In universities, we are concerned with two central activities, teaching and research. Academic attitudes and practices are quite different in these two activities and, within the current academic culture, it is much easier to identify quality and professionalism in research than in teaching (Elton and Partington 1991). One difficulty in connection with university teaching, as with any public service, is that, in the case of service industries, health care and education, the product and the production line – taking over these words from manufacturing industry – are based largely on the actions of qualified professionals. Yet the behaviour, whether effective or not, of professionals is largely hidden from objective scrutiny.

This is demonstrably true of university teaching, which its practitioners often consider to be an activity conducted in private between not always consenting adults. To make professionals publicly accountable for their work and to do so without affecting the work negatively is a crucial issue faced by all the professions, for it is perfectly possible for public accountability to lead to a deterioration of quality (Elton 1991a).

This chapter will, within the context of university teaching, first discuss the concepts of quality and quality assurance and then turn to the question of professionalism. Only then will it be possible to put forward a model for quality assurance in university teaching and to tackle the difficult question of how to provide public accountability and at the same time to maintain or even increase quality.