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Term Definition

Operational variables referring to specific empirically measurable characteristics of higher education institutions or programmes on which evidence can be collected that allows for a determination of whether or not standards are being met. Indicators identify performance trends and signal areas in need for action and/or enable comparison of actual performance with established objectives. They are also used to translate theoretical aspects of quality, a process known as operationalization. An indicator must be distinguished from a measure, which is data used to determine the level of performance of an attribute of interest, and from a standard, which is the level of acceptable performance in terms of a specific numeric criterion. 

Another distinction is made between the different types of indicators: (i) indicators of economy (following and respecting budgets); (ii) indicators of efficiency (actual productivity or output per input unit); and (iii) indicators of effectiveness (degree of attainment of objectives). A third and relatively consequent distinction is made between: (i) context indicators, that relate to the specific environment of a higher education institution or programme (social, economic, political, geographical, etc.); (ii) input indicators, that relate to the logistical, human, and financial resources used by a higher education institution; (iii) process indicators, that refer to the use of resources by a higher education institution, to the management of the inputs, and to the functioning of the organization; and (iv) output indicators, that concern the actual achievements or products of the higher education institution. This latter framework is also known as the CIPO-model (i.e., Context, Inputs, Process, Outputs), frequently used in evaluation studies.

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