Peer review and the assessment of higher education quality: an international perspective

Brennan, John; El-Khawas, Elaine and Shah, Tarla (1994). Peer review and the assessment of higher education quality: an international perspective. Higher Education Report No.3; Quality Support Centre, London.


This report is the first product of an international project on the role of peer review in assessing quality in higher education. The project is one of four developed under the auspices of an International Working Conference on Quality Assessment in Higher Education convened jointly by the Centre for the Study of Higher Education at Pennsylvania State University and the Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies at the University of Twente in the Netherlands.

The rationale for the peer review project derives from the widespread international interest in new forms of public accountability for the activities of higher education institutions. Some of these forms indicate shifts in the balance of power and control between higher education and the state and its agencies. Central to these shifts is the role assigned to peer review, frequently regarded as the traditional mechanism of academic self-regulation. Yet peer review remains a somewhat vague and ill-defined concept. The term is used to describe a wide variety of practices and contexts.

The project has set out to describe the main variations in the practice of peer review as used by over twenty agencies - in Europe, the United States, and Hong Kong - which, in different ways, occupy boundaries between higher education and other parts of society, most notably the state and the labour market. The results are contained in this report. A second stage of the project will attempt to evaluate the effectiveness of the different approaches to peer review and the legitimacy accorded them inside and outside higher education.

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