Benchmarking as an Instrument for Continuous Improvement in a Regulated Higher Education Quality Assurance Environment

Benchmarking as an Instrument for Continuous Improvement in a Regulated Higher Education Quality Assurance Environment

Fernando F. Padró, Michael Sankey
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 39
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5288-8.ch002
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Benchmarking by higher education institutions (HEIs) has been evolving for some time in Australia and New Zealand. Earlier efforts were focused on improving reputation, but now benchmarking has become a required component of higher education quality assurance, or regulatory compliance schemes. ACODE's benchmarking framework and the ACODE Benchmarks provide Australasian HEIs with the ability to review their technology enhanced learning (TEL) practices and decision-making against what is considered “good” practice. The ACODE benchmarking framework and its benchmarks also allow HEIs to inform quality audit, or regulatory compliance reporting by HEIs to maintain institutional recognition and demonstrate performance against threshold or other specific performance standards. ACODE's benchmarking framework and benchmarks are recognized as influencers in benchmarking practice. However, there is a need to generate empirical data to demonstrate its leadership role and review the benchmarks for present purposes and to determine how they are used by HEIs. Thus, in effect, this case study represents a view of the increasing importance of benchmarking in higher education quality assurance schemes—at least in some national sectors—through the lens of benchmarking the benchmarks. The case presents the ongoing efforts, providing available data from one completed round and a still to be completed second round of what has become a biennial exercise. Findings so far suggest increasing interest in using the ACODE benchmarks to assist in determining performance within HEI TEL-related issues and in HEI participation in the benchmarking the benchmarks exercise as a means of learning from each other's practice.
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Setting The Stage

Benchmarking was adapted for use in higher education first in North America in the early 1990s, then Australia, the UK and continental Europe by the year 2000 (Jackson, 2001). The beginning of the 21st century saw benchmarking being used more systematically in Australian higher education as a continuous improvement (CI) tool in response to the introduction, by the federal government, of early quality standards (Bridgland & Goodacre, 2005; Massaro, 1998). According to Schofield (1998),

Almost all such approaches to quality management emphasise evaluation, and broadly this can only be undertaken in four main ways: against defined objectives or standards (whether set internally or by external funding bodies); against measures of customer satisfaction; against expert and professional judgement; and against comparator organisations; with analysis in all four approaches being undertaken over a defined time scale. Thus benchmarking as it has come to be defined, was an inevitable outcome of the growth of the quality movement.

A review of the early literature on benchmarking in higher education showed there was – and based on the authors’ recent experiences still is – the problem of what benchmarking is and how this differs from benchmarks. For this case, the distinction is particularly important because it is about benchmarking the impact of benchmarks. Thus, in this section there is [1] a quick discussion of what benchmarks and benchmarking is, followed by [2] a discussion of developments regarding the use of benchmarking in the Australian higher education sector and [3] the changing expectations regulatory compliance impacting the importance of the use of benchmarking by universities. The section finishes with an overview of the ACODE Benchmarks as these are the targets around which the case revolves.

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