Students as Stakeholders in the Policy Context of the European Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in Higher Education Institutions

Frauke Logermann and Liudvika Leišytė


Since the early 1990s, the importance of quality assurance in higher education (HE) has steadily increased on the European higher education policy agenda (ESU 2010). Especially the Bologna Process, launched in 1999, supported the development of common European quality principles in higher education, as the introduction of a common three-cycle degree structure urged the need for greater comparability in quality standards amongst European higher education institutions (HEIs) (Corbett 2003). Moreover, in order to become the most competitive knowledge economy in the world (Lisbon Strategy 2009), Europe had to assure the high quality of its HE systems (Keeling 2006). The adoption of the European Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance (ESG) in 2005 was a landmark for the establishment of the European wide higher education quality standards by pan European bodies, including EUA, ESU, EURASHE and ENQA.

The ESG have drawn attention to the role of various stakeholders in ensuring the quality of higher education. Interestingly, the role of students as stakeholders in higher education institutions' HEIs internal quality assurance processes is substantially highlighted (Leisyte et al. 2013). According to the ESG (2005), a greater involvement of students in internal quality assurance will be beneficial for enhancing quality in European HE (Klemenic 2012; Murray 1997). This is in line with the studies pointing out the effects of student involvement in quality assurance of higher education (HE) (Hounsell 2007).

Although student's role in HEIs' internal quality processes has been increasingly highlighted to achieve the Bologna objectives, up to date few studies have been conducted to understand how HEIs' perceive the role of students in internal quality assurance procedures (Kohoutek et al. 2013). Thus, little is known about students' real position in internal quality assurance processes in European HEIs' and the contribution of their views to improving the quality in higher education. The aim of this article is to address this gap by studying the role of students in internal quality assurance in two institutions across two different national contexts.

We do so by posing the question: “To what extent are students perceived as stakeholders in internal quality processes at different higher education institutions within the framework of the European Standards and Guidelines of Quality Assurance?” Specifically, we are interested how national and internal policies, documents or platforms promote the involvement of students in internal quality assurance processes and how are students involved and influence internal quality assurance procedures at higher education institutions.

In this article we will focus on three of the ESG guidelines[1] from 2005[2] to study the role of students in internal higher education quality assurance processes:

I. Policy and procedures for quality assurance,

II. Approval, monitoring and periodic review of academic programmes,

III. Quality assurance of teaching staff.

To answer our research question we draw on the stakeholder typology developed by Mitchell et al. (1997). Our study comprises a comparison of the role of students in internal quality assurance systems (IQA) in two higher education institutions in two countries, Germany and the Netherlands. The article is structured as follows. After the introduction we introduce the theoretical and methodological underpinnings of this study. Further, we present the findings and a comparison of the two case studies. We conclude with a discussion of our propositions and propose further avenues for research.

  • [1] This paper specifically focuses on the investigation of the European Standards and Guidelines for internal quality assurance by neglecting the ESG for external quality assurance and the guidelines for external accreditation agencies
  • [2] In this paper we focus on the investigation of the ESG from 2005, despite the latest revision of the (2005) during the ministerial Conference of the Bologna Process in Bucharest (2012), as the impact of the newly revised ESG can hardly be ascertained at this point in time
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