Saturday, September 22, 2012

Total Quality Management For Improving University Education

In reading the research literature about how to measure the quality of research supervision at universities, the descriptions of what quality is seemed very vague. So I looked for papers citing formal quality standards.

Basir (2012) argues that Malaysia can lift the quality of their universities to the level of western countries by use of the ISO 9000 Quality Management Standards (ISO 2008). While that may seem ambitious, the Japanese car industry used similar standards to overtake western car makers within a few decades. By use of on-line technology, the same may be possible in education in less than a decade.

Formal quality assurance in higher education is suggested by Basir (2012) as being a way to to assist planning and drive reform at the national level, increasing  competition between universities and in particular to improve the oversight and quality of private institutions.

The Total Quality Management (TQM) process of continuous improvement was developed for manufacturing, but is suggested by Basir (2012)  as being applicable to universities. There has been considerable interest in this topic by academics, with listing more than 150 books on the topic of "Total Quality Management in Higher Education" and Google Scholar listing more than one thousand document on the topic so far for 2012.

The Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA) has developed a set of guidelines, although these appear to be targeted at coursework, not research and to not explicitly mention formal quality processes.

Quality processes depend on having a repeatable processes. By its nature, research supervision produces one off unique products, as every research student is required to make a unique contribution to knowledge. However, these processes could at least be used for other parts of the higher degree processes, such as imparting generic skills. But there would be a danger this would distract from the primary product: researchers.

Two requirements for quality management given by Basir (2012) are:
  1. Engagement with the total quality management system,
  2. Strong leadership rather than more administrative process
These requirements have proved difficult in other service industries, such as IT, with the quality management system being gamed by staff, who see it as an imposition, with more forms to fill in.
The use of ISO 9000  in Malaysian Higher Education Institutions (MHEIs) is traced back to 1996 by Basir (2012), focusing on management and "academic activities". The aim was professional excellence and efficiency. It is important to note the emphasis on professional excellence, as unlike production line manufacturing, higher education is dependent on the performance of a a few individuals.

Quality management 

As noted previously quality management systems were developed for manufacturing processes. The main sections of ISO 9001:2008 Quality management systems — Requirements  (ISO 2008) cover:
  • Quality Management System
  • Management Responsibility,
  • Resource Management
  • Product Realization
  • Measurement, analysis and improvement
The aim of this is to produce a satisfied customer. However in the case of higher degrees, who the customer is may be a matter of some debate: the student, their future employer, the government or society?

QM emphasises documentation and measurement. This would appear to be a good fit with academia, which has an emphasis on writing and research. However, academics themselves may be less enthusiastic when they are the subject of the measurement and reporting.


Basir, S. A. (2012). Complying Quality Management System ISO 9000 Requirements Within Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in Muslim Countries. World J. Islamic History & Civilization World, 2(1), 30-43.  Retrieved from

ISO (2008). Quality management systems : requirements (4th ed). International Standards Organisation, Geneva, Switzerland Retrieved from

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