Guide to Quality and Education for Sustainability in Higher Education

Part 2 - Pathfinder

Mapping Quality Systems

Seeing the place of EfS as part of an emerging agenda around quality provides an impetus to rethink the curriculum in order to embed EfS approaches as part of institutional learning and teaching practice. However, bringing a strategic education theme into the curriculum requires a carefully developed approach linked to existing quality processes and concerns. The first step in planning this kind of intervention is to gain an understanding of the quality function across the whole institution.

To understand curriculum quality systems often requires that the implicit is made explicit. In this project the working assumption was that there might not be complete understanding of how the ‘quality system’ worked within each institution and that mapping the system would help to bring this under the spotlight and to show where the current priorities were and what the most appropriate points of entry would be.

Q: If you want to connect EfS and Quality, where do you start?

An important initial step is to build up the ‘map’ of the institutional quality system that covers both its assurance (QA) and enhancement (QE) functions. Beginning with the available formal documentation will establish basic structures and responsibilities, as well as places to look for further information. Using a basic set of parameters helps to identify mechanisms for the system and key points of authority, such as:

People Key roles/responsibilities and their location in the institutional structure
Processes Regular and established routines that operate across the institution
Forums Committees, workgroups plus their terms of reference and report lines
Frameworks Overarching policies, benchmarks, requirements and documentation

Asking questions and sourcing information ‘on the ground’ helps to fill gaps and discover missing links, as well as to show important aspects of the system that may be less formal or in flux. It is also important to identify wider corporate and institutional influences on the processes that support learning and teaching quality, paying attention to the QA and QE interface and how that interaction is handled.

Q: Will be the basic mechanism be the same for all institutions?

The exact shape of the institutional ‘quality system’ may differ across organisations, although similar core processes are in operation. The point of the mapping exercise is to take a snapshot of the system that exists in the specific organisation at the planning stage for an institution-wide curriculum change initiative. This provides an overview of the central quality function, its priorities and check points, as well as the key levers and mechanisms for change.

Examples of quality maps developed by the five pilot institutions in this project can be downloaded here:

Aston University University of Brighton Exeter University University of Gloucestershire Oxford Brookes University
Aston University

University of Brighton

Aston University

University of Gloucestershire

Oxford Brookes University


One of the most important lessons from this exercise was that there is often little shared understanding across all parts of an organization, about some of the priorities that drive quality processes. This applies in particular to those whose work contributes to quality, but who do not have formal quality-related duties.

PILOT WORK FINDINGS – Mapping Institutional Quality Systems

As the project leads started to scope out their planned projects and to map the boundaries and connections in their institutional quality arrangements, several insights emerged:

Implicit knowledge about the QA-QE interface can be troublesome for staff involved in institution-wide enhancement work, as the boundary lines are not well understood, nor are the ways to cross them. Navigating this issue is critical to finding an effective entry point and pathway for curriculum change in any institution, as the ‘innovation versus risk’ balance must be managed in that specific organizational setting.  

Alex Ryan (Project Manager, University of Gloucestershire) comments on the mapping process and the importance of looking at the whole picture for change projects around quality.