Quality Driven Regulation Required

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A key challenge for governments is how best to regulate the quality of programs delivered in the private higher education sector.  Such regulation can play an important role in providing students and governments with the confidence that the education being delivered meets acceptable standards. 

At the same time, however, governments must ensure that such regulation does not inhibit the private sector’s flexibility or stifle innovation in program design and delivery.  This suggests a need to focus regulation – to the extent possible – on educational standards and outcomes (ie. the quality of what is delivered), rather than on the specification of inputs (how institutions should deliver programs).  Overly prescriptive regulation can act as a barrier to much needed private investment in higher education and can limit the potential gains from private involvement.

In many countries, a move toward outcomes focused regulation requires the modernization of existing policy and regulatory frameworks, many of which were developed for a different era – one in which education was much less internationalized, education technologies were less advanced and the higher education sector was smaller, less diverse and largely publicly financed and delivered.  The advent of this new era and the rise of private higher education put a premium on:

  • the development of effective independent quality assurance mechanisms for both domestic and cross-border providers;
  • ensuring that students have access to good information on the quality of higher education provision, particularly given the wide array of choices that students have both for institutions and programs;
  • developing governmental capacity to regulate private higher education, including ensuring effective policy design/development capacity, ensuring adequate resourcing for regulatory institutions and effecting a shift in regulatory mindset away from sector ‘control’ to sector ‘facilitation’; and
  • development of sustainable and effective student financing mechanisms, including student loans and subsidy programs, designed to ensure equitable access to a range of higher education options for all income groups. 

While these challenges are significant, the benefits of a more diverse higher education sector are worth it.  A well-designed regulatory framework and effective oversight of the private higher education sector both have an important role to play in maximizing the net benefits of increased private participation n higher education.  Many countries are undertaking or have undertaken reform efforts aimed at meeting these new challenges.  Their collective experiences provide much scope for knowledge sharing.

Norman LaRocque, Guest Commentator
Education Specialist, Asian Development Bank

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