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McDonald, D 2016, 'Assessment moderation as a quality management process in non self-accrediting higher education institutions in Australia', DBA thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Copyright D McDonald 2016


Assessment moderation is an important quality assurance management process for the Australian higher education system. It refers to an integrated set of actions that the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency requires higher education institutions to implement as part of the student assessment system. The degree to which higher education institutions in Australia have successfully implemented assessment moderation has, however, received scant empirical attention. This investigation seeks to throw light on assessment moderation in the context of the non self-accrediting higher education sector in Australia. It addresses questions about how assessment moderation is understood and implemented in the sector, about how well it is valued, and about the kinds of challenges its implementation may face. The non self-accrediting higher education sector has grown significantly since 2006 and now accounts for almost eight per cent of all higher education enrolments in Australia. The sector differs from the self-accrediting university sector in that its focus is on teaching only, and the large majority of providers in the sector are privately owned. In this investigation, the experiences with assessment moderation of 21 members of staff drawn from four institutions are explored in depth. Of interest are their understandings about the purpose and nature of assessment moderation, their engagement with its implementation, their perceptions of its value, and their views about the drivers and constraints affecting its successful implementation. An ethnographic approach is taken to the collection of data, and the investigation is framed by the methodology of Naturalistic Inquiry (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). The findings suggest that, although there is a high level of importance attached to assessment moderation as a quality management process, understandings of its nature are varied and, to a surprising extent, are at odds with the model for assessment moderation that has been developed for the higher education system by the Australian Learning and Teaching Council. Implementation of assessment moderation across the four sites selected for the present investigation is found to be patchy, and there are some clearly identifiable impediments to success, not the least of which is the extent of the reliance of non self-accrediting higher education institutions on a casual teaching workforce that is untrained in the purposes and processes of assessment moderation. The investigation concludes that, though assessment moderation may well be highly valued, there is a need for better leadership, more training and stronger commitment if the process is to become a distinctive hallmark of quality management in the non self-accrediting higher education sector. The investigation has clear policy implications for the entire higher education sector.