Quality assurance and the classification of universities: the case of Chile

Publication Date02 December 2019
Date02 December 2019
AuthorDaniel A. López,Maria J. Rojas,Boris A. López,Oscar Espinoza
SubjectEducation,Curriculum,instruction & assessment,Educational evaluation/assessment
Quality assurance and the
classication of universities:
the case of Chile
Daniel A. L
Universidad Tecnol
ogica Metropolitana and Instituto Interuniversitario de
on Educativa (IESED), Santiago, Chile
Maria J. Rojas
Facultad de Ciencias de la Educaci
on, Universidad de Playa Ancha,
Valparaíso, Chile
Boris A. L
Departamento de Acuicultura y Recursos Agroalimentarios,
Universidad de Los Lagos, Osorno, Chile, and
Oscar Espinoza
Facultad de Educaci
on y Humanidades, Universidad de Tarapacá, Arica, Chile and
Instituto Interuniversitario de Investigaci
on Educativa (IESED), Santiago, Chile
Purpose The purpose of this study is to analyze the relationship between quality assurance, the
traditional a priori approach, and a more recently developed empirical classication of universities, as a
means of assessing whether the different classication systems fulll their original purpose. The study
analyzes Chileanuniversity classications because they have beenused in setting up higher education public
Design/methodology/approach The existing classicationsof Chilean universities were identied in
the literature. Researchers determined categories, criteria and/or indicators used, as well as their main
purposes as described by the authors of the classications. All the criteria and indicators identied were
directly related to the quality of academic activities and to the results of the university accreditation
processes. The institutional accreditation outcomes and variables were studied using univariate and
multivariatestatistical analysis.
Findings The a priori approachproved to be consistent with the results ofinstitutional quality assurance,
despite of the variability in individual performances. The empirical systems, however, do not show any
contribution to the improvement of public policies in higher education. The results clearly show that
classicationsbased on performance do not necessarily ensureimprovements in institutional quality.
Originality/value To the authorsknowledge,this analysis is the rst study of the relationship between
university classication and quality assurance. The growing number of proposals for different empirical
classications in Chilean universities is evidence of institutional diversity only. However, the classication
designs did not respond to purposessuch as public policies improvements and other expected results from
these instruments.
Keywords Case studies, Quality assurance, Higher education, Classication of universities, Chile,
Universities, Classication
Paper type Research paper
The authors thank Dr Noel McGinn for the valuable contributions to the earlier drafts of this paper.
of universities
Received9 May 2019
Revised9 September 2019
28October 2019
Accepted2 November 2019
QualityAssurance in Education
Vol.28 No. 1, 2020
pp. 33-48
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/QAE-05-2019-0051
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Around the world, there are numerous casestudies of quality assurance in higher education
(Espinoza and González, 2013;Espinozaet al., 2019;Jackson and Bohrer, 2010;Kinser, 2014;
Li, 2010;Ryan, 2015). In addition, there are several studies about the classication of
universities (Carnegie Commission on Higher Education [Carnegie Commission], 1973;
Carnegie Foundation for the Advancementof teaching [Carnegie Foundation], 1994;CHEPS
[Center for Higher EducationPolicy Studies], 2008;Filippakou and Tapper, 2010;Ramsden,
1999;Vîiu et al.,2016;Ziegele, 2013). Despite the volume of research done, however, hardly
any studies have linked qualityassurance with different types of university classications,
whether a priori or empirical ones. One exception is a study by Brint (2013) about
universities in the USA.
The most widely used method for quality assurance of universities is accreditation via
external evaluation (Brooks, 2005;Stensaker et al.,2011). A single set of criteria or quality
standards applicable to institutions with different missions and attributes may restrict the
fulllment of the purposes of a particular university.To ensure the integrity and autonomy
of the institutions, self-assessmentprocesses and mixed systems have been incorporated so
that both self-evaluation and external evaluation are considered (Brennan and Shah, 2000;
Vanhoof and Van Petegem, 2007). In many countries, self-accreditation processes are being
implemented (Chenand Hou, 2016).
However, taking into account that universities are different in their missions and
attributes, the application of standardized procedures may restrict the fulllment of the
particular purposes of a university. The outcomeof the accreditation process can also limit
the access to public funds (direct and indirect) and student demands. They even may
negatively affect the institutional image. These issues have, in recent decades, led to the
establishment of a variety of criteria for the classication of universities (McCormick and
Zhao, 2005;Ziegele,2013).
The classication of universities assumes the existence of institutional diversity along
one or more variables, and the classication procedure is carried out for various purposes.
These purposes mainly include provision of information to students and stakeholders, in
particular concerning certain considerations such as the quality of the academic body,
research, infrastructure and equipment, generation of public nancing policies and
facilitation of benchmarking as a methodological instrument for research in the university
(Brunner, 2013;VanVught, 2009).
Differences among universities,or the mistaken use of these classication schemes in the
quality assurance process, can have various consequences. University classication can
generate controversy,especially in regard to regulatory processes and public policies. These
outcomes have notbeen adequately assessed so far.
An a priori approach to university classication is based on judgments derived from
intuitions, traditions or preconceptions regarding the characteristics that differentiate
institutions (Brint, 2013). An empiricalapproach, by contrast, is generated from an analysis
of data regarding institutional performance, or descriptors of each institution (Erdogmus
and Esen, 2016). In either approach, the choice of criteria for establishing categories is
critically important(McCormick, 2013).
These classications can generateconsiderable controversy, particularly when they are
used in the formulationof public policies. Perhaps with time, as more data arecollected, this
discussion will abate. Even though university ranking schemes have been thoroughly
critiqued (Dill,2009;Soh, 2017), classication systems have not been properly evaluated.
This issue is especially noticeable in Chile. The current higher education system in this
country distinguishes between traditional and non-traditional universities. The rst

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