Guidelines being drafted to ensure quality in higher education worldwide might help protect Japanese students from shady, “rogue” schools.

As cross-border education gathers steam amid economic globalization and growing use of English and the Internet, government officials and experts have stepped up calls for an international framework on quality assurance and accreditation for post-secondary schools.

Bernard Hugonnier, an education expert at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development who is involved in drafting the guidelines, said such a framework will benefit Asian economies because Asia tops the list of regions sending tertiary-level students abroad.

The World Trade Organization is also paying attention to the guidelines to be launched by the OECD and the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

The issue of trade liberalization in education has been included in current negotiations under the WTO’s General Agreement on Trade in Services.

Export revenue related to international student mobility, such as spending on living, education and travel, amounts to an estimated minimum of $30 billion, or 3 percent of global service trade, according to the Paris-based OECD.

“The variety of higher education systems and the lack of transparent information about reliability of those systems worldwide leave room for low-quality and even rogue providers and rogue quality-assurance and accreditation agencies to operate,” Hugonnier said recently.

Hugonnier, deputy director at the OECD Directorate for Education, said there are believed to be more than 150 rogue providers worldwide. Some issue fake diplomas, while others grant certificates in exchange for bribes.

Hugonnier attended a two-day meeting that began Oct. 14 at the University of Tokyo to advance the drafting of the guidelines. About 100 experts and officials from 65 countries were in attendance.

The OECD and UNESCO plan to finalize the guidelines at the next meeting in Paris in January before adopting them in the latter half of 2005, he said.

Hugonnier called for closer tieups among more than 60 countries that have quality-assurance and accreditation systems for higher education, referring to an OECD-UNESCO plan to set up an Internet portal for all national agencies.

“Learners need to be protected from the risks of misinformation, low-quality provision and qualifications of questionable validity by solid quality-assurance and accreditation systems,” he said.

“Qualifications should be internationally understandable and transparent so as to raise their international validity and portability.”

Education ministry officials say Japan fully supports OECD-UNESCO initiatives to draw up the guidelines, which they say might lead to the strengthening of international competitiveness of Japanese universities and graduate schools.

Hugonnier said Japanese universities and graduate schools should aim to become major regional players by offering courses in English in other Asian economies.

Japan’s higher educational institutions can learn from their counterparts in non-English European countries, such as Sciences Po in France and the College of Europe in Belgium, in extending programs taught in English at home and abroad, he said.

“Japanese universities should consider drawing up future strategies based on a regional level,” he said. “There is potential demand for Japanese higher education in countries like Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam that lack higher education capacity.”

His remarks came just after Japan’s Central Council for Education, an advisory panel to the education minister, filed a report on Sept. 30 asking the government to allow universities and other schools to set up branches and conduct lectures outside Japan.

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