Do global norms matter? The new logics of engineering accreditation in Canadian universities

  • Mike KlassenEmail author
  • Creso Sá


New institutionalism predicts a global convergence in how higher education is organized. This convergence might be expected to intensify in professional education given accreditation requirements of professional bodies. Engineering presents an opportunity to study how international mobility agreements facilitate the development and normative diffusion of global norms in accreditation. This paper investigates how changing logics of accreditation influence the academic organization of engineering schools in Canada. Using three case studies of Canadian universities, we show how regulative and normative institutional pressures influence decisions by engineering schools to take visible action to demonstrate their conformity to global norms, while still pursuing local missions. Our findings contribute to understanding the complex mediation processes between professions and universities, and they represent a critique to dominant rationalist perspectives on quality assurance mechanisms in higher education.


Neo-institutionalism Sociology of professions Engineering Accreditation Governance 



  1. Abbott, A. (1988). The system of professions: An essay on the division of expert labor. University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  2. Abbott, A. (2002). The disciplines and the future. In S. G. Brint (Ed.), The future of the city of intellect: the changing American university (pp. 205–230).Google Scholar
  3. Abbott, A. (2005). Linked ecologies: states and universities as environments for professions. Sociological Theory, 23(3), 245–274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barrow, M. (1999). Quality-management systems and dramaturgical compliance. Quality in Higher Education, 5(1), 27–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brennan, R. W., & Hugo, R. J. (2010). The CDIO syllabus and outcomes-based assessment: a case study of a Canadian mechanical engineering program. Proceedings of the 6th International CDIO Conference, École Polytechnique, Montréal, 15–18.Google Scholar
  6. Brennan, R. W., Hugo, R., & Rosehart, W. D. (2012). CDIO as an enabler for graduate attributes assessment: a Canadian case study. International Journal of Quality Assurance in Engineering and Technology Education (IJQAETE), 2(2), 45–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Briggs, C. L., Stark, J. S., & Rowland-Poplawski, J. (2003). How do we know a “continuous planning” academic program when we see one? The Journal of Higher Education, 74(4), 361–385.Google Scholar
  8. Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board. (2015). 2015 accreditation criteria and procedures. Retrieved from Engineers Canada website:
  9. Case, J. M. (2016). The historical evolution of engineering degrees: competing stakeholders, contestation over ideas, and coherence across national borders. European Journal of Engineering Education, 1–13.Google Scholar
  10. Cloutier, G., Hugo, R., & Sellens, R. (2010a). Mapping the relationship between the CDIO syllabus and the 2008 CEAB graduate attributes. Proceedings of the 6th International CDIO Conference, École Polytechnique, Montréal.Google Scholar
  11. Cloutier, G. M., Sellens, R. W., Hugo, R. J., Camarero, R., & Fortin, C. (2010b). Outcomes assessment and curriculum improvement through the cyclical review of results—a model to satisfy CEAB-2009 accreditation requirements. Proceedings of the Canadian Engineering Education Association.Google Scholar
  12. Crawley, E. F. (2001). The CDIO Syllabus: a statement of goals for undergraduate engineering education. Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.Google Scholar
  13. Crawley, E. F., Malmqvist, J., Lucas, W. A., & Brodeur, D. R. (2011). The CDIO Syllabus v2. 0. An updated statement of goals for engineering education. Proceedings of 7th International CDIO Conference, Copenhagen, Denmark.Google Scholar
  14. Dill, D. D. (1995). Through Deming’s eyes: a cross-national analysis of quality assurance policies in higher education. Quality in Higher Education, 1(2), 95–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. DiMaggio, P., & Powell, W. W. (1983). The iron cage revisited: collective rationality and institutional isomorphism in organizational fields. American Sociological Review, 48(2), 147–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Divall, C. (1994). Education for design and production: professional organization, employers, and the study of chemical engineering in British universities, 1922-1976. Baltimore: Technology and Culture.Google Scholar
  17. Downey, G., & Lucena, J. C. (2007). Globalization, diversity, leadership, and problem definition in engineering education. 1st International Conference on Engineering Education Research, p 22–24.Google Scholar
  18. Engineers Canada. (2018). AU Task Force report to Engineers Canada (p. 38) [Task Force Report]. Retrieved from Engineers Canada website:
  19. Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering. (2014). Core Curriculum Review Task Force—final report (p. 76). Retrieved from University of Toronto website:
  20. Frank, B., Fostaty-Young, S., McCahan, S., Wolf, P., Ostafichuck, P., Watts, K. C., & Saleh, N. (2011). Engineering graduate attribute development (EGAD) project. Proceedings of the Canadian Engineering Education Association. Retrieved from
  21. Frank, B., Strong, D., Sellens, R., & Clapham, L. (2013). Progress with the professional spine: a four-year engineering design and practice sequence. Australasian Journal of Engineering Education, 19(1) Retrieved from
  22. Halliday, T. C. (1985). Knowledge mandates: collective influence by scientific, normative and syncretic professions. British Journal of Sociology, 421–447.Google Scholar
  23. Hanrahan, H. (2008). The Washington Accord: history, development, status and trajectory. 7th ASEE Global Colloquium on Engineering Education, 19–23.Google Scholar
  24. Hanrahan, H. (2009). Toward consensus global standards for quality assurance of engineering programmes. In Engineering education quality assurance (pp. 51–71). Springer.Google Scholar
  25. Harvey, L. (2004). The power of accreditation: views of academics. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 26(2), 207–223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Harvey, L., & Mason, S. (1995). The role of professional bodies in higher education quality monitoring. Birmingham: QHE, Centre for Research into Quality.Google Scholar
  27. Harwood, J. (2006). Engineering education between science and practice: rethinking the historiography. History and Technology, 22(1), 53–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. International Engineering Alliance. (2015). Best practices in accreditation of engineering education: an exemplar (p. 15). Retrieved from International Engineering Alliance website:
  29. Kaupp, J. (2012). A comparison of institutional approaches to CEAB graduate attribute requirements. Proceedings of the Canadian Engineering Education Association. Presented at the Winnipeg, MB. Winnipeg, MB.Google Scholar
  30. Kaupp, J., & Frank, B. (2017). EGAD national snapshot survey: change, progress and improvement. Proceedings of the Canadian Engineering Education Association. Presented at the Canadian Engineering Education Association Annual Conference, Halifax, NS. Retrieved from
  31. Larson, M. S. (1977). The rise of professionalism: a sociological analysis. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  32. Lawrence, T. B., & Suddaby, R. (2006). Institutions and Institutional Work. In S. R. Clegg, C. Hardy, T. B. Lawrence & W. R. Nord (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of organization studies (pp. 215–254). London: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Lennon, M. C., & Frank, B. (2014). Learning outcomes assessments in a decentralised environment: the Canadian case. In H. Coates (Ed.), Higher education learning outcomes assessment: International perspectives (pp. 89–112). Frankfurt: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
  34. Lucena, J., Downey, G., Jesiek, B., & Elber, S. (2008). Competencies beyond countries: the re-organization of engineering education in the United States, Europe, and Latin America. Journal of Engineering Education, 97(4), 433–447.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Malmqvist, J., Hugo, R., & Kjellberg, M. (2015). A survey of CDIO implementation globally—effects on educational quality. Proc. 11th International CDIO Conference, Chengdu University of Information Technology, Chengdu, Sichuan, PR China.Google Scholar
  36. Meiksins, P., & Smith, C. (1993). Organizing engineering work: a comparative analysis. Work and Occupations, 20(2), 123–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Meyer, J. W., & Rowan, B. (1977). Institutionalized organizations: formal structure as myth and ceremony. American Journal of Sociology, 83(2), 340–363.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Millard, J. R. (1988). The master spirit of the age: Canadian engineers and the politics of professionalism (pp. 1887–1922). University of Toronto Press.Google Scholar
  39. Oliver, C. (1991). Strategic responses to institutional processes. Academy of Management Review, 16(1), 145–179.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Patil, A., & Gray, P. (Eds.). (2009). Engineering education quality assurance: a global perspective. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  41. Pedersen, J. S., & Dobbin, F. (1997). The social invention of collective actors: on the rise of the organization. American Behavioral Scientist, 40(4), 431–443.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Pedersen, J. S., & Dobbin, F. (2006). In search of identity and legitimation: bridging organizational culture and neoinstitutionalism. American Behavioral Scientist, 49(7), 897–907.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Prados, J. W., Peterson, G. D., & Lattuca, L. R. (2005). Quality assurance of engineering education through accreditation: the impact of Engineering Criteria 2000 and its global influence. Journal of Engineering Education, 94(1), 165–184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Reynolds, T. S., & Seely, B. E. (1993). Striving for balance: a hundred years of the American Society for Engineering Education. Journal of Engineering Education, 82(3), 136–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Schofer, E., & Meyer, J. W. (2005). The worldwide expansion of higher education in the twentieth century. American Sociological Review, 70(6), 898–920.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Schwarz, S., & Westerheijden, D. F. (Eds.). (2004). Accreditation and evaluation in the European Higher Education Area. Retrieved from
  47. Scott, W. R. (2005). Institutional theory: contributing to a theoretical research program. Great Minds in Management: the Process of Theory Development, 37, 460–484.Google Scholar
  48. Scott, W. R. (2008a). Approaching adulthood: the maturing of institutional theory. Theory and Society, 37(5), 427–442.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Scott, W. R. (2008b). Institutions and organizations: ideas and interests. SAGE.Google Scholar
  50. Scott, W. R. (2008c). Lords of the dance: professionals as institutional agents. Organization Studies, 29(2), 219–238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Seely, B. E. (1999). The other re-engineering of engineering education, 1900–1965. Journal of Engineering Education, 88(3), 285–294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Stark, J. S., Briggs, C. L., & Rowland-Poplawski, J. (2002). Curriculum leadership roles of chairpersons in continuously planning departments. Research in Higher Education, 43(3), 329–356.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Stinchcombe, A. L. (1997). On the virtues of the old institutionalism. Annual Review of Sociology, 23(1), 1–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Suddaby, R., & Muzio, D. (2015). Theoretical perspectives on the professions. In B. Hinings (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of professional service firms (pp. 1–29). Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  55. University of Toronto Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering. (2017). Manual of procedures for the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee (p. 11). Retrieved from University of Toronto website:
  56. Volkwein, J. F., Lattuca, L. R., Harper, B. J., & Domingo, R. J. (2007). Measuring the impact of professional accreditation on student experiences and learning outcomes. Research in Higher Education, 48(2), 251–282.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Yin, R. K. (2013). Case study research (5th ed.). Los Angeles: Sage Publications.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ontario Institute for Studies in EducationUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

Personalised recommendations