Quality Control Across Borders

OECD and Unesco propose new safeguards against the export of low-quality higher education.
December 6, 2005

Two international bodies on Monday released proposed guidelines for countries, accreditors and colleges to use to ensure quality in programs that cross national borders.

While the guidelines are not mandatory on anyone and don't go into much detail, they are among the most significant efforts to date to expand quality control in higher education beyond any one single country. With more colleges than ever before offering programs outside their home country -- either through physical campuses or online -- students are "more vulnerable to low-quality provision and disreputable providers of cross-border higher education," says the introduction to the guidelines, which were adopted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and by Unesco.

Together, the two organizations have 190 member countries.

The introduction also notes that while, for some developed nations, the challenge is extending their accreditation or other quality-assurance mechanisms internationally, many developing countries don't have much of a system to begin with, even for evaluating quality at home. As a result, the organizations called for more "capacity building" in such countries.

In terms of international education, the report offered guidelines for governments, colleges, students, and accreditors.

Governments were urged to:

  • Establish "comprehensive, fair and transparent" systems for foreign colleges to register to offer programs.
  • Recognize that the development of good systems for quality control must involve both "sending and receiving countries."
  • Develop "where appropriate" bilateral or multilateral agreements for mutual recognition of colleges in countries with comparable and sound quality control systems.

Colleges were urged to:

  • Set standards such that programs they offer in other countries are of "comparable quality" to those they offer at home.
  • Consider "cultural and linguistic sensitivities" in countries in which they are offering programs.
  • Recognize the importance of the quality of the faculty and of faculty working conditions in programs at home and abroad and to promote "collegial governance" and academic freedom at home and abroad.

Students were encouraged to:

  • Ask tough questions of programs in which they are considering enrolling -- and specifically to inquire about accreditation standards and faculty quality, and how both compare to the institution's campus in its home country.
  • Spread the word to fellow students about "potential risks such as misleading guidance and information" and "low quality" programs.

Accreditors were urged to:

  • Make sure their standards took into consideration the growing number of colleges that offer programs outside their home country.
  • Establish closer ties to accreditors in other countries.
  • Consider the use of international panels to evaluate colleges or programs, where their educational activities make such a panel appropriate.
  • Make sure that standards are "easily accessible."


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