In a discussion today at work about quality processes I remembered the model of education which has been successful for Athabasca university in Canada. Their enrolments have increased many fold because people can enrol for gap courses to complete qualifications they are taking at other universities etc.
Also students can enrol any time and at any stage of a course. To enable this flexible learning, Athabasca has a well resourced production team which goes through a strict quality control process to create high quality learning resources for distance students. The team comprises designers - educational and graphic, technical staff, editors, content experts, a project manager and others.
Once courses are developed for flexible/online modes, student support is well sychronised and tutors are employed to teach the courses which academics had a hand in developing as content experts. The academic staff merely oversee their courses and spend their time conducting research which increases the reputation of the university. Plus they are spreading the word and helping others to produce quality online learning.
For example, several staff have written a book on the Theory and Practice of Online Learning and it is freely available under a Creative Commons licence at: http://cde.athabascau.ca/online_book/ The book is edited by Terry Anderson and Fathi Elloumi (2003).
It provides an overview of educational theory, strategic approaches and infrastructure, technologies, development of courses, team projects, copyright, teaching, support for discussions and learners, library support, quality.
I guess this model gauges quality by the enrolment rates and the reputation of the university. Academic staff become well known because their ideas and research is of a high standard and they get time to undertake research and present and write scholarly articles. This means they are up to date with current trends and in turn this raises the reputation of the university which then attracts students.
The research reputation of an institution does influence the status of institutions in the international arena and I guess this is what has happened with places such as Harvard, Cambridge, Stanford and Oxford. All you need is a few high status researchers and the place goes up in lights...and of course the ability to attract the rich and famous.