Quality assurance procedures and regulation of international cross-border higher education (CBHE) has been of special interest to scholars and administrators of global higher education. Poor quality and/or rogue foreign education providers not only created distrust among the public (Stella, 2006) but also generated complications for legitimate cross-border education providers. This drove several international organizations to issue recommendations to regulate and warrant the quality of CBHE (e.g., ENQA, 2010; CHEA, 2011), especially in regards to the role of higher education institutions (HEIs) as exporters and importers of higher education.
Several scholars, administrators and policy-makers have studied the relationship between governments and public HEIs (Berdahl, 1971; Glenny and Bowman, 1977; Lowry, 2001; Lane, 2007), but in this paper, we will explore the relationship of international and/or regional agencies in shaping the national regulation of cross-border higher education.
To do this date, there is no study that investigates where the line is drawn when a public HEI operates outside its home country’s borders. Is it regulated by its country’s quality assurance framework or by its importing country’s policies?
The intended study will take a deeper dive in the role of “regulators” of transnational higher education systems to explore the interconnected education policies and practices in HE. Hence, the question: Who regulates CBHE systems?
Drawing on the principal agent theory, we will analyze the regulation of import and export of higher education systems and analyze the relationship between the international, regional and national quality assurance regulating bodies, and importers and exporters of higher education.
The central questions that have been guiding this research are as follows:
1. What behaviors are exhibited by the international/regional regulatory bodies in regards to the exporting and importing of public colleges and universities?
2. Do countries operate under a similar contract with a common regulatory framework for both importing and exporting HEIs?
3. How does the principal-agent relationship with the regulating government differ between cross-border producers and indigenous higher education institutions?
This approach is also departure from conventional analyses what only look at regulation from a single sponsoring government. Through an analysis of regulatory frameworks, we will be able to draw conclusions on the behaviors of regulators and countries in regards to exporting and importing higher education.
We will use evidence from a recently completed comparative analysis of transnational CBHE quality assurance procedures from 86 countries that studied the behavior of national governments in terms of their regulatory activities of their public higher educational institutions, and how they regulated the activities of foreign HEIs within their borders. Qualitative document analysis (Hodder, 1998) has been conducted on the exporting and importing regulation documents to determine what was being regulated by each country. The CBHE quality assurance procedures already collected by the Cross-Border Education Research Team (C-BERT) at State University of New York, Albany, were coded for 86 countries. Using open coding, 17 codes or exporting regulations and 22 codes for importing regulations had been identified by the C-BERT team. Each code represents a type of regulatory activity, and each country has been coded as either having a specific regulatory event or not. These exporting and importing groups were then grouped into the four following analytic dimensions illustrating the primary areas of behaviors being regulated by governments: (1) procedures which identifies the range of institutional activity covered under the policy; (2) comparability which specifies the measures for new site/campus that must be equivalent to the home institution; (3) competition which indicates a concern with the educational market and existing institutions in the host state; (4) attributes which are organizational or academic requirements.
The findings of this research will help inform scholars of CIE and policymakers interested in multinational cross-border educational activities. It will build on the expansion of the parameters of knowledge production and educational practice within the field of comparative and international education. It is important that further discussions develop an emerging vision to recognize the diversity inherent in multiple regulatory regimes in the transnational education environment.