The main argument of this paper emanates from an understanding that 'quality' is a highly contested concept and has multiple meanings to people who conceive higher education and quality differently. This paper attempts to analyse ways of thinking about higher education and quality; consider their relevance to the measurement of performance of universities and colleges; and explore their implications for the selection of criteria, approaches and methods for the assurance of quality in higher education. This paper also investigates various models of measuring quality in higher education, consider their value and discuss both their shortcomings and contributions to the assessment of higher education institutions. These models include the simple 'production model', which depicts a direct relationship between inputs and outputs; the 'value-added approach', which measures the gain by students before and after they receive higher education; and the 'total quality experience approach', which aims to capture the entire learning experience undergone by students during their years in universities or colleges. Copyright © 2001 Taylor & Francis Ltd.