Ms. Taina Saarinen' s Academic dissertation 7.12.2007:

Saarinen, T. 2007. Quality on the move. Discursive construction of higher education policy from the perspective of quality. Jyväskylä Studies in Humanities 83, Jyväskylä 2007, ISSN 1459-4323, ISBN 978-951-39-3018-9 (bind.)



The study analysed higher education policy from the point of view of quality as a discursively constructed higher education policy phenomenon. Theoretically, the aim was to investigate (higher education) policy as a discursive process. Methodologically, the study applied discourse analytical methods in the study of higher education policy texts. The practical purpose of the study was to learn more about current European higher education policies from the point of view of quality and quality policy in higher education.

The data consisted of higher education policy documentation from Finland, the European union, the OECD and the Bologna process. The analysis concentrated on the occurrences of quality. A Critical Discourse Analytical frame was applied. In a series of five articles, quality as a concept is examined by drawing on different textual approaches.

Quality is mostly taken for granted and it is presented as a self-evident good in present European higher education policies. This might suggest an argumentative tactic to persuade the reader that quality and the activities connected to it are shared, common understanding.

Some metaphors refer, for instance, to quality as some kind of force-of-nature, others to its fragile nature and the consequent need for regulation and control. As an evasive concept, quality receives meanings by the operationalisations attached to it. Also, different actors are presented in different ways in the context of quality.

Historically, the word quality is practically not used in policy texts until the turn of the 1980s. This might imply that the quality of higher education was either held self-evident, or it was considered to be a marginal concern of the academic community. The dominant values seem to be those of the economy, competition, and regulation. The voice of the academic community is more subdued, and consequently, its values less clearly presented.

(Critical) discourse analysis is helpful in raising issues, and making visible policy processes, their development and the values and power relations behind them. In the future, this approach could benefit from complementing it with analyses of situations where policy makers, administrators and the academics engage with these discourses.

Keywords: discourse analysis, higher education policy, quality assurance, Bologna Process, OECD, European Union