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Duarte, N.; Vardasca, R. Accreditation Systems in Higher Education. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 09 December 2023).
Duarte N, Vardasca R. Accreditation Systems in Higher Education. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed December 09, 2023.
Duarte, Nelson, Ricardo Vardasca. "Accreditation Systems in Higher Education" Encyclopedia, (accessed December 09, 2023).
Duarte, N., & Vardasca, R.(2023, June 28). Accreditation Systems in Higher Education. In Encyclopedia.
Duarte, Nelson and Ricardo Vardasca. "Accreditation Systems in Higher Education." Encyclopedia. Web. 28 June, 2023.
Accreditation Systems in Higher Education

Accreditation in higher education is a key process that attempts to ensure the quality of institutions and their respective programs.

academic courses degree accreditation higher education management

1. Introduction

Accreditation serves as a critical mechanism to ensure that educational providers maintain standards that meet the expectations of the educational community and society at large. Despite its universal importance, the approach to accreditation varies significantly across different regions and even within the same country, reflecting the complexity and diversity of higher education systems worldwide. Researchers focus on institutional and programmatic accreditation, providing a comprehensive overview of different accreditation processes in selected countries worldwide. The decision to include both forms of accreditation arises from the recognition that quality assurance in higher education operates at multiple levels. While institutional accreditation assesses the overall quality of an institution, programmatic accreditation evaluates specific programs within institutions, offering a more detailed understanding of quality assurance mechanisms.

2. Implications for Theory

The comprehensive analysis of accreditation processes worldwide enhances the understanding of quality assurance in higher education. It emphasizes the need for theoretical frameworks accommodating diverse practices across countries and contexts. The observed shift of power within higher education and the increasing importance of market concerns contribute to the growing body of theory on the marketization of education and its implications for academic integrity and institutional autonomy.

3. Implications for Practice

For practitioners, researchers offer valuable insights into the accreditation practices in different countries, allowing institutions to benchmark their processes and understand the criteria they need to meet. The study highlights the importance of transparency in quality assurance, informing policy-making in higher education and encouraging governments to implement regulations promoting transparency and competition. The observation that accreditation can be more challenging for institutions offering new or innovative courses calls for accrediting agencies to adapt their criteria and processes to accommodate such courses and avoid stifling innovation in higher education.

4. Implications for Future Research

This research opens several avenues for future exploration, such as investigating the specific challenges faced by institutions offering new or innovative courses in the accreditation process and identifying ways to overcome these challenges. Future studies could also examine the implications of the observed shift in power within higher education for the quality of education and student outcomes. Moreover, the growing importance of market concerns in higher education prompts questions about their impact on educational quality, accessibility, and equity. Future research could explore these issues in depth, informing both theory and practice in higher education.
Lastly, a longitudinal study tracking the changes in accreditation processes and criteria over time could provide insights into the evolution of quality assurance in higher education in response to changing societal and market demands.
Quality in higher education is complex, as it can mean different things to different people. Some authors argue that there are five primary ways that “quality” is understood: as exceptional (high standards), as perfection (consistency), as fitness for purpose (meeting a specified requirement), as value for money (cost-effectiveness), and as transformative (changing for the better) [1].
Quality assurance in higher education involves measures to ensure that standards are being met and that the quality of learning is being continually improved. There is considerable variation globally in how quality assurance is understood and implemented. Vlăsceanu, Grünberg, and Pârlea [2] detail the differing approaches across various countries, noting that these can be broadly grouped into external quality assurance (external audits or accreditation) and internal quality assurance (self-evaluation or internal review processes).
A key discussion point in the literature revolves around whether quality assurance should be viewed as a process of control or improvement. Some authors suggest that quality assurance has historically focused on accountability and control, emphasizing external reviews and meeting predetermined standards [3]. On the other hand, others like Dill [4] have called for a shift toward improvement-oriented quality assurance, which focuses on enhancing learning and teaching practices.
Another significant theme in the literature concerns the tensions between standardization and diversity. Quality assurance processes focusing on standardization can undermine the diversity and creativity inherent in higher education. However, authors like Van Damme note that standardization is necessary to ensure comparability and consistency [5].
Stensaker and Harvey have explored the impacts of quality assurance on universities, highlighting both intended and unintended consequences. While quality assurance can lead to improved practices and increased accountability, it can also result in compliance culture and “gaming” behaviors where universities seek to manipulate or manage performance indicators rather than focus on genuine improvement [6].
Looking at the future of quality assurance, Ewell argues for a shift toward a learner-centered approach to quality, focusing on learning outcomes and the student experience [7]. Meanwhile, Hazelkorn discusses the need for quality assurance to adapt to the changing landscape of higher education, including the rise of online learning, transnational education, and the increasing diversity of learners [8].

5. Conclusions

Common trends were observed, such as a systematic approach to quality assurance, the pursuit of transparency, and a drive for competitiveness. Despite the differences in criteria, evaluation methods, and timeframes, these shared characteristics underscore a universal endeavor to enhance customer satisfaction in the educational landscape. These research findings also signal a notable shift in power dynamics within higher education, with increased leverage at the institutional level and a noticeable emphasis on extrinsic values over intrinsic ones. This power realignment and the prioritization of market factors have far-reaching implications for the theoretical understanding of the marketization of education and the practical issues concerning academic integrity and institutional autonomy. Intriguingly, market-related concerns appeared to overshadow academic disciplinary concerns in this scenario. While accreditation processes typically display efficiency, it was identified that first-time institutions or those offering innovative courses must often encounter more complexity and time consumption. This insight encourages accrediting bodies to revisit and adjust their criteria and processes, ensuring they foster innovation rather than impede it. The study has significantly enriched the understanding of higher education quality assurance and revealed new areas for future research. Future explorations could delve into challenges faced by innovative institutions in the accreditation process, the implications of the power shift within higher education, and the impact of market concerns on educational quality, accessibility, and equity. Further, a longitudinal study could offer valuable insights into how quality assurance evolves in response to societal and market demands.


  1. Van Kemenade, E.; Pupius, M.; Hardjono, T.W. More value to defining quality. Qual. High. Educ. 2008, 14, 175–185.
  2. Vlăsceanu, L.; Grünberg, L.; Pârlea, D. Quality Assurance and Accreditation: A Glossary of Basic Terms and Definitions; UNESCO: Bucharest, Romania, 2007; Available online: (accessed on 2 April 2023).
  3. Brennan, J.; Mills, J.; Shah, T.; Woodley, A. Lifelong learning for employment and equity: The role of part-time degrees. High. Educ. Q. 2000, 54, 411–418.
  4. Dill, D.D. Designing academic audit: Lessons learned in Europe and Asia. Qual. High. Educ. 2000, 6, 187–207.
  5. Opdenakker, M.C.; Van Damme, J. Effects of schools, teaching staff and classes on achievement and well-being in secondary education: Similarities and differences between school outcomes. Sch. Eff. Sch. Improv. 2000, 11, 165–196.
  6. Stensaker, B.; Langfeldt, L.; Harvey, L.; Huisman, J.; Westerheijden, D. An in-depth study on the impact of external quality assurance. Assess. Eval. High. Educ. 2011, 36, 465–478.
  7. Ewell, P.T. Assessment and accountability in America today: Background and context. New Dir. Inst. Res. 2008, 2008, 7–17.
  8. Hazelkorn, E. Reshaping the world order of higher education: The role and impact of rankings on national and global systems. Policy Rev. High. Educ. 2018, 2, 4–31.
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