CHEA Invitational International Seminar II

January 25, 2001 • Hotel Inter-Continental, New Orleans, LA

Judith Eaton, President of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), opened the seminar. She welcomed the participants, expressing her pleasure that half the participants were international guests from eleven countries. She reminded participants that this second CHEA International Seminar grew out of the successes of the previous seminar held in Washington, DC, on January 27, 2000, and that the International Working Group set up at that time (Mala Singh, John Leong, George Peterson, and Richard Lewis, joined by Judith Eaton and Fred Hayward) had been following up on several issues brought up at the previous meeting including exploring the need for U.S. accreditors and improved cooperation between organizations internationally.

Participants were asked to review the 1999 CHEA Survey of International Quality Review and Accreditation: The Role of CHEA Accreditors, that describes the activities of CHEA accreditors in the international arena. Judith also reported on the addition of an international section on the CHEA web site ( and the development of a database of international quality assurance organizations recently posted on the CHEA website. Additions will be made as more organizations respond to CHEA's invitation. Quality assurance organizations across the United States (national, regional, and specialized) will be added in the next few weeks.

Fred Hayward briefly reported on initial discussions about the feasibility of setting up a CHEA International Commission. Judith announced that work on a draft Quality Assurance Glossary would be ready for the web by the end of February 2001. Fred pointed out that this is a work in progress designed to help strengthen communication among those engaged in quality assurance and accreditation. He noted that initial efforts had underscored the ambiguity and differences in the language used in quality assurance internationally and expressed the hope that conference participants (and others) would suggest additions, modifications, and areas of convergence.

Review of the Agenda and Emerging Additional Issues
Participants reviewed the agenda for the day and were asked for thoughts about additional areas and emerging issues as we look to 2001 and beyond. David Woodhouse and Don Gerth led the discussion.

David Woodhouse suggested a number of important issues and foci, including: 1) the virtual university (and the need to unbundle its activities); 2) interaction among quality assurance organizations and the need to coordinate activities and share information; 3) "mutual recognition" by quality assurance organizations; 4) certification of quality assurance agencies; 5) the feasibility of an international agency for quality assurance; and 6) the question "What is it all for?" He noted that in many ways, it is the institutions that are changing things—that we have to avoid letting institutions outpace quality assurance organizations.

Don Gerth pointed to a number of additional issues that need attention: 1) a view that U.S. quality assurance organizations are insensitive and seeking hegemony in the international arena and the need to confront whatever reality that reflects; 2) the importance of exploring our relationship to UNESCO, bringing them into the discussion; 3) the issue of "bogus institutions" and "diploma mills" and our obligations to identify them; and 4) the need to focus attention on concerns about global imperialism by the more powerful education systems.

A number of other issues and questions were suggested, including the role of the World Bank in quality assurance, the difficulty of identifying government-recognized quality assurance organizations, and the need to go back to first principles—to ask how much of what we do is in the interest of protecting the academy and how much is in the public interest.

The general discussion that followed focused on the importance of national contexts of quality assurance in contrast to the international perspective. One participant suggested that quality assurance was needed for market purposes internationally, but in an effort to make it non-elitist, organizations searched for the lowest common denominator. But others raised questions about this view, suggesting that quality assurance should be challenging institutions and finding new ways to challenge the system. It should be trying to encourage higher standards and identify those institutions that achieve them.

Participants expressed concern about the consequences of unbundling higher education—especially in the context of distance education. Unbundling makes it possible for some services to be offered by private companies as separate entities. How will this affect the university? Will it affect developing nations more profoundly? Do they have adequate defenses? This gets at the questions of "what is a university?" Does this unbundling require protection for certain groups? For the academy?

Participants suggested that among our goals should be protection of the interests of the learner. Greater access is a "global good" and requires a global ethos. Some people argued that every quality assurance agency should have this as its goal. Others picked up on the ethics question, suggesting that a set of basic principles should be laid out—a code of ethics protecting the consumer. Hopefully, institutions could come together on this.

The issue of cultural imperialism was raised. "Does quality assurance add to the imperialism by doing it in the context of its own culture?" The impact of external cultures and the importance of national cultures were of concern to many of the participants. In the same vein, the impact of culture on learning was also noted, with several participants recommending that quality assurance organizations become more explicit about the nationality of the provider and the place in which qualifications were obtained. What does that imply for the degrees certified by providers? The difficulties of identifying cross-cultural indicators also were recognized. How does one develop substantive indicators of quality cross-nationally? Much more work needs to be done in this area.

One participant asked if it was imperialism when a foreign provider was invited to assist another country. She thought not, that under those conditions the activity in another country was benign and basically culturally neutral. There was little agreement with that assertion.

Participants discussed future cooperation in the context of the level (national versus international) at which cooperation takes place and the ability to make progress in the long run. The discussion was inconclusive, with some arguing that the national level was primary, others that it was too diverse, time consuming, and unlikely to result in success. They preferred regional or subject groupings. Several participants suggested that CHEA might help to develop cooperative efforts in the future—even more extensively than it has done to date. Some felt the most fruitful avenues for the future were likely to be encouraged by NGOs. Others suggested that regional cooperation was the best route. There was strong support for enhancing cooperation among participating institutions.

Challenges to quality assurance were discussed. Participants feared going back to the too simple notion that quality assurance was only about consumer protection; people believed that was not enough. In addition, the current situation is quite different from the past. The power once exercised by faculty at higher education institutions has been weakened, and in many cases so has that of administrators and boards.

One factor accelerating this decline is the effect of private, for-profit higher education (including distance education). Many for-profit providers are offering products with high demand, and (as in the computer technology area) offering their own certification outside conventional quality assurance mechanisms. The inherent tension between education as a social good and education for profit seems to be growing. The for-profit sector also is demonstrating some instability—several have failed in the United States in recent years, leaving their investors and students in the lurch and sometimes in debt. In some cases, students are buying qualifications, not quality.

Shouldn't the quality assurance community be able to protect people from such circumstances? Participants agreed that they should be able to do so, but some suggested that the quality assurance community was too timid, slow, and conservative to do anything about it. People were voting with their feet by obtaining the least taxing certification while being unaware of the potential risks. It was suggested that good practices for certification, and information about them, need to be circulated more widely. The issue is qualifications and quality versus situations in which the two are not merged. Much more work is needed in this area.

The discussion ended with an expression of a sense of urgency and concern about the need to resolve these issues with particular attention to: agreement about the purpose of quality assurance internationally; plans to carry it out effectively internationally; the need to recognize, understand, and plan for important cultural issues; the need for a global ethic; and a major effort to develop mechanisms by which "we" or some other body can make comparative quality assurance possible and effective internationally. Perhaps this could be done through a coalition of regional quality assurance organizations.

Emerging Issues in Distance Education
Richard Lewis led the discussion accompanied by Mala Singh, John Leong, and Wai Sum Wong. Richard suggested that there is a great deal we need to know about good practices in the import and export of distance learning. He noted that distance education had exposed many of the issues in higher education that were put under the table—for example, the importance of the academic community to education, the impact of the continuing presence of faculty on the learning process, and the role of face-to-face learning. What are the consequences (if any) of limits on, or the disappearance of, these factors in distance education? He added that, in his view, the U.K. institutions were in distance education for the money, whether they were for profit or non-profit. What impact does that have?

John Leong suggested that by being active, Hong Kong had been able to use externally provided distance education effectively to meet its own needs (and progress toward the goal of having 60 percent of its education provided by distance education in the long run). Hong Kong insisted on good practices by providers and thus had good experiences overall—though notable problems were cited. Ensuring good practices are within the realm of control of the recipient country, though that does require resources. Leong noted that Hong Kong currently received 400 courses from abroad and spent more on them than many universities' total budgets. The developing world may not have similar capacity to protect its citizens.

Picking up on the previous theme, Mala Singh raised a number of issues:
What do people understand as the meaning of distance education? Is it the full spectrum of education with multiple modes of delivery? She emphasized the differences with face to face education. Mala asked what makes a dedicated distance education organization special. She then posed several questions:

What are the commonalties and differences between face to face and distance provision. What are the comparable outcomes? What are the differences? Are they based on common criteria?

What is different about distance education? Is it going beyond national boundaries? Does cultural imperialism vanish with an invitation? She suggested that it was not a question of invitation but of taking into consideration the context of education. It is the framework in which the action is taken. What are some other implications of the differences?

What forms of assistance and other support can be provided? Flexible learning is not just about flexible delivery—it is also flexible receiving. What kinds of cultural capital are needed to make distance learning work well? What makes self-learning work? One needs to understand self-learning to get at the broad claims that distance learning provides access, especially in the less developed world for those with low levels of literacy and limited study skills. How do providers deal with literacy in distance learning? How do they deal with the other skills needed to have an effective learning experience? Are they making special provisions for cultural and literacy differences?

How does one establish a good regulatory framework regarding the conduct and ethics of distance learning providers? The onus is on the importing country to provide protections. But many importing countries do not have the resources needed to carry out those functions. In those cases, whose responsibility is it? Is it the quality assurance structures of the exporting countries? It was suggested that in such cases, providers have a very strong responsibility to the importing country and population. But how does one hold them responsible?

How does one deal with private providers effectively? National education departments need to take some kind of position about the role of private higher education in terms of social justice goals. Mala Singh noted that private education can be a spur to public education systems; nonetheless, developing nations may see it as a danger if it is unregulated and if recipient countries cannot find the resources to assess the products of external providers.

Wai Sum Wong noted that one problem for developing nations is the lack of information given to the people living in these countries. They often do not know what is happening. The providers supply too little information. Some providers are not concerned about the effects of poverty or the limited skills of the students. In her experience, a major problem growing out of the commercialization of providers is that some providers gain too much control. Franchised operations are especially difficult to hold accountable.

During the discussion that followed, the question of control was examined. Is there less control with distance education, especially if the provider does not have an office in the host country? The general feeling was that there is little control of distance education worldwide—that in most countries, "we have lost control of distance education." E-commerce has accelerated that loss.

One participant suggested that the higher education community prepare for the most radical scenario—virtual education without controls. He suggested that higher education's reality soon may be a distance learning environment lacking any sense of territoriality. We need to prepare for that and various intermediate modes. We need to adapt quality assurance to virtual providers. In the long run, people will be more interested in accreditation as the number of independent providers increases. These providers will seek accreditation because it gives them legitimacy. The extent of the push for accreditation may depend, however, on the amount of competition. To the extent that there are only a handful of providers, accreditation may not be an issue—especially given the initial set up costs of distance education. We need to think beyond the present situation and prepare for likely virtual university options. What is the quality aspect of it? Who have shared responsibility for it? We are not talking just about the protection of the learner but also the need to protect the quality of the learning process. We also must make the learner more accountable.

Another important benefit of distance learning is the ability to convene people from various parts of the world relatively easily. This may allow providers and institutions to gain an important share of some parts of the education market. Then there are the issues of "brand" names. Who owns them? How do we share reputations?

The participants endorsed the importance of building new capacities into the learning process of distance education. There must be added value to society. Will students be ready to pay for these new capacities and access? Will they feel they get good value? What will be the "gold standard"? Wouldn't it make sense to have different standards for different competing programs—the 9- and the 18-carat gold standard? The higher quality would not take all of the market, but a good share of it. The notion of encouraging higher standards was greeted as an excellent idea. In that scenario, the market would not necessarily seek the lowest common denominator; the consumer could chose different options based on quality and perhaps cost. Even where quality assurance organizations cannot regulate, they can advise, suggest, and set expected standards. Quality assurance organizations have the obligation to try to make sure that distance education is done well.

In the end, participants agreed that the issues were complicated and should drive next year's agenda in a major way. Output assessment was one potential way of helping measure, and control, quality. That should be considered in more detail next year. In the short run, participants identified many questions, but suggested few solutions or strategies for dealing with the problems.

Survey of International Cooperation in Quality Review
Elaine El-Khawas discussed the proposed CHEA survey about international cooperation, tentatively planned to focus initially on information sharing among organizations. CHEA will ask all organizations in its international database if they are interested in greater cooperation starting with information sharing. What are the major issues about which they would like to share information? Are there are other areas in which cooperation might be of interest beyond information sharing? Elaine sought advice from the participants about the survey and asked if there were ways in which we might work together on this project. She asked what would be most valuable to participants and if they thought this effort would be useful. The participants' general discussion about the need for information sharing and greater cooperation suggested their support of the survey.

Peter Williams offered to assist with the project, working through the membership of the Network (INQAAHE). He mentioned the various kinds of cooperation currently underway, including strategic alliances, memoranda of understanding, various informal efforts, and the use of international reviewers at quality assessment site visits. Such cooperation builds confidence between quality assurance organizations and institutions and enhances the value of existing organizations.

Christian Thune asked about the purpose of cooperation. What is the value added? Is the international context important? He noted that events were moving very quickly and suggested that non-Americans were interested in knowing what was happening in the United States. He suggested that the United States could learn from Europe and other parts of the world, as well.

David Woodhouse reminded participants of a number of existing networks, including INQAAHE, several European networks (including the European Network of Quality Assurance Agencies and CRE—Association of European Universities), those in Central and Eastern Europe, and one proposed for Asia. Participants agreed it was important to link these together and avoid wasting scarce resources. Some networks have floundered due to the lack of resources.

International Higher Education in the United States
Marianne Phelps reported on the growing emphasis on international education in the United States. She noted the memo by former President William Clinton on international education, stressing its importance and a range of actions to be undertaken by the U.S. Departments of Education and State to help enhance international education. Efforts were being made to assess the needs of government, business, and the military for language and area training. The role of higher education in this process is critical. She noted the weaknesses in U.S. higher education chronicled in the ACE publication, Preliminary Status Report 2000: Internationalization of U.S. Higher Education. She also spoke about the lack of good models for cooperation between U.S. and other higher education systems.


CHEA Guidelines for U.S. Accreditors Working Internationally
CHEA circulated draft guidelines to participants, suggesting the need for: 1) terms and conditions under which U.S. accreditors review U.S. and non-U.S. operations abroad; 2) expectations about the conduct of U.S. accreditation reviews abroad; 3) terms and conditions for quality reviews for the export and import of web-based programs, courses, and degrees; and 4) institutional responsibilities regarding accreditation and diploma mills. CHEA organizations have not formally reviewed this document (although it had been discussed briefly with the CHEA Board of Directors), but it was being presented to the participants to get their reactions and suggestions. George Peterson and Mala Singh led the session.

Participants posed a number of questions. Do such guidelines have value? Do they meet concerns of international quality assurance organizations? Is there international input that might improve the guidelines? What changes might be made before these guidelines are discussed further? Should CHEA move forward with this effort?

Participants suggested that the questions posed and the direction suggested in the draft guidelines were important, and they lauded CHEA's efforts. Several felt that the CHEA guidelines would provide a model for their own efforts at guidelines. Some suggested that this was a useful starting point for international cooperation regarding accreditation. One participant wondered if it might be possible to revise them into a code of ethics that could be used internationally. Participants felt that the most useful aspects of the draft guidelines included sensitivity about problems faced by host countries and recognition of the impact of cultural differences and related problems. One participant suggested that the discussion here would stimulate a similar discussion in Europe and elsewhere.

The appropriate use of external quality assurance bodies in other countries was an additional concern that the group considered. The questions was posed but not answered. There was general agreement about the importance of these issues, the special problems for some nations (especially developing countries), potential conflicts with national policy and the care that should be taken to avoid them, and the need to encourage global good citizenship on the part of all quality assurance bodies.

Questions were asked about how the guidelines would be enforced. Who would hold quality assurance organizations accountable? During general discussion of this question, a consensus developed that although neither CHEA nor other quality assurance organizations would have the power to "enforce" the guidelines, there would be substantial peer pressure to comply—the moral force of the guidelines would be their strongest asset.

One of the international participants suggested that the document should spur international quality assurance organizations to do the same thing. CHEA asked participants about expectations in terms of quality assurance organizations coming into the United States? Until this meeting, little thought had been given to that issue.

Participants commended CHEA for its efforts and for consulting international quality assurance specialists for their ideas and suggestions. International participants saw this project very positively—it is a major step forward, demonstrating an important cooperative spirit on the part of CHEA and U.S. participants. One participant saw the recognition of U.S. obligations to their overseas colleagues as "manna from heaven." The CHEA guidelines also were seen as a good benchmarking tool that might encourage other countries to adopt similar compatible documents. It also should encourage transparency.

World Trade Organization (WTO) and Its Implications for Quality Assurance
Sami Kanaan led this discussion, giving a brief overview of the WTO and some of its implications for higher education as part of the export and import of services. He noted that negotiations take place among countries, but that NGOs, businesses, and other groups often play a major role in the process. He talked about WTO basic principles of market access, equal treatment, and unhindered movement of people, among others.


The recent U.S. trade initiative submitted by its representative was circulated and participants mentioned expected submissions from India, New Zealand, Australia, and the European Union. No one had seen the text of any of the other submissions nor did anyone know about their focus.

The experience of participants who sought to follow WTO proceedings was similar. There had been limited involvement and consultation with the higher education community in general (whether it was the United States, Great Britain, Europe, South Africa, or other countries). Participants were concerned about the lack of consultation in an area of potentially great importance. They agreed that it was vital for higher education to be at the table if higher education issues were being discussed. People were concerned that policy decisions might be made without the contribution of the general higher education community. The group gave special attention to the considerable ambiguity in the language about government, higher education, and private education. Does that terminology suggest that public education is outside the scope of the WTO but not private education? Does a public provider become private when operating outside its own country or on a for-profit basis? Will different types of institutions be treated differently? No one was certain, but it was agreed that these issues needed to be explored since they had potentially far-reaching implications for the higher education community. Participants urged people from the countries represented at the meeting to follow up with their own departments of trade and industry upon their return.

Part of the problem for higher education is that few people view higher education as a tradable commodity; yet this is how it is described for the WTO. In some countries, such as the United Kingdom, the government is heavily involved in fostering both the import and export of education. Higher education organizations, including the quality assurance community, need to pay attention to activities in this area. Whether or not people recognize WTO activity as impinging on higher education, this is an area in which we need to be involved since policy-making is going forward. CHEA urged participants to be in touch with their national representatives and communicate with each other about the current state of negotiations on higher education.

Participants also expressed concern about the implications of WTO policy for developing countries. Would they be able to protect their own "developing" higher education system from outside interference that might jeopardize its survival? How could the poorer countries of the world protect themselves against educational "imperialism" from abroad? What were the obligations of the richer nations to protect the poorer ones from outside pressures? Did many developing nations sign on to include higher education under WTO without realizing the potential implications? These are questions that need to be explored.

The Hong Kong representatives expressed their support for eliminating trade barriers and suggested that they had developed good mechanisms for protecting their own citizens and institutions against poor quality providers. They were asked to share their procedures and regulations.

Participants agreed on the need to know much more about the WTO than is currently the case. They also agreed that some kind of collective action is needed and that all participants should make a point to become better informed about the activities of their own WTO representatives when they return. Concern also was expressed about the WTO representatives' level of knowledge about the higher education community and its views and needs. People were urged to brief their trade representatives about the needs and concerns of the higher education community and to engage in any discussions that might have a bearing on it.

Participants requested that CHEA convene a meeting devoted exclusively to a discussion of the WTO and issues related to higher education and quality assurance. The group hoped that this could be done before the next International Seminar. CHEA also was asked to help with information sharing about WTO and higher education issues.

In final comments about the seminar, participants agreed that it had been a useful and informative meeting. Participants suggested that the time frame be extended to two days in the future. A number of additional items were mentioned for further discussion and potential action. They included:

the need to understand the changing structure of the market and related mechanisms in international education as related to quality assurance;

the need to be more explicit about the nationality of the provider and the host country, as well as the language of instruction, qualifications, and degrees, and to develop substantive indicators of quality cross-nationally;

the need to further explore questions about how to carry out quality assurance effectively for distance education;

the need to engage in further exploration of guidelines for international providers of quality assurance;

the need to develop a global quality assurance ethic;

the need to begin a cooperative effort to be better informed, understand, and be fully involved in any deliberations affecting quality assurance undertaken by the WTO;

the need to find better ways to expand cooperation and contacts among quality assurance organizations and institutions;

the need to engage in further discussion of comparability of recognition and accreditation worldwide;

the need to lead a major effort to develop mechanisms by which "we" or others can make comparative quality assurance possible and effective internationally—perhaps through a coalition of international regional quality assurance organizations; and

a strong recommendation that the International Seminar reconvene next year following the CHEA national meetings—this time over two days.

Judith Eaton expressed CHEA's appreciation to the Ford Foundation for financial assistance for seminars.

Participants thanked Judith Eaton, her staff, and CHEA for hosting the seminar. She promised to do her best to obtain funding for a meeting next year. In the meantime, she will continue to collaborate with the international "working group" to follow up on suggestions made at this meeting and to keep participants informed. Participants expressed appreciation for the high level of discussion during the seminar, the usefulness of the information and suggestions imparted, and the stimulation resulting from the interaction of such a creative, thoughtful group of international quality assurance specialists.

List of Meeting Participants(12kb pdf file)

Prepared by Fred M. Hayward
Executive Vice President
Council for Higher Education Accreditation

Last Modified: Dec 11, 2015

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