Despite being wrapped in a technical, enhancement-driven discourse, the discussion on the internalization of quality assurance is in fact as multifaceted as it is politi- cally sensitive. This paper has demonstrated that there is no straightforward way to understand why actors in universities fail to routinize QA practices in their activities and subsequently use them to generate quality improvements, since the mechanisms at play are manifold. The analysis of the Romanian case has shown that problems revolve around the process of policy-making, with underlying causes at both the macro level (top-down failure) and the micro level (bottom-up failure). Indeed, the inconsistency and ambiguity of national regulations—not linked to teaching and learning in any substantive way - determine actors in universities to feel burdened by QA and confused as to how they should implement and make use of its activities. Moreover, there is some discordance between central-level narratives focused on quality enhancement and accountability and those of actors in univer- sities, who generally feel no ownership over their IQA systems and fail to see the purpose of the multiple evaluation procedures. Therefore, actors on the ground reject QA practices as unnecessary and infringing upon university autonomy, which is why they subsequently perform them in a superficial manner—as a form of passive dissent. In the end, there can be no talk of improving QA processes in the Romanian higher education system without direct involvement and support from the people for whom they are effectively designed.

In light of the conceptual clarifications presented earlier in this paper, our findings may appear less surprising. Undeniably, it is difficult to separate the ‘internal’ from the ‘external’ when it comes to quality assurance. Academics are inclined to perceive all evaluations as‘external’, regardless if they are conducted by governmental agencies/international bodies or their own institutions. At the same time, professional evaluators may miss the specificities of individual departments

and disciplines, touching upon the sensitivities of local actors who thus become less open to move beyond ritualistic compliance with QA requirements. The issue hence returns to the second conceptual element mentioned, namely for whom is QA supposed to produce‘accountability’ and ‘improvement’? For individual academics in the universities that we visited, the answer is‘not for us’. On the contrary, the government is seen as the main beneficiary of all evaluation procedures, followed perhaps by the university management to a lesser extent. As long as they don’t see it in their best interest, actors in universities have no motivation to internalize quality assurance—which as a result fails to deliver on the promised quality enhancement objective.

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