CDTL organised a seminar/dialogue
session in July to address the emergence of TQM in the world of academia.
The guest speaker was Mr Alan Maley. Prior to joining NUS as a Senior Fellow, he was Director General
of the Bell Educational Trust in Cambridge, and in that capacity, gained
considerable experience with quality management. Highlights from his talk
are reported below.
We judge ourselves mostly by our intentions,
but Others judge us mostly by our actions.
(Harvey 8 Lucas, 1993)
A Brief History of TQM
Total Quality Management, or TQM for short, has become
the catch phrase of the 90's. It began in the manufacturing sector with
the purpose of improving customer satisfaction and keeping production
costs continually low.It is a management system that focuses on people
and has made inroads into the service sector and more recently, into the
educational field. TQM has been adopted by numerous bodies for
various reasons, but all believe it will provide an opportunity for growth
and give them the competitive edge.
Implementing new ideas or management styles is never easy. The introduction
and adoption of TQM in the workplace inevitably raise some concerns.
- Do people believe in the possibility of continuous improvement at
both personal and institutional levels?
- Do people understand the aims and objectives of TQM and will there
be a commitment at all levels to make it work?
- How will it affect the machinations of the work environment and people's
attitudes and perceptions?
- Attention must be paid to all aspects of TQM; this takes time and
- Effective communication is imperative at all levels; the right people
must get the right information at the right time.
- Prevention, not correction, will become the order of the day; people
will have to get it right the first time.
- Documentation is crucial to ensure clarity of standards and as a means
of evaluation and appraisal.
- Concentration on customers' needs means a focus on feedback.
- People will require time to adjust to the changes TQM brings.
Implications in Academic Settings
The emergence of TQM in academia has led to a reassessment of existing
practices. For example, in its original form, TQM aims to increase customer
satisfaction and keep costs low. In the academic setting, TQM places greater
emphasis on quality teaching than on low costs. Other issues include the
- Customer Satisfaction - Students. Review courses for relevance, content
and usefulness. Students' academic needs must be met.
- Customer Satisfaction - Others. Employers hiring NUS graduates must
be satisfied with them. In addition, the government and parents also
expect certain standards to be met.
- Customer Satisfaction - Staff The needs of internal customers (e.g.,
co-workers and colleagues) should also be considered. In this instance,
TQM deals more with interpersonal dynamics like team spirit and synergy.
- Quality Teaching - This is difficult to define, measure and quantify.
Standards, teaching methods, research output and other academic activities
cannot be sufficiently graded to arrive at a working definition of "quality".
At best, long-term studies of results and monitoring can help establish
some means of measurement.
- Cost - Expenditure is another consideration. Current practices should
be assessed to increase effectiveness and lower costs.
Some difficulties may arise as TQM exerts a greater degree of influence
in academia. For example, in industry, the product is important but education
is a process, not a product. Also, start-up and implementation costs will
be quite staggering and require plenty of time and effort. The transition
period will force people out of their comfort zone, causing resentment
and resistance to TQM. The increase in bureaucracy could dampen professional
interest as an endless flow of paper work becomes a turn off. Lecturers
will have to wrestle with the "customer is always right" maxim,
especially when what students want (e.g., more holidays and fewer exams)
is not what they need. To gauge quality teaching, the practical but controversial
method has to be employed - measure quantity. And finally, changes may
only be superficial, not extending beyond hype and jargon.