Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Education




Gardiner, Rita


Currently, quality assurance is a widespread global practice in higher education. This exploratory case study at one Ontario university uses a Foucauldian-informed post-structuralist discourse analysis to interrogate the definition of ‘quality’ as it relates to quality assurance. More specifically, this study hopes to raise an awareness that what constitutes quality is taken for granted in quality assurance practices for universities. From an examination of resource documents and interviews with faculty administrators (n=12), the key findings of this study expose an over-arching neoliberal discursive framing of quality and quality assurance. The marketization of higher education leads to an over-emphasis on procedural compliance and a propensity to quantify educational experiences. There was an incongruence between the current approach to quality assurance and education. This research argues that an economic lens borrowed from the business sector is problematic because it assumes principles used in manufacturing a material product can be applied to something as intangible and transformative as education. This research calls on educational leaders to critically reflect on underlying assumptions to expose the power struggles embedded in our quality assurance discourses in order to better understand how dominant ideology obscures other perspectives. An understanding of how quality can be defined from different perspectives disrupts the assumption that a neoliberal economic lens is the only way to view academic quality. Those engaged in administering quality assurance are urged to challenge dominant neoliberal premises and consider alternatives that apply an ethical lens to higher education.