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A SYSTEM VARIANCE BASED MODEL OF TQM IN

ITALIAN PUBLIC UNIVERSITIES: A WAY OF


FACING EXTERNAL UNCERTAINTY

Alessandra Mancino*

Abstract

Competition, autonomy, and a new focus on performance are increasing in the Italian
state university system; as a result, achieving quality has became an essential part of
organisational success. After analysing the consequence of the customer oriented focus in
terms of student roles, this paper addresses the central question: which may be a good
approach towards obtaining quality management in education? The answer may be found
considering the System Variance Based Model and its implications for the analysis of system
causes of variation in the quality of the student as a product, and of the service provided to
the student as buyer and user. Variety and variability of students as inputs and co-producers
are the central sources of volumes and relational uncertainty in the system. This external
uncertainty will cause high output variation, a central concern for quality because, in
Deming’s quality approach, the key dimension of quality is the uniformity in qualitative levels
of performed outputs. If the university wants to reduce output variability, so as to meet every
single student’s expectations, in his role of buyer, user, and product, it has to face that
external uncertainty. The paper explores how to meet this goal.

1. The student’s role

The possibility of analysing the university as a business 1 originated as a result of


changing environmental conditions and of the business characteristics of a university
which resulted from this.
To consider the university as a business needs not be interpreted as a desecration
of higher education institutions, nor does it necessarily transform culture into
business, where activities are carried out solely according to economic convenience
criteria. Rather the aim is to protect this activity, taking into account that limited

* Doctoral Student - Istituto Universitario Navale of Napoli, Italy


1
When the term business is used in this paper what is intended is an economic unity that
answers to criteria of efficiency, effectiveness and economic self-sufficiency, and pursues
mainly non lucrative aims.
The question as to whether the university may be defined as a business is still being
debated. Strong doubts have been raised on the possibility of considering the university a
business (see Viganò, 1997) whereas for a positive opinion on this issue see Borgonovi
E., 1996.

sinergie rapporti di ricerca n. 9/2000


218 A SYSTEM VARIANCE BASED MODEL OF TQM IN ITALIAN PUBLIC UNIVERSITIES

availability of means requires their more efficient and rational use, and to improve it
so that the university can adequately fulfil the needs of the environment of which it
is part. In other words, environmental complexity and dynamics and the lack of
adequate financial resources are forcing the university to adopt practices of
governance that lead to major levels of efficiency and managerial and social
effectiveness (Testa, 1996; Vermiglio, 1998).
If the university is to be considered a business open to competition and change,
then quality becomes the pivot around which the whole system revolves. As a result
the university has to change its organisational and managerial approach (Bettis,
1994), through constant improvement and, above all, through directing its aims
towards its clients’ needs (Dean & Bowen, 1994).
Customer orientation is not a recently discovered phenomenon. However, as
noted by Lengnick-Hall (1996), the proposers of recent models aimed at achieving
quality have neglected the implications that can be drawn by a proper role being
assigned to the client, despite the attention paid to him. The Author maintains that
understanding the role or, more likely, various roles, that a customer assumes
towards a firm is the key to understand the real meaning of customer orientation and
the implications that follow at both operational and organisational levels. According
to numerous authors2 , four different customer roles are discernible: resource, co-
producer, buyer and user. Studies of the service sector, particularly when referring to
human services, have led towards a fifth role (McDaniels & Morris, 1978;
Lengnick-Hall, 1996): in such services the customer can also be seen as the final
result of a transformation process. The aim of an education process, for example, is
to accomplish a change in the student’s knowledge and skills through transmission
of knowledge in order to prepare him adequately for the labour market. Similarly in
the health service the aim is that of curing the patient. Qualified students and cured
patients therefore represent the final product of the respective production processes
(Fig. 1).

2
Gersuny and Rosengren (Gersuny, Rosengren, 1973) may be considered the forerunners
of this subject of study. For a more detailed reference on this subject of study see
Lengnick-Hall, 1996.
ALESSANDRA MANCINO 219

Students as
buyers
Students as raw Educational
materials transformation Students as
process products
Students
as users
Students as
co-producers

Feedback

Fig. 1: Student’s roles in the educational process of the university as a business

So, in this context, university students are seen not only in the traditional role of
buyers but also, and above all, as raw materials, co-producers, products and users of
the education process.
In general a customer provides a firm with information on his requirements
and/or financial resources (Mills et al, 1983). However, referring in particular to
university education, the main role of the students as input appears to be that of
input of raw materials requiring transformation. In fact the process of transformation
is carried out directly on the students who, therefore, take the form of essential raw
materials in the production process.
Aiming at quality, it is obvious that the better the quality of input, the better the
quality of the process and output. This is true both in the industrial and in the tertiary
sector. Therefore, a careful selection of resources is to be recommended, although
this is not always possible. There exist organisations that, in their operations, have to
take definite ethical or political principles into account (Schneider & Bower, 1995).
State universities are such organisations. Because of their public status state
universities have to recognise everyone’s right to access to further education,
regardless of their attitude or ability, or anything else that may define the quality of
the resource, and consequently of attainable results. If, then, it is not possible for a
university to proceed towards a selection of its students as raw materials regarding
their quality, it can be confirmed that the acquisition of prior knowledge of student-
inputs can constitute a pre-requisite for their efficient management 3 (Deming, 1986).
Such knowledge can prove extremely useful in setting up appropriate activities.
The student is also seen in the role of co-producer. As in all other human

3
It appears that the university is moving, at least partially, in this direction. Questionnaires
sent to students, asking for general information about them, demonstrate the university’s
interest in deepening its knowledge of students, regarding them also as a resource. For
examples of this type of questionnaire refer to the Programma “Valutazione della
didattica” a.a.1994-95, Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi, Settembre 1995.
220 A SYSTEM VARIANCE BASED MODEL OF TQM IN ITALIAN PUBLIC UNIVERSITIES

services, the simultaneity between production and consumption of the educational


activity and the presence of the student during the carrying out of the education
process make him co-producer of the service. Obviously in this role the student can
influence the process of education and its consequent result. It may be stated that, in
this respect, it is the “student who possesses the function of production” and that he
“may not aim at maximising his own results” (Trivellato, 1972: 693).
As a result the opportunity arises to render the participation of the customer more
profitable. For the university at least two factors appear to be fundamental in
achieving effective co-production in students: task clarity (of the entire degree
course and of single courses) and motivation (Lengnick-Hall, Sanders, 1997). It is
unnecessary to emphasise that lack of motivation by a student is one of the causes of
not keeping pace with course requirements in terms of statutory length and for the
extremely high drop-out rate from university in this country.
Students are also obviously users of the educational service. In this role they can
provide useful information about the degree of satisfaction perceived, which in turn
can be useful in the search for quality and continuous improvement.
Finally, the qualified student, as we have seen, constitutes the final product in the
education process. This regards the role that the student takes on regarding not only
the university but also the external environment. To ignore this role would entail
neglecting the expectations of other consumers: firstly the expectations of the
student who has invested in himself and in his future, and therefore expects a return
on this investment, and, secondly, the expectations of the organisation where he will
be employed and where certain results in performance will be expected of him.
Regarding quality, the customer’s role as final product in the education process
raises interesting issues. If change is an integral part of the product or service, and
consequently of its quality, then the very ability to demonstrate such change may be
the best methodology in evaluating the quality of the whole system (Lengnick-Hall,
1996). The problem then is to determine which changes need to be considered and
measured. In educational services, in particular, the change to be verified consists in
factual knowledge, skills and attitudes acquisition on the work environment.

2. A quality approach centred on variance

In analysing the long process of development on the subject of quality a


succession of definitions are evidenced (Reeves & Bednard, 1994) which are
followed by a widening of functional areas and of types of economic activities under
consideration in quality systems.
In the light of recent debates on the theme of quality4 it is possible to rediscover
a primary theoretical matrix of the movement for quality as well as original
contributions to business studies by researchers on quality, which may still provide a
stimulus for analysis. The movement for quality develops in fact from a statistical

4
For a more detailed debate on this issue see Ferrara, 1996.
ALESSANDRA MANCINO 221

matrix (Grant, Shani and Krishnan, 1994) and centres on the subject of variance
analysis. However, this basic statistical concept is interpreted in a systemic key and
applied to the analysis of business systems (Waldman, 1994). In particular,
according to reputable authors, the central problem of management is the incorrect
interpretation of the phenomenon of variation in performance. Deming (1982; 1986)
underlines a confusion between the causes of variance that he defines as special
causes and common causes. The former, sporadic in nature, can be attributed to the
individual, whereas the latter, systemic in nature, can be attributed to the business
system and to how it has been planned. The Author considers the common causes of
the system to be mainly responsible for any variance in performance and they are
responsible for the level of quality that can be reached by a business.
The level of quality, furthermore, is not understood in absolute terms but in
terms of variance in results. Therefore, the primary objective is the reduction of
variance in results that can only be obtained through the analysis, firstly, and then
the reduction of the causes of the variance of a systemic nature. It is important,
however, to be careful when interpreting Deming’s opinion, which suggests that in a
complex environment a simplified system is more likely to be subject to systemic
errors compared to a system that provides a lot of exceptions. In a dynamic sense the
reduction of the causes of a systemic nature is followed by improvement of the
system and of its sub-processes, that not only raise the average levels of
performance but, once again, reduce variance in results. The various subjects of the
business system, always seen as an open system, participate in this process of check
- improvement - check.
Such a central body of concepts and propositions have been applied to
increasingly complex business systems in which the possible causes of systemic
variance have been multiplying.
Since the 1960’s, in particular, the movement for quality has been facing the
challenges presented by the expansion of tertiary activities through a long process of
adaptation to the service sector of principles, practices and techniques initially
developed for industrial production. A change from an “endogenous vision”
(Cercola, 1990) of quality to a vision more open towards the business environment,
which takes client’s needs into particular account and where customer satisfaction
becomes the fulcrum of quality systems, has accompanied this adaptation process.
In this long process of evolution it is appropriate to consider two factors. Firstly,
in raising the level of “openness” towards the environment, it has become
increasingly necessary to recognise and distinguish the various causes of variance;
secondly, as variance in input grows, complexity of information increases, and
therefore the variance in the results increases, at least potentially. The possibility of
raising the quality of services, therefore, depends on the solving of a paradox: the
more the system openness grows the more the level of quality diminishes, so that the
more services are open to consumer satisfaction the less it becomes possible to
obtain a client’s quality-satisfaction. The solution is complicated all the more as the
service grows in complexity and reaches its maximum level in relation to
educational services that identify systems where transformation is “learning”.
222 A SYSTEM VARIANCE BASED MODEL OF TQM IN ITALIAN PUBLIC UNIVERSITIES

3. The causes for input variance in services

Service activities are characterised by a high level of uncertainty of output, that


is unpredictability of them. In relation to quality this translates into increased
variability in output. This depends on the fact that services consist of activities that
take place according to customer demand and that can take on connotations that are
different in function of the customer’s requirements. Clients therefore are the main
cause of uncertainty in carrying out service activity. The subject of output
uncertainty in service activity has been dealt with by many authors. In particular,
Galbraith (1977) defines task uncertainty in terms of limited availability of
information in respect to what is necessary for their completion. This subject has
been developed further by Pennarola (1995). Regarding the area where information
requirements occur, the Author has identified two different types of uncertainty:
volumes uncertainty and relational uncertainty.
Volumes uncertainty is evidenced in the problems that the supplier has in
foreseeing the total number of clients who may in theory demand the service, as well
as the number of those who will simultaneously require the service. These two
factors may be defined respectively as potential and instantaneous volumes
uncertainty.
Four different variables influence the level of relational uncertainty. The first one
is due to the variety of behaviours that a customer may assume while consuming the
service. In services involving frequent contact with customers such a variable
assumes particular significance. The fact that the client is physically present during
the whole process, or in any case during a large part of it, raises the possibility of his
influencing its progress, possibly extending the time required for its completion. The
second variable is due to the different operations that, depending on the customer’s
requirements, must take place for the service to be completed. Connected to this is
the third cause of relational uncertainty, which depends on the type of
interdependence required for the operations to take place. In particular it has to be
understood whether the interdependence in the operations is generic, sequential or
reciprocal (Thompson, 1967). In high contact services, once again, and in services
where accessory services accompany the core service, it becomes difficult to
identify all the tasks required and the grade of interdependence among them. Finally,
the fourth cause of relational uncertainty is represented by the influence that
customers can exert over each other, especially when they are simultaneously
present during the process.
It has been assumed that a positive correlation exists between volumes and
relational uncertainty. In other words, if one is raised we should expect a rise in the
other (Pennarola, 1995).
After all, it could be claimed that uncertainty in input is caused by variability of
volumes in input, and by the variety of types of input and their combinations; these
respectively generate variability and variety in the required organisational actions
that potentially cause variance in output that, as far as quality is concerned,
coincides with a lowering of its levels.
ALESSANDRA MANCINO 223

In the sphere of educational services in the university these uncertainties can also
be witnessed. Regarding potential uncertainty this is evidenced in the problem of
determining the exact number of students who may register for different degree
courses in various different faculties, whereas instantaneous uncertainty is caused by
the difficulty of calculating the number of students that will attend the same course
or who will make use of accessory services provided by the university, or who will
attend exams during the same session.
The main cause of relational uncertainty is instead due to the diversity of
students 5 in their role of inputs and co-producers. The type of secondary education
and the resulting basic cultural training, socio-economic conditions and status of
worker-students, general attitude, preferences and level of maturity, are all factors
that influence student behaviour and requirements, presenting the university with an
extremely varied population. Another diversity factor among students, which some
authors (Lengnick-Hall, Sanders, 1997) consider worth paying attention to, is
students’ individual learning styles. According to Kolb (1984), by learning style we
mean the way a person learns, how he solves problems, how he faces new situations
and makes use of new information. The Author in particular claims that individual
learning styles are due to different combinations of four different learning modes:
concrete experience, reflection, conceptualisation and active experimentation. These
modes of learning can combine in a twofold dimension. A first dimension,
action/reflection, indicates those who learn by doing or by thinking, whereas the
other, concreteness/abstraction, characterises those who in order to learn put more
emphasis on case analyses or theoretical elaboration. Four types of students derive
from this: accommodators, assimilators, convergers and divergers (Fig. 2).

Action Reflection
Concreteness
Accommodators Divergers

Convergers Assimilators
Abstraction

Fig. 2: Dimensions of styles of learning and types of students

Accommodators learn above all through analysing concrete cases and through
experimentation. Assimilators, on the contrary, prefer study and reflection.
Divergers learn through concrete cases and reflection, and convergers, on the other
hand, learn through study and experimentation.
In the educational services carried out by the university there is a positive
correlation between volumes and relational uncertainty. Designing a course becomes

5
Another cause of relational uncertainty in the university is due to the multiplicity of
services provided for students, which makes the individuation of tasks to be carried out,
referring to these services and their interdependencies, complicated.
224 A SYSTEM VARIANCE BASED MODEL OF TQM IN ITALIAN PUBLIC UNIVERSITIES

extremely difficult if the average number of students is not known and their
variability is high (i.e., attendance is variable).
However, it should be noted that the consumer of an educational service, due to
its being a complex service, is also expected to face a high level of uncertainty. In
this type of service the performance involves knowledge and skills that the customer
cannot possess. The customer therefore cannot adequately evaluate the quality of the
service on offer. The supplier’s competence may be presumed but cannot be
objectively recognised. Furthermore, the customer will formulate requirements
based on his own knowledge that, given the situation of informative asymmetry that
he finds himself in, is less than the knowledge available to the business. The
customer will therefore have lower expectations than the supplier can satisfy,
“simplifying the business process towards quality, that becomes, once again, quality
for the business but not for the client” (Baccarani, 1995: 119). It should be added
that some aspects of performance are not immediately perceivable. The
effectiveness of received education (adequate knowledge and the skills obtained)
can only be confirmed long after the service has been used (Ferricchio, 1996).
The complexity of a service, according to the terms cited above, is considered to
have repercussions on the evaluation of quality. The providers of such services
should be willing to supplement their customers’ feedback, incomplete due to the
factors mentioned above, with evaluations by inside and outside organisms able to
judge those aspects of the service that cannot be expressed by the client.
In this context the Italian university system has acknowledged a need to deepen
students’ feedback in order to achieve real quality. Much has been done in this
direction but there are still many problems to be solved and much remains to be
done.

4. Actions required to confront variance

According to Galbraith (1977) the more the tasks can be foreseen, the more the
system efficiency can be improved. As a result information requirements need to be
reduced. Galbraith claims that at the basis of the decision to modify organisation in
the customer’s interest there is an assessment of economic convenience in terms of
more efficient use of resources. The problem is to establish the extent the variations
that must be brought to the system.
The answer can be provided by Ashby’s law of “requisite variety”. If S is the
system, I is inputs to the system, O is desired outcomes and v expresses the extent
of variation, therefore Ov > Iv - Sv: the variety in outcomes is more than or equal to
the difference between variety of input and variety in the system (Ashby, 1956).
In Deming’s quality approach the prime objective must be to reduce variance in
qualitative levels of output, through the reduction of errors in designing the system,
which make it inadequate for the environment in which it operates, and for its
complexity, that is to say to the variance in input. In other words, we must tend
towards Ov equal to zero. This, as the law of requisite variety suggests, can be done
ALESSANDRA MANCINO 225

in two ways: reducing the variance in input Iv or raising the variance in the system
Sv. The application of one strategy or the other depends on the ability and
possibility to influence such external uncertainty. This means that, first of all, the
variance in input will be reduced as much as possible, thus defining a minimum
level of variety required to the system. Then, it will be necessary to intervene on the
system with the aim of raising the variety to the level required to adapt to variance in
input.

5. Variety required of the university in carrying out its educational services

At the present time the university is facing a high degree of volumes and
relational uncertainty. The university to date has, however, been able to deal with
volumes uncertainty through adapting its system as required to its levels. This is
proven by the fact that the university has continued to carry out its teaching role
regardless of the changing number of registered and attending students. The same
cannot be said, however, about relational uncertainty. Today the university is
characterised by a high level of system variability faced with a high level of volumes
uncertainty, and by a low or nil variety of the same system faced with high relational
uncertainty. This translates into a positive variance in results (Ov > 0), and therefore
into low quality.
Referring to relational uncertainty, it must be acknowledged that this has been
growing. The ongoing process of university transformation faces the university with
a fact that can no longer be ignored: “the university, with its products and structures
under offer, could die” (Baccarani, 1998: 2) if it is not capable of attracting and
keeping students, through meeting their specific needs. The increasing diversity of
students represents a challenge educational institutions have to face world-wide
(Lengnick-Hall, Sanders, 1997). Moreover, due to moral and political ties, this
relational uncertainty is not reducible except minimally 6 . Furthermore, because of
requisite variety law, the university cannot avoid raising its system variety. The
system will have difficulty in achieving the variety required unless a positive
correlation between volumes and relational uncertainty can be excluded. In fact,
without a reduction at least in volumes variability, it will be too difficult to control
the complexity of the task in order to adapt to the high levels of both uncertainties

6
At ministerial level an effective pre- and intra-university orientation service has been
defined (Laws 341/90 and 390/91). Pre-university orientation aims not only to inform but
also to help potential students to make a choice suitable to their general characteristics and
needs. Through intra-university orientation the university takes on the task of assisting
students adequately during their educational course, also identifying eventual gaps in their
basic education and designing courses to remedy these. In this way some of the
characteristics of student inputs, their cultural background and their attitudes, that might
otherwise prejudice the education process and its results, can be influenced. This is part of
the process of clarifying tasks and of increasing motivation for students, leading to their
more profitable participation.
226 A SYSTEM VARIANCE BASED MODEL OF TQM IN ITALIAN PUBLIC UNIVERSITIES

(on the other hand, this is the same law of variety that prescribes to reduce
uncertainty as much as possible in order to lower the level of variety to which the
system has to adapt). As it is possible to reduce volumes uncertainty the university
will have to tend towards equalling variety in outcomes Ov to zero, reducing the
variability required to the system regarding volumes and raising internal variety -
adapting it to that required - where relational elements are concerned.

6. Interventions necessary in order to achieve requisite variety

At ministerial level interventions have taken place to raise system quality, which
can be interpreted in this context as interventions directed towards reducing volumes
uncertainty and towards raising system variety to the levels required by relational
uncertainty.
Regarding volumes uncertainty, apart from the present application of the
programmed access, which is a measure only applicable by law to certain degree
courses and by recently established universities, it is foreseen that the system of
preliminary registration to the university will already take effect from the academic
year 1999-2000. Preliminary registration must take place during the last year of
secondary school in order to have an idea of the volume of demand and thus to
simplify the organisation of access to the university. As an alternative to the
programmed access this information could also be used to activate a balanced
distribution of students in provincial universities according to their relative
receptivity. Appropriate competitive examination systems could provide students
who win with the possibility of choosing the university they would prefer to attend.
The undertaking that the universities would adopt, of informing potential students
about the resources availability of different courses at each university, as well as
information about over-subscribed courses, could be interpreted as a way of
reducing volumes uncertainty through guiding student consumption. In order to
strengthen this measure the State and the Regions will concentrate on stimulating
student mobility by facilitating studies through grants, scholarships and other means
to meet the right to have access to higher education7 . The initiative to encourage
mobility of teaching staff could also be considered part of the plan to deal with
volumes uncertainty. The elimination of the connection between teaching staff and
chair/discipline would in fact ensure the availability of more resources to strengthen
the teaching effort required for introductory courses, which are usually heavily over-
subscribed. This possibility should be mostly taken advantage of.
The adaptation of the system to high relational variance in input, due to the
diversity of students, requires that these differences be matched by as many different

7
Another initiative already undertaken in the university is the automation of certain
services which raises the possibility to serve more clients simultaneously. The system of
reservation, already used for exams and the theses assignation, could be extended to other
accessory services to regulate access, for example, to laboratories and libraries, especially
when these are in confined spaces.
ALESSANDRA MANCINO 227

options in the learning process. From this point of view the initiative undertaken by
some higher education institutions, in order to raise their capacity to acquire and
elaborate information about students 8 with the aim of adapting their internal system
adequately to current needs, should be encouraged.
In this context, an objective should undoubtedly be that of amplifying the
choices available to students in terms of a larger number of courses available and of
study plans for each of them.
The autonomous re-definition of the university courses, that represents the
principal objective of the reform of the Italian education system that has been
planned, must be considered a measure designed to generate variety in the system
and to meet students’ specific needs. The tendency that emerges is that of a system
based on two main university cycles, on two levels, named respectively as first
degree and specialised degree. At the first level, the objective of the three-year
standard length degree course will be that of offering the student a completed
education immediately marketable on the world of labour. This will have to be
connected to one or more courses at secondary level. At this level, the specialised
degree course, a two-year standard length course, will aim at providing advanced
education in order to work in specific areas.
Variety in the system may also be obtained through direct student participation
in the sense that they be given more choice in defining their course of study, not
only through customising it but also by offering them the opportunity to self-plan
the process9 .
Regarding customisation, students could be mostly encouraged to design
individual study plans to be then considered, in any case, by the university. On the
other hand teaching staff could plan different methods of teaching during a course in
order to meet the students’ individual learning styles (Lengnick-Hall, Sanders,
1997). In order to make personalisation effective, it is then advisable to preliminarily
identify the individual learning style of the students, as well as advising and helping
them during their course of study.
Regarding process self-planning, the innovations facing the Italian university
system are interesting and relevant. The use of a system of credits certainly supports
self-planning of education process. Such a system was introduced into the university

8
This is done through questionnaires, as previously specified, which are in fact used for
evaluation and where students are also asked for personal general information.
9
Wider student participation should not, however, be meant, as appears to be claimed by
certain authors (Lengnick-Hall, Sanders, 1997), as a recognition of greater autonomy in
determining content and activation of the learning system. These authors recognise the
necessity (and one may agree with them) for the role of the teaching staff to be modified,
to also act as team leader, model and source of feed-back. However such modification
must not interfere with some crucial aspects, such as deciding course contents, their
standards and modalities and evaluation. It must not be forgotten that the teaching staff is
the main source of knowledge transmitted and that they are fully responsible for the
education process, in its content and results, even though they are not solely responsible
for these.
228 A SYSTEM VARIANCE BASED MODEL OF TQM IN ITALIAN PUBLIC UNIVERSITIES

for the first time by law 1990/341, but it is being favoured all the more strongly
today in order to enable university studies in Italy to comply with European
standards, in the context of an European higher education area10 .
Furthermore, it is also very important to differentiate the educational offer
according to the various types of demands. Among those who register at the
university we can distinguish between those students who plan to complete their
studies within the legal or statutory length, who make up the majority, and those
who are already employed and are unable to keep pace with course requirements.
Adult students who wish to re-enter the university system periodically for lifelong
education need also to be considered. All this leads to the suggestion that “the out of
time” student condition be eliminated and that the university offer differentiated
options to full-time and part-time students (Martinotti, 1997).
The proposals for raising system variety in the Italian university cannot be
achieved at zero cost. The offer of study courses, varied in content and in
proceedings, designed to meet student needs, obviously requires a multiplication of
human and structural resources and therefore of financial resources. The academic
environment has also underlined the necessity for a renewal of the
normative/contractual framework of its personnel in the sense of wanting greater
flexibility in hiring the professional staff required.
Regarding this final proposal, a role that acquires renewed importance in this
new framework is that of the tutor. Relational uncertainty can be reduced through
tutorial activity. Furthermore, this activity allows for variance growth in the internal
system, as it allows for personalisation and self-planning of the process. It is
considered that, as a result of the situation of informative asymmetry that he finds
himself in, a student needs to be advised on the choices available and to be guided
during the education process. In this role the tutor should be assisted by a specialist
whose role would be to help to solve any psychological problems that may arise
(counselling).

10
The European Higher Education Area. Joint declaration of the European Ministers of
Education convened in Bologna on the 19th of June 1999.
ALESSANDRA MANCINO 229

Pattern of Synthesis in the TQM model based on system variance in the university
Ov: Variance in outcomes Grade of satisfaction of specific needs of each
student in his different roles as user and
product and over time. In Deming’s quality
approach all customers must always be
equally satisfied, i.e. variance in results must
be nil or the lowest possible.
Iv: Variance in input Uncertainty in input determined through
variability of volumes in input (Ivv) and
variety in typology of student inputs and their
combination (Ivr).
Sv: System variance Suitability of the system to environmental
complexity, i.e. to variance in input
Ov > (Ivv - Svv) + (Ivr - Svr) If the objective must be to render the variance
[Ov > Iv - Sv] in outcomes as nil, Ashby’s law suggests
action primarily on variance in input to
reduce the variety required to the system to
the minimum. Only when such uncertainty
cannot be reduced will it be necessary to
increase the system variance to a level which,
due to the previous manoeuvre, will be
controllable. Yet, due to moral and political
ties, the state university cannot reduce
relational uncertainty in input except
minimally
The state university to date is characterised for:
High variance in outcomes: High system variance faced with high
volumes uncertainty.
Low system variance faced with high
Ov = (Ivv - Svv) + (Ivr-Svr) > 0 relational uncertainty.
for which Ov = Ivv - Svv = 0
but Ov = Ivr - Svr > 0

In this context, the interventions to be undertaken, in order to increase the


uniformity of the outputs, must be designed on the basis of the ability and possibility
to influence the variance in input. In the light of this:

Resolutions adoptable by the university: Reduction of uncertainty in volumes, in order


to lower the level of requisite variety in
- + system, taking into account the existing
positive correlation among the causes of
Ivv Svr variance in input. Following increase of
system variety, given the limited possibilities
so that to reduce relational uncertainty.

Ov = (Ivv - Svv) + (Ivr - Svr) = 0


230 A SYSTEM VARIANCE BASED MODEL OF TQM IN ITALIAN PUBLIC UNIVERSITIES

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