Mapping the quality assurance of teaching and learning in higher education: the emergence of a specialty?


The quality assurance of teaching and learning as part of universities’ governance and quality management has become a major subject in higher education and higher education politics worldwide. In addition, increasing academic attention has been paid to the quality assurance of teaching and learning, as is evident from the growing number of articles in specific journals of higher education. This paper maps the development and content of research in the literature regarding the quality assurance of teaching and learning. For this mapping, a bibliometric analysis of 1610 articles from 399 different journals from 1996 to 2013 was performed using SCOPUS. The aim of this mapping is to answer the following research question: Has the quality assurance of teaching and learning become a research specialty? A co-citation analysis identifies the following four thematic clusters: an Assessment-Cluster, a Quality-Cluster, a Quality-Management-Cluster and a Student-Evaluation-of-Teaching-Cluster. Based on a categorization of the literature’s core content, two distinct views on the quality assurance of teaching and learning become evident, representing an antagonistic tension in the research between an education strand and a management strand of research. Several indications from the empirical evidence in this paper suggest that the quality assurance of teaching and learning is (becoming) a specialty. The identification and awareness of a specialty as a cognitive organizing characteristic combining two and more categories of research topics are of great importance for the creation of knowledge in the complex interdisciplinary research field of higher education.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Access options

Buy single article

Instant unlimited access to the full article PDF.

US$ 39.95

Price includes VAT for USA

Subscribe to journal

Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.

US$ 99

This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3


  1. 1.

    The relevant search strings are the following: accreditation + higher education + studying; accreditation + higher education + teaching; accreditation + university + studying; bologna process + governance; bologna process + quality; competition + higher education + studying + quality; competition + higher education + teaching; competition + university + studying + quality; competition + university + teaching + quality; enhancement + higher education + studying + quality; enhancement + higher education + teaching + quality; enhancement + university + studying + quality; enhancement + university + teaching + quality; evaluation + higher education + studying; evaluation + higher education + teaching; evaluation + university + studying; evaluation + university + teaching; governance + higher education + teaching; governance + university + studying; governance + university + teaching; management + higher education + studying + quality; management + higher education + teaching + quality; management + university + studying + quality; management + university + teaching + quality; quality + higher education + studying; quality + higher education + teaching; quality + university + studying; quality + university + teaching; steering + higher education + teaching; steering + university + teaching; university + didactic + quality; university + enhancement.


  1. Anderson, G. (2006). Assuring quality/resisting quality assurance: Academics’ responses to ‘quality’ in some Australian universities. Quality in Higher Education. doi:10.1080/13538320600916767.

  2. Becher, T., & Trowler, P. (2001). Academic tribes and territories: Intellectual enquiry and the culture of disciplines (2nd ed.). Philadelphia: Open University Press.

  3. Becket, N., & Brookes, M. (2006). Evaluating quality management in university departments. Quality Assurance in Education. doi:10.1108/09684880610662015.

  4. Billing, D. (2004). International comparisons and trends in external quality assurance of higher education: Commonality or diversity? Higher Education. doi:10.1023/B:HIGH.0000009804.31230.5e.

  5. Blanco-Ramírez, G., & Berger, J. B. (2014). Rankings, accreditation, and the international quest for quality. Quality Assurance in Education. doi:10.1108/QAE-07-2013-0031.

  6. Bogue, E. G. (1998). Quality assurance in higher education: The evolution of systems and design ideals. New Directions for Institutional Research. doi:10.1002/ir.9901.

  7. Bonaccorsi, A. (2008). Search regimes and the industrial dynamics of science. Minerva. doi:10.1007/s11024-008-9101-3.

  8. Bradford, S. C. (1934). Sources of information on specific subjects. Collection Management. doi:10.1300/J105v01n03_06.

  9. Brennan, J., & Shah, T. (2000). Quality assessment and institutional change: Experiences from 14 countries. Higher Education. doi:10.1023/A:1004159425182.

  10. Bröckling, U., & Black, S. (2016). The entrepreneurial self: Fabricating a new type of subject. Los Angeles: Sage.

  11. Budd, J. M., & Magnuson, L. (2010). Higher education literature revisited: Citation patterns examined. Research in Higher Education. doi:10.1007/s11162-009-9155-6.

  12. Cabrera, A. F., Colbeck, C. L., & Terenzini, P. T. (2001). Developing performance indicators for assessing classroom teaching practices and student learning: The case of engineering. Research in Higher Education. doi:10.1023/A:1018874023323.

  13. Carless, D., Salter, D., Yang, M., & Lam, J. (2011). Developing sustainable feedback practices. Studies in Higher Education. doi:10.1080/03075071003642449.

  14. Chadegani, A. A., Salehi, H., Yunus, M. M., Farhadi, H., Fooladi, M., Farhadi, M., et al. (2013). A Comparison between two main academic literature collections: Web of Science and Scopus databases. Asian Social Science. doi:10.5539/ass.v9n5p18.

  15. Cobo, M. J., López-Herrera, A. G., Herrera-Viedma, E., & Herrera, F. (2011). An approach for detecting, quantifying, and visualizing the evolution of a research field: A practical application to the fuzzy sets theory field. Journal of Informetrics. doi:10.1016/j.joi.2010.10.002.

  16. de Visscher, A. (2013). A new Price’s estimate on the size of scientific specialties based on scientific community structure. Scientometrics. doi:10.1007/s11192-012-0897-0.

  17. Dochy, F., Segers, M., & Sluijsmans, D. (1999). The use of self-, peer and co-assessment in higher education: A review. Studies in Higher Education, 24, 331. doi:10.1080/03075079912331379935.

  18. Donabedian, A. (2003). An introduction to quality assurance in health care. New York: Oxford University Press.

  19. Douglas, J., McClelland, R., & Davies, J. (2008). The development of a conceptual model of student satisfaction with their experience in higher education. Quality Assurance in Education, 16, 1. doi:10.1108/09684880810848396.

  20. Eagle, L., & Brennan, R. (2007). Are students customers? TQM and marketing perspectives. Quality Assurance in Education, 15, 44. doi:10.1108/09684880710723025.

  21. Eiszler, C. F. (2002). College Students’ Evaluations of Teaching and Grade Inflation. Research in Higher Education, 43, 483. doi:10.1023/A:1015579817194.

  22. Fagerberg, J., & Verspagen, B. (2009). Innovation studies—The emerging structure of a new scientific field. Research Policy, 38, 218. doi:10.1016/j.respol.2008.12.006.

  23. Gill, J., & Whittle, S. (1993). Management by panacea. Accounting for transience. Journal of Management Studies, 38, 218. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6486.1993.tb00305.x.

  24. Ginns, P., Prosser, M., & Barrie, S. (2007). Students’ perceptions of teaching quality in higher education: The perspective of currently enrolled students. Studies in Higher Education, 32, 603. doi:10.1080/03075070701573773.

  25. Harvey, L. (2006). Impact of Quality Assurance: Overview of a discussion between representatives of external quality assurance agencies. Quality in Higher Education, 12, 287. doi:10.1080/13538320601051010.

  26. Harvey, L., & Green, D. (2006). Defining quality. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 18, 9. doi:10.1080/0260293930180102.

  27. Houston, D. (2007). TQM and higher education: A Critical Systems Perspective on Fitness for Purpose. Quality in Higher Education, 13, 3. doi:10.1080/13538320701272672.

  28. Hwarng, B. H., & Teo, C. (2001). Translating customers’ voices into operations requirements–A QFD application in higher education. International Journal of Quality and Reliability Management. doi:10.1108/02656710110379075.

  29. Kanji, G. K., Malek, A., & Tambi, B. A. (1999). Total quality management in UK higher education institutions. Total Quality Management, 10, 129. doi:10.1080/0954412998126.

  30. Kember, D., & Wong, A. (2000). Implications for Evaluation from a study of students’ perceptions of good and poor teaching. Higher Education, 40, 69. doi:10.1023/A:1004068500314.

  31. Knorr Cetina, K. D. (1999). Epistemic cultures: How the sciences make knowledge. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

  32. Koslowski, F. A. (2006). Quality and assessment in context: A brief review. Quality Assurance in Education, 14, 277. doi:10.1108/09684880610678586.

  33. Koster, B., Brekelmans, M., Korthagen, F., & Wubbels, T. (2005). Quality requirements for teacher educators. Teaching Teachers, 2, 47. doi:10.1016/j.tate.2004.12.004.

  34. Langbein, L. (2008). Management by results: Student evaluation of faculty teaching and the mis-measurement of performance. Economics of Education Review, 47, 4865. doi:10.1016/j.econedurev.2006.12.003.

  35. Law, C. S. D. (2010). Quality assurance in post-secondary education. Quality Assurance in Education. doi:10.1108/09684881011016007.

  36. Leydesdorff, L. A. (2001). The challenge of scientometrics: The development, measurement, and self-organization of scientific communications (2nd ed.). Parkland: Universal.

  37. Leydesdorff, L., Carley, S., & Rafols, I. (2013). Global maps of science based on the new Web-of-Science categories. Scientometrics, 94, 589. doi:10.1007/s11192-012-0784-8.

  38. Morris, S. A., & Van der Veer Martens, B. (2008). Mapping research specialties. Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, 42, 213. doi:10.1002/aris.2008.1440420113.

  39. Mullins, N. C. (1973). The development of specialties in social science: The case of ethnomethodology. Social Studies of Science, 3, 245. doi:10.1177/030631277300300302.

  40. Neuhaus, C., & Daniel, H.-D. (2008). Data sources for performing citation analysis: An overview. Journal of Documentation, 64, 193. doi:10.1108/00220410810858010.

  41. Pratasavitskaya, H., & Stensaker, B. (2010). Quality management in higher education: Towards a better understanding of an emerging field. Quality in Higher Education, 16, 37. doi:10.1080/13538321003679465.

  42. Price, D. J. S. (1963). Little science, big science. New York: Columbia University Press.

  43. Rhoades, G., & Sporn, B. (2002). Quality assurance in Europe and the U.S.: Professional and political economic framing of higher education policy. Higher Education. doi:10.1023/A:1014659908601.

  44. Riniolo, T. C., Johnson, K. C., Sherman, T. R., & Misso, J. A. (2006). Hot or not: do professors perceived as physically attractive receive higher student evaluations? The Journal of General Psychology, 133, 19. doi:10.3200/GENP.133.1.19-35.

  45. Sadler, D. R. (2005). Interpretations of criteria-based assessment and grading in higher education. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education. doi:10.1080/0260293042000264262.

  46. Sadler, D. R. (2010). Beyond feedback: Developing student capability in complex appraisal. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education. doi:10.1080/02602930903541015.

  47. Serrano-Velarde, K. E. (2008). Quality assurance in the european higher education area. Higher Education Management and Policy. doi:10.1787/hemp-v20-art19-en.

  48. Shevlin, M., Banyard, P., Davies, M., & Griffiths, M. (2000). The validity of student evaluation of teaching in higher education: Love me, love my lectures? Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education. doi:10.1080/713611436.

  49. Small, H. (1973). Co-citation in the scientific literature: A new measure of the relationship between two documents. Journal of the American Society for Information Science. doi:10.1002/asi.4630240406.

  50. Stensaker, B., Langfeldt, L., Harvey, L., Huisman, J., & Westerheijden, D. (2011). An in-depth study on the impact of external quality assurance. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education. doi:10.1080/02602930903432074.

  51. Teichler, U. (2005). Research on Higher Education in Europe. European Journal of Education. doi:10.1111/j.1465-3435.2005.00239.x.

  52. Tight, M. (2012). Researching higher education. New York: McGraw-Hill.

  53. van den Besselaar, P., & Heimeriks, G. (2006). Mapping research topics using word-reference co-occurrences: A method and an exploratory case study. Scientometrics. doi:10.1007/s11192-006-0118-9.

  54. van Eck, N. J., & Waltman, L. (2010). Software survey: VOSviewer, a computer program for bibliometric mapping. Scientometrics. doi:10.1007/s11192-009-0146-3.

  55. van Kemenade, E., Pupius, M., & Hardjono, T. W. (2008). More value to defining quality. Quality in Higher Education. doi:10.1080/13538320802278461.

  56. van Vught, F. A., & Westerheijden, D. F. (1994). Towards a general model of quality assessment in higher education. Higher Education. doi:10.1007/BF01383722.

  57. Venkatraman, S. (2007). A framework for implementing TQM in higher education programs. Quality Assurance in Education. doi:10.1108/09684880710723052.

  58. Vlăsceanu, L., Grünberg, L., & Pârlea, D. (2007). Quality assurance and accreditation: A glossary of basic terms and definitions. Bucharest: Unesco-CEPES.

  59. Vogel, R. (2006). Zur Institutionalisierung von New Public Management. Wiesbaden: Springer.

  60. Vogel, R. (2012). The visible colleges of management and organization studies: A bibliometric analysis of academic journals. Organization Studies. doi:10.1177/0170840612448028.

  61. Weingart, P., & Winterhager, M. (1984). Die Vermessung der Forschung: Theorie und Praxis der Wissenschaftsindikatoren. Frankfurt, New York: Campus.

  62. White, H. D., & Griffith, B. C. (1981). Author cocitation: A literature measure of intellectual structure. Journal of the American Society for Information Science. doi:10.1002/asi.4630320302.

  63. Wray, K. B. (2010). Rethinking the size of scientific specialties: Correcting Price’s estimate. Scientometrics. doi:10.1007/s11192-009-0060-8.

  64. Zabaleta, F. (2007). The use and misuse of student evaluations of teaching. Teaching in Higher Education. doi:10.1080/13562510601102131.

  65. Zitt, M., & Bassecoulard, E. (2006). Delineating complex scientific fields by an hybrid lexical-citation method: An application to nanosciences. Information Processing and Management. doi:10.1016/j.ipm.2006.03.016.

Download references


We want to thank the two anonymous reviewers of this paper for their very helpful comments. Also for comments we want to thank Shweta Mishra and Christiane Rittgerott. For help with the SCOPUS data we owe gratitude to Valeria Aman and Stefan Gauch.


This study originates from a research project funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung), Grant Number 01PY13017.

Author information

Correspondence to Isabel Steinhardt.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Steinhardt, I., Schneijderberg, C., Götze, N. et al. Mapping the quality assurance of teaching and learning in higher education: the emergence of a specialty?. High Educ 74, 221–237 (2017) doi:10.1007/s10734-016-0045-5

Download citation


  • Science mapping
  • University
  • Higher education
  • Quality assurance
  • Teaching
  • Learning