Quality" is one of those words that can arouse a variety of emotions, from excitement at unusual achievement to boredom as it becomes bureaucratised into a series of arcane measurements, or to dismay as it is used as a method of institutional control by some external agency. The hostility that is now apparent in the United Kingdom towards the two quality agencies contrasts with the generally warm welcome for the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals' academic audit unit when it was first proposed. Quality, then, is no longer the new idea it once was, and one cannot help feeling that, like many new ideas taken up with perhaps too much enthusiasm by the wrong people, it is beginning to lose its bloom.
Therefore, a journal that sets out to become the main vehicle for scholarly publication in this field has to make a choice between addressing the wider interest in higher education or appealing to a more narrowly circumscribed group of practitioners. Quality in Higher Education seems to be opting for the latter. Indeed its first three issues give the impression of being written almost for a coterie. As a journal editor myself I have looked back at issues after three or four years and concluded that one has done well if two out of five articles stand the test of time. I am not sure that this journal can yet hit that average.
I enjoyed the articles by David Dill and Peter Redcliffe, both from the United States, but some of the other overseas contributions seemed to lack a wider interest.
The home contributors, on the other hand, too often spoke in a private and rather impenetrable language, of which the following is but one example: "This means that academics will need to provide experiences within which students can access a variety of resources - most of which will not be mediated through themselves - and to provide the academic and psychosocial support that will be needed in respect of the increased student independence in learning."
The present spate of new journals in higher education is to be welcomed if it encourages more good research in the field and more thought-provoking articles. But if it simply represents the effects of the research assessment exercise on academic life then the research community and the publishers will be the losers. There are not many excellent articles in need of a publisher in the general area of "quality" or in the wider field of higher education. One of the most rewarding experiences for an editor is to encourage a good article to emerge from an unpromising first draft. If Quality in Higher Education is to become an important journal the editorial team will need to consider how it can interest a wider nonspecialist readership and be tough in insisting that articles go through various stages of rewriting.
This new publication has made a promising beginning but it does not yet convince me that there is enough work of sufficient distinction in this field to sustain it in the long term.
Michael Shattock is registrar, University of Warwick.
Quality in Higher Education (three times a year)
Editor - Lee Harvey
ISBN - ISSN 1353 8322
Publisher - Carfax
Price - £28.00 (indiv.) £98.00 (inst.)
Pages - -