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Quality Management in Higher Education: Responsibilities of Receiving Countries in Quality Assurancce in Cross-Border Higher Education  

Truong Thuy, Van


The growth of cross‐border higher education comes along concerns about quality issues. This essay focuses on explaining the rationale for putting more attention to receiving countries’ quality assurance, given that literature in this area is rather limited and sending countries seem taking control. It also provides a summary of responsibilities that receiving countries should be able to implement in this multi‐actor quality process.


In this essay, the following definitions are used:

  • Cross-border higher education (CBHE) - is used interchangeably with transnational higher education (TNE). The definition in UNESCO’s Guidelines for Quality Provision in Cross‐border Higher Education is used. ‘CBHE includes higher education that takes place in situations where the teacher, student, programme, institution/provider or course materials cross national jurisdictional borders.’ (UNESCO 2005);
  • Receiving country is the country where the students and the partner, in the case of joint venture, are located. Other terms referred ‘receiving country’ in this paper are host country, importing country, recipient of CBHE;
  • Sending country is the country where the institution providing cross‐border higher education is located. Other terms referred to ‘sending country’ are home country, exporting country, provider of CBHE.

Rationale of the essay

Internationalization trend has pushed forward enormous changes in higher education systems worldwide over the last twenty years. Aside from flows of students mobility is the emergence of programs and institutional mobility. Many institutions have reached out to students outside of their territories through franchising or twinning programs, branch‐campuses or joint degree programs.
The rapid increase in CBHE has also raised concerns about quality. There are gaps and variation in the policies of quality assurance in TNE. According to Knight (2007), the initial purpose of setting up quality assurance frameworks was to take care of domestic HE provision, but not including quality assurance in TNE. Another case study by Center for Higher Education Policies Studies (CHEPS) (Cremonini et al. 2012) also revealed that only very few quality assurance agencies have separated instruments and measurements dedicated to TNE. A survey by British Council (McNamara et al. 2013) found that a third of 25 studied countries had not had or had very limited quality assurance policies in TNE. Among countries where the quality assurance mechanisms were in place, regulations vary, making it difficult to collaborate internationally (Stella 2006). Capacity to deal with quality issues is also problematic and different from countries to countries. It was even stated that internationalization progress in HE will be no further developed if it does not deal with quality issues seriously, such as practices of quality assurance, recognition of diploma and study credits, and the equivalence of study programmes (Van Damme 2001). Quality became a central challenge and an important element to the development of TNE. It has become particularly crucial in receiving countries to assure quality of TNE. In many countries, reputation of Western education means quality (Cremonini et al. 2012). There has been fraudulent providers of TNE taking advantages of this prestige as well as the gap in the
importing countries’ quality assurance regulations to provide low‐quality programs with high
cost, maximizing profit and disappearing from the host countries, or ‘selling’ degrees (Stella 2006; Cremonini et al. 2012; Knight 2006). Among different views on TNE, there is a critical view that TNE is disadvantageous for developing countries (Stella 2006), that their limited capacity to enter the global market of higher education would result in the risk of having various quality‐related issues. A good quality assurance mechanism, however, will help bring potential advantages of TNE to these countries.
However, it appears that literature on the role and responsibilities of receiving countries in TNE quality assurance is limited. Existing literature mostly discussed quality assurance in sending countries. As TNE quality assurance particularly requires the responsibilities of both ends, it is important to have a close look on that of receiving countries to provide a more comprehensive view on TNE quality assurance. This essay, through reviewing various academic articles on the topic, tries to define the roles of receiving countries in TNE quality assurance.

Quality assurance in TNE and the role of receiving countries

Quality assurance in TNE from providers’ view

Literature shows the dominant role of sending countries in quality assurance in TNE. The review of national policies and regulations on TNE in 25 countries involving in CBHE (McNamara et al. 2013) indicated that in almost all forms of delivery, sending countries claim their responsibility to assure quality. Before that, an analysis of the codes of practices and guidelines in three major exporters of CBHE (Australia, the US, and the UK) by Smith (2010) had also shown that the home institutions rely largely on themselves in the quality process. The role of receiving countries as well as the collaborative relationship in quality assurance with their partner countries are barely considered.
The central attention of these documents is the equivalency of programs and the providers’
adaptation to the local context of the receiving countries. One problem with this approach is who will be in the position to judge the ‘local context compatibility’ if not receiving countries. Collaboration with the receiving countries, or their host quality agencies in particular, is needed to evaluate the adaptability of a cross‐border program to the local context. The UK’s document even eliminates the adaptation to local practice as worrying that it might risk the consistency of the assessment. It leads to a question whether the lack of contribution from the receiving countries in the TNE quality assurance process means lower or higher quality. It is discussed in the following section.

The role of receivers of CBHE in quality assurance

The absence of literature of TNE quality assurance in receiving countries and the dominance of sending countries in this area do not mean receiving countries’ participation and contribution in this area is not a matter. Conversely, they need to play a direct role to assure quality of CBHE, to protect students and other stakeholders in their countries from low‐quality provision and spurious providers. It is because not all exporting countries have quality assurance mechanisms in TNE or not always TNE is assessed by external agencies. Some quality assurance agencies in home countries even claimed that they cannot have a careful look at quality assurance of TNE programs as the workload for domestic programs is already enormous (Stella 2006).
Furthermore, agencies in the home countries are not likely able to fully check all aspects of
quality in TNE in the receiving countries due to variation in quality assurance regulations and the complexity of TNE (Stella 2006). In some countries, TNE quality assurance applies the procedures and regulations for domestic higher education programs. The problem is that non‐traditional cross‐border providers might not be registered in such system, such a case is commercial companies establishing their institutions in another country (Knight 2006). That means if these commercial providers establish HE programs in a country that does not have a quality assurance system in place to register these providers, such as in Sri Lanka and Russia (Nguyen & Shillabeer 2013), they are free from quality regulatory frameworks in both sending and receiving countries.
One could argue that too many regulations and quality assurance mechanisms established by different stakeholders at all levels (sending countries, receiving countries, international agencies) with different perception on quality would hinder quality process and create difficulties for the operation of cross‐border institutions. Meanwhile, the other would also oppose that too many regulations or too strict regulations might make the HE market of a country less attractive to foreign providers. Though these arguments have some merit, the importance of hosting countries’ active participation in the quality process is still emphasized. There would be risky to rely only on the home countries’ reputation as quality, or assume that their quality monitor is efficient and sufficient enough. There would also be unrealistic to look for one single document that guide all cross‐border activities internationally. UNESCO‐OECD’s Guidelines for Quality Provision in Cross-border Higher Education, for instance, is considered as recommending, not regulatory, and is certainly unable to covers in details all areas of quality assurance as well as use to fit all stakeholders’ different needs (Stella 2006). It would be, however, ideal if sending and receiving nations in CBHE could collaborate in the quality assurance process. This, obviously, requires critical role of both sides.
Responsibilities of receiving countries should be emphasized, and include:
Assure the CBHE programs are suitable and useful to national development goals. In order to do so, the receiving countries first need to set clear objectives of importing education; whether there is a real need in CBHE; whether it is to complement the limited supply, to boost massification of HE, or to improve capacity of national systems through increasing cooperation and competition, or if it is due to political objectives. In some cases, CBHE is a part of bilateral or trade agreements that would ask the receiving country to adjust some regulations to facilitate the trade flow (Knight 2006), but these nations should have the right and responsibilities to determine that quality and goal orientation are achieved.

Develop an enforceable regulatory framework for quality process in TNE

As discussed throughout this essay, this is one of the most urgent requirements to deal with quality issues from TNE. In Asia, an active areas of TNE, some countries have regulated national quality assurance system for TNE, such as China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia, and Taiwan. China, for example, requires all cross‐border educational activities must be in the form of joint venture with a local partner; while in Hong Kong, an institution is free to set up a programme or partnership with a local entity and required to register, except for distance programs (Knight 2006). However, there are nations with no regulation regarding cross‐border HE at all, or with a limited and poorly performed one. Take an example of Vietnam: the country has issued first regulation on this topic since 2001 and a stricter one in 2012, but they are complicated and ambiguous, involving different governance layers, which results in loopholes for degree mills and rogue provision, and barriers for genuine providers to operate (Nguyen & Shillabeer 2013). It is necessary that the country established an enforceable national framework with clear responsibilities and relationship between all stakeholders in CBHE so as ongoing and incoming providers of TNE are confident to operate and students are protected. Establish registration and licensing system for TNE provision. This is particularly emphasized in UNESCO Guidelines (UNESCO 2005). It is challenging, though. Various cases poses concerns in registering and licensing (Knight 2006) such as whether it is possible to register a purely online program, or register commercial companies without presence in their home country. Assure the transparency and accuracy of information about CBHE to their students and other stakeholders. This could be done through setting up an information channel with a government body to receive and publish information on spurious provision, poor‐quality programs or bogus establishment, and provide list of quality programs. It could also increase awareness and accessibility to regulations on registration, licensing, quality assurance and accreditation through formal channels, or implementation guidelines, as is done in China (Knight 2006). Collaborate with sending countries in the quality-monitoring process and promote collaborative relationship with quality assurance agencies at sending countries and with international organizations working in this field. This point is stressed in various literature (Stella 2006; Smith 2010; Knight 2006; Cremonini et al. 2012; UNESCO 2005). It is necessary to ensure the compatibility of the cross‐border programs; to deal with issues of recognition of qualification and study credits; to determine the quality and validity of accreditation bodies; to detect bogus providers, degree mills, and accreditation mills; and to build mutual understanding and trust between systems. Despite of the strong need, it is rarely seen in reality. While ensuring equivalence and adaptation of the CBHE is often emphasized on the side ofsending countries, the importing counterparts seem focus on how these programmes fit and contribute to national objectives. Enhancing collaboration in quality assurance is required for both sides.


Quality issues have been one of the biggest challenges of the development of TNE as its volume and complexity grow. In this area, it appears that exporting countries are playing a prominent role. Receiving countries also need to seriously consider and be ready to take their responsibilities in assuring quality of TNE so as to protect their consumers and make the most of TNE. They should be able to consider the usefulness and suitability of TNE to their needs, develop their own regulations on quality assurance, registration, licensing and accreditation, ensure accessible and accurate information to stakeholders, and collaborate and encourage collaboration with partner governments and quality assurance agencies.


Cremonini, L. et al., 2012. Impact of Quality Assurance on Cross‐Border Higher Education;

Van Damme, D., 2001. Quality issues in the internationalisation of higher education. Higher Education, 41(4), pp.415–441;

Knight, J., 2006. Cross‐border higher education: Issues and implications for quality assurance and accreditation. In Higher Education in the World 2007. Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 134– 146. Available at:

McNamara, J., Knight, J. & Fernandez‐Chung, R.M., 2013. The shape of things to come. The evolution of transnational education: data, definitions, opportunities and impacts analysis: Available at:

Nguyen, G. & Shillabeer, A., 2013. Issues in Transnational Higher Education Regulation in Vietnam. In P. Mandal, ed. Proceedings of the International Conference on Managing the Asian Century. Singapore: Springer, pp. 637–644;

Smith, K., 2010. Assuring quality in transnational higher education: a matter of collaboration or control? Studies in Higher Education, 35(7), pp.793–806. Available at:

Stella, A., 2006. Quality Assurance of Cross‐border Higher Education. Quality in Higher Education, 12(3), pp.257–276. Available at:

UNESCO, 2005. Guidelines for Quality Provision in Cross‐border Higher Education. Available at:
http://www.unesco.org/education/guidelines_E.indd.pdf [Accessed October 3, 2015];


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