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Abstract

Much has been written about the impact of the internet and online education on higher education but the ramifications for internal and external quality assurance are still being worked through. Our paper offers a structured way of thinking about the ‘quality effects’ of the ever-expanding use of online technologies in higher education and an approach to mapping changes of emphasis in quality assurance.

After a brief survey of significant trends in higher education connected to internet-based services, we suggest that the concept of quality as a bundle of ideas about what is ‘good’ or valued should be the first element of an analytical framework. We argue that capabilities in using online technologies are emerging as an expected component of quality in higher education. To fully explore the implications requires separate consideration of the quality of at least five different ‘objects’ in higher education: 1) graduates; 2) programs; 3) institutions; 4) research; and 5) higher education systems. We outline the ways in which online technologies are reshaping ideas about quality for these five objects.

Using the simple concept of inputs-processes-outputs and the core tools of quality assurance in higher education, we map the implications for internal quality assurance and for external quality agencies across these objects. We suggest this approach may offer a useful addition to models for monitoring the effects of the ‘internet generation’ on higher education quality assurance, noting that ‘people skills’ and human interaction will always be significant.

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