Making Sense of an Elusive Concept: Academics’ Perspectives of Quality in Higher Education

  • Lazarus Nabaho Uganda Management Institute
  • Jessica Norah Aguti Makerere University
  • Joseph Oonyu Makerere University
Keywords: academics, perceptions, quality, higher education


Objective: Since the 1990s studies on how stakeholders in higher education perceive quality have burgeoned. Nevertheless, the majority of studies on perception of quality in higher education focus on students and employers. The few studies on academics’ perceptions of quality in higher education treat academics as a homogeneous group and, therefore, do not point out cross-disciplinary perspectives in perceptions of quality. This article explores how academics across six disciplines perceive quality in higher education.
Method: The article is anchored in the interpretivist paradigm. Data was collected from 14 purposely selected academics at Makerere University in Uganda and analyzed using thematic analysis.
Results: The findings show that academics perceive quality in higher education as transformation, fitness for purpose, and exceptional. The findings further demonstrate that a stakeholder group or an individual stakeholder can subscribe to a notion of quality in higher education but voice divergent views on its variants. Similarly, the academic discipline, the perceived purpose of higher education, and the problems within a higher education system have an influence on stakeholders’ conception of quality in higher education.
Conclusions: From the findings it can be inferred that quality in higher education defies a single definition and that stakeholders’ perceptions of quality do not take place in a vacuum.
Implication for Theory and/or Practice: The multidimensional nature of quality and the contestations around it necessitate a multidimensional approach to assuring and assessing it.

Author Biography

Lazarus Nabaho, Uganda Management Institute

Head, Department of Government Studies


Alshamy, A. S. A. (2011). Funding mechanisms and quality assurance systems in higher education in Egypt in comparative perspective (Unpublished doctoral thesis). University of Birmingham, United Kingdom.

Barandiaran‐Galdós, M., Barrenetxea Ayesta, M., Cardona-Rodríguez, A., Mijangos del Campo, J., & Olaskoaga-Larrauri, J. (2012). What do teachers think about quality in the Spanish university? Quality Assurance in Education, 20(2), 91–109.

Barnett, R. (1992). The idea of quality: Voicing the educational. Higher Education Quarterly, 46(1), 3–19.

Barnett, R. (2003). Beyond all reason: Living with ideology in the university. Buckingham, UK: Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University Press.

Becket, N., & Brookes, M. (2005). Analysing quality audits in higher education. Brookes eJournal of Learning and Teaching, 1(2), 1–12.

Boyle, P., & Bowden, J. A. (1997). Educational quality assurance in universities: An enhanced model. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 22(2), 111–121.

Brown, V. (2010). How university academics respond to the introduction of new quality assurance policies in South African higher education (Doctoral thesis, University of Pretoria, South Africa). Retrieved from

Campbell, C., & Royzsnyai, C. (2002). Quality assurance and the development of course programmes. Bucharest: UNESCO.

Cardoso, S., Rosa, M. J., & Stensaker, B. (2016). Why is quality in higher education not achieved? The view of academics. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 41(6), 950–965.

Creswell, J. W. (2003). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (3rd ed.). London: Thousand Oaks.

Doherty, G. D. (2008). On quality in education. Quality Assurance in Education, 16(3), 255–265.

Elassy, N. (2015). The concepts of quality, quality assurance and quality enhancement. Quality Assurance in Education, 23(3), 250–261.

Ezati, B. A., Opolot-Okurut, C., & Ssentamu, P. N. (2014). Addressing pedagogical training needs of teaching staff: Lessons from Makerere University short professional development program 2006–2010. American Journal of Educational Research, 2(12), 1190–1198.

Giertz, B. (2000, August). The quality concept in higher education. Paper presented at the TQM for Higher Education Institutions II, Verona, Italy.

Green, D. (1994). What is quality in higher education? Buckingham, UK: Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University Press.

Harvey, L., & Green, D. (1993). Defining quality. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 18(1), 9–34.

Harvey, L., & Knight, P. T. (1996). Transforming higher education. Buckingham, UK: Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University Press.

Idrus, N. (2003). Transforming quality for development. Quality in Higher Education, 9(2), 141-150.

Jonathan, L T. (2000). Quality assurance and evaluation in African universities: Developing a sustainable quality culture in a challenging environment. South African Journal of Higher Education, 14(2), 45–49.

Jungblut, J. P. W., Vukasovic, M., & Stensaker, B. (2015). Student perspectives on quality in higher education. European Journal of Higher Education, 5(2), 157–180.

Kadhila, N. (2012). Quality assurance mechanisms in higher education institutions in Namibia (Doctoral thesis, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa). Retrieved from

Kalayci, N., Watty, K., & Fahriye, H. (2012). Perceptions of quality in higher education: A comparative study of Turkish and Australian business academics. Quality in Higher Education, 18(2), 149–167.

Kasozi, A. B. K. (2003). University education in Uganda: Challenges and opportunities for reform. Kampala: Fountain Publishers.

Lincoln, Y. S., & Guba, E. G. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

Liu, S. (2016). Quality assurance and institutional transformation: The Chinese experience.

Lomas, L. (2002). Does the development of mass education necessarily mean the end of quality? Quality in Higher Education, 8(1), 71–79.

Lomas, L. (2007). Zen, motorcycle maintenance and quality in higher education. Quality Assurance in Education, 15(4), 402–412.

Makerere University, Directorate of Quality Assurance. (2013). Makerere University self-assessment report. Kampala: Makerere University.

Mamdani, M. (2007). Scholars in the marketplace: The dilemmas of neo-liberal reform at Makerere University, 1989–2005. Dakar: CODESRIA.

Martin, M., & Stella, A. (2007). External quality assurance in higher education: Making choices. Paris: UNESCO/IIEP.

Materu, P. (2007). Higher education quality assurance in Sub-Saharan Africa: Status, challenges, opportunities, and promising practices (World Bank Working Paper No. 124, Africa Human Development Series). Washington, DC: World Bank. Retrieved from

Materu, P., Obanya, P.; & Righetti, P., (2011). The rise, fall, and reemergence of the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. In Altbach, P. G. & Salmi, J. (Eds.), The road to academic excellence: The making of world class universities (pp.195–227).

Materu, P., & Righetti, P. (2010). Quality assurance in Sub-Saharan Africa. Research in Comparative and International Education, 5(1), 3–17.

Merriam, S. B. (2002). Qualitative research in practice: Examples for discussion and analysis. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Mhlanga, E. (2008). Quality assurance in higher education in Southern Africa: The case of the universities of the Witwatersrand, Zimbabwe and Botswana (Doctoral thesis, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa). Retrieved from

Nabaho, L. (2017). Developing generic competences in life sciences: The untold story of the Makerere University College of Health Sciences in Uganda. Tuning Journal for Higher Education, 4(2), 389–406.

Nabaho, L., Aguti, J., & Oonyu, J. (2016). Assuring the quality of teaching at Makerere University in Uganda: Practices and experiences of academics and students. Alternation, 23(1), 40–61.

Nega, M. (2012). Quality and quality assurance in Ethiopian higher education: Critical issues and practical implications. Twente: Twente University.

Newton, J. (2002). Barriers to effective quality management and leadership: Case study of two academic departments. Higher Education, 44(2), 185–212.

Pfeffer, N. & Coote, A. (1991). Is quality good for you? A critical review of quality assurance in welfare services. London: Institute of Public Policy Research.

Sarrico, C. S., Rosa, M. J., Teixeira, P. N., & Cardoso, M. F. (2010). Assessing quality and evaluating performance in higher education: Words apart or complementary views? Minerva, 48(1), 35–54.

Schindler L., Welzant, H., Puls-Elvidge, S., & Crawford, L. (2015). Definitions of quality in higher education: A synthesis of the literature. Higher Learning Research Communications, 5(3), 3–13.

Shabani, J., Okebukola, P., & Oyewole, O. (2014). Quality assurance in Africa: Towards a continental higher education and research space. International Journal of African Higher Education, 1(1), 139–171.

Task Force on Higher Education and Society. (2000). Higher education in developing countries: Peril and promise.

Utuka, G. (2012). Quality assurance in higher education: Comparative analysis of provisions and practices in Ghana and New Zealand (Doctoral thesis, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand). Retrieved from

van der Bank, C. M., & Popoola, B. A. (2014). Quality assurance: A case study at a university of technology. Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, 5(23), 2129–2136.

Vann, M. (2012). Stakeholders’ perception of quality in Cambodian higher education (Doctoral thesis, RMIT University). Retrieved from

Villanueva, N. N. (2012). Assuring quality in Belizean higher education: A collective case study of institutional perspectives and practices (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from

Vlăsceanu, L., Grüenberg, L., and Pârlea, D. (2007). Quality assurance and accreditation: A glossary of basic terms and definitions. Bucharest: UNESCO-CEPES.

Vroeijenstijn, A. I. (2006). A journey to uplift quality assurance in the ASEAN universities. Bangkok.

Watty, K. (2003). When will academics learn about quality? Quality in Higher Education, 9(3), 213–221.

Watty, K. (2005). Quality in accounting education: What say the academics? Quality Assurance in Education, 13(2), 120–131.

Watty, K. (2006a). Want to know about quality in higher education? Ask an academic. Quality in Higher Education, 12(3), 291–301.

Watty, K. (2006b). Addressing the basics: Academics’ view of the purpose of higher education. Australian Educational Research, 33(1), 23–29.

Westerheijden, D. F., Stensaker, B., & Rosa, M. J. (2007). Introduction. In D. Westerheijden, B. Stensaker, & M. J. Rosa (Eds.), Quality assurance in higher education: Trends in regulation, translation and transformation (pp. 1–11).

Williams, J.(2013). Editorial. Quality in Higher Education, 19(1), 72.

Wickramasinghe, V. & Perera, L. (2010). Graduates’, university lecturers’ and employers’ perceptions towards employability skills. Education + Training, 52(3), 226–244.

Wittek, L., & Kvernbekk, T. (2011). On the problem of asking for a definition of quality in education. Scandinavian Journal of Education Research, 55(6), 671–684.

Woodhouse, D. (2006, March). Quality = fitness for purpose (FFP): Definition for all seasons. Paper presented at the APQN Conference on Cooperation in Quality Assurance, Shanghai.

Zachariah, S. (2007). Managing quality in higher education: A stakeholder perspective (Doctoral thesis, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK). Retrieved from
How to Cite
Nabaho, L., Aguti, J., & Oonyu, J. (2017). Making Sense of an Elusive Concept: Academics’ Perspectives of Quality in Higher Education. Higher Learning Research Communications, 7(2), 25–45.