The journey of course approval
: hitting the target but missing the point?

  • Rebecca Khanna

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Whilst a significant body of research exists related to quality assurance in UK higher education (HE), few questions appear to have been raised about the commonplace practice of validation or approval of degree courses. Overall, current research tends to focus on complications arising from the procedural effects of the process, rather than exploring ways that staff dealt with the demands of these systems. This study examined staff experiences of course approval within Allied Health Profession degree courses in a UK university. The research focused on how governance structures surrounding the regulation of health professionals and universities shaped the practice(s) of approval, alongside ways in which this experience affected staff.

    Influenced by the work of theorists in critical and social theory traditions, this in-
    depth study adopted narrative inquiry. Purposive sampling was used to locate
    twelve participants and included academics, manager-academics, staff who worked in professional bodies and within teams supporting quality in HE. In order to examine the issues related to the approval process, data was collected through
    interview conversations, participants’ drawings and prose, along with documentary analysis.

    This research revealed the narrative of approval as complex and akin to a journey
    involving a series of challenges, contradictions and multiplicity of stakeholders.
    Interpretation of the data illustrated that those participating were both constituted
    by, and contributed to the nature of approval. In other words, rather than being
    docile recipients’ of policy, it was apparent that staff appeared to take various
    approaches to thinking, acting and relating. A sense of adopting a position (termed here as positional identities) emerged and influenced not only participants’ journey through the approval process, but also that of others, as well as the shape and nature of courses being approved. Four positional identities were identified, namely: the Governance Trustee, Professional Guardian, Enabling Strategist and Boundary Broker. Each of these positions was subsequently explored through an exploratory conceptual map of positional identity. The emergent map stimulated the re-assessment of current conditions. Consequently, future possibilities in which approval scenarios may evolve are presented.

    Considering how policy changes within HE have promoted increasingly performative practices, and the ways in which participants in approval events have presented them ‘selves’, it is likely that the positional identities adopted by staff here may have resonance for academics across the sector, and that this study will inform wider debates about policy and validation of courses within HE in general.

    Date of Award2011
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SupervisorMaggi Savin-Baden (Supervisor)


    • Course Approval
    • degree courses
    • Higher Education
    • Quality Assurance

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