highly valuable in their own right, this literature summary will focus directly on academic audit. Academic audit–based research and policy have grown in recent years as scholars have reported the contentions between state and university boundaries and governance. In the Anglo-American tradition, academic audit is often at odds with a history that is almost entirely self-regulated and based on institutional freedom from the state. University academic audits now represent a new focus on performance-based evaluations through neoliberal policies that are not merely an instrument of value-free government but a move to control from powers within both university and government. This balance is further complicated by the role of the university that, on the one hand, yearns to retain academic freedom, and on the other, seeks status from the government as an educator and economically valuable entity. As such, a comprehensive overview of academic audit not only highlights specific material in relation to the narrower components of external audit and regulation, and of internal quality assurance, but also the broader context of quality assurance.

General Overviews

Overviews of the topics have ranged from those contrasting the roles between state and university (Dill and Beerkens 2010; King 2009) to more philosophical discussions of power (Jarvis 2014). Discussions also revolve around the structure of organizational change (Stensaker 2008) and the emergence of the quality assurance field within higher education (Kohoutek and Westerheijden 2014; Westerheijden, et al. 2014). Dill 2003 attempts to define a field that has accelerated within such a short time frame. Dill and Beerkens 2013 additionally provide an analysis of fourteen policies of innovative national instruments for assuring academic quality in universities.

  • Dill, D. D. 2003. The regulation of academic quality: An assessment of university evaluation systems with emphasis on the United States. Background Paper, Public Policy for Academic Quality Research Program. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina.

    Provides an overview of higher education systems, reforms, and assessment and evaluation systems, with emphasis on the United States but also including international references.

  • Dill, D. D., and M. Beerkens, eds. 2010. Public policy for academic quality: Analyses of innovative policy instruments. Higher Education Dynamics 30. Dordrecht, The Netherlands, and London: Springer.

    Policy analysis that offers assessment of goals within the quality assurance field, implementation problems of academic audits, and impacts of new higher education policies.

  • Dill, D. D., and M. Beerkens. 2013. Designing the framework conditions for assuring academic standards: Lessons learned about professional, market, and government regulation of academic quality. Higher Education 65.3: 341–357.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10734-012-9548-x

    Outline of fourteen policy analyses of national instruments of professional self-regulation, market-based regulation, and direct state regulation for academic quality in higher education.

  • Jarvis, D. S. 2014. Regulating higher education: Quality assurance and neo-liberal managerialism in higher education—A critical introduction. Policy and Society 33.3: 155–166.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.polsoc.2014.09.005

    Article explores the spread of quality assurances, structural analysis of frameworks, and the complex relationships between university and state.

  • King, R. 2009. Governing universities globally: Organizations, regulation and rankings. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.

    DOI: 10.4337/9781848449244

    Book focuses on the world models of university governances, with special emphasis on Europe and the OECD. Provides discussion on the impact of rankings and regulations.

  • Kohoutek, J., and D. F. Westerheijden. 2014. Opening up the black box: Drivers and barriers in institutional implementation of the European standards and guidelines. In Drivers and barriers to achieving quality in higher education. Edited by H. Eggins, 167–176. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-94-6209-494-9_13

    Chapter provides an important overview of the research on quality assurance over the last two decades.

  • Stensaker, B. R. 2008. Outcomes of quality assurance: A discussion of knowledge, methodology, and validity. Quality in Higher Education 14.1: 3–13.

    DOI: 10.1080/13538320802011532

    Identifies detailed aspects of organizational change within current quality assurance frameworks and discusses how organization change impacts quality assurance schemes.

  • Westerheijden, D. F., B. Stensaker, M. J. Rosa, and A. Corbett. 2014. Next generations, catwalks, random walks and arms races: Conceptualising the development of quality assurance schemes. European Journal of Education 49.3: 421–434.

    DOI: 10.1111/ejed.12071

    A look at how quality assurance developed within Europe over the previous twenty years and the application of typology of quality assurance within three countries.

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