Understanding Quality

Understanding Quality

EdQual researchers have been working to generate new ways of thinking about education quality in low income countries that is relevant to disadvantaged learners.

We draw on theories of social justice, adding these perspectives to current understandings of education quality focused on human capital and human rights.

Our researchers have developed two frameworks that help to capture the different dimensions of education quality.


Research and key findings

Two main perspectives dominate understandings of education quality in low income countries:

  • Human capital theory regards a quality education as one that is effective in achieving goals that contribute to economic growth.
  • The human rights-based approach regards a quality education as one which protects and promotes the rights of diverse learners.

In our own theoretical work we bridge and add to these two perspectives. We do this by drawing on theories of social justice. In particular, our thinking has been influenced by Nancy Fraser's three dimensions of social justice - redistributive (economic), recognition (socio-cultural) and representation (political) social justice - and Amartya Sen's capability approach. Two different frameworks for thinking about education quality have come out of this work.

Three dimensions of education quality

A framework developed by EdQual researchers at the University of Bristol asserts that a good quality education is one that is inclusive, relevant and democratic:

  • Inclusive means all learners have access to potential outcomes.
  • Relevant means learning outcomes are meaningful for all learners, valued by their communities and consistent with national development priorities in a changing global context.
  • Democratic means learning outcomes are determined through public debate and ensured through processes of accountability.

For more on this see EdQual Working Paper no. 18.

Education Quality as a stretched fabric

An alternative framework developed by EdQual colleagues at the University of Bath sees education quality as a stretched 'fabric'. The tension of this fabric is maintained through a contextually appropriate balance across seven conceptual dimensions: effectiveness, efficiency, equity, responsiveness, relevance, reflexivity and sustainability. For more on this see Nikel and Lowe's article in Compare.

Lead contact details

Leon Tikly, University of Bristol,

Research team

Researchers from across the consortium have engaged in conceptualising education quality. The individuals who contributed to the ideas presented on this page are:

University of Bristol, UK

  • Leon Tikly
  • Angeline M. Barrett

University of Bath, UK

  • Jutta Nikel
  • John Lowe