Thai Experience with Quality Assurance
Associate Professor in Industrial Engineering
Vice President for Quality Assurance
Global movement in educational reform has brought Quality Assurance into focus especially in
higher educational institutions. The introduction of Quality Assurance in Higher Education in
Thailand began in 1996 when MUA announced the policy and guidelines for Quality Assurance in
Higher Education. The announcement of National Education Act in 1999 had further promoted the
quality movement among Thai institutions. According to the Act, quality assurance in educational
system comprises of internal and external systems. Internal Quality Assurance (IQA) is the
responsibility of the institution and its governing agency to establish a system and ensure the
continuing operation of such system. External Quality Assurance (EQA) is the responsibility of a
newly established public organization, Office of the National Education Standards and Quality
Assessment (ONESQA). This paper presents the skeleton outlines of both frameworks. Stages of
development of IQA in Thai higher educational institutions can be defined into four phases as;
introductory phase, total implementation phase, internal integration phase and learning and sharing
phase. The paper also presents some of the experiences and learning gained from the process
and challenges facing Thai institutions and finally recommendations for continuing sustainability of
quality assurance system in higher education.
Quality Assurance in Higher Education in Thailand was first introduced by the Ministry of University
Affairs (MUA) in 1996. The MUA (then overseeing 23 public and 53 private higher education
institutions) announced its policy to encourage all public and private universities to establish quality
assurance systems as a driver towards maintaining high standards in quality teaching. Further such
systems would serve as a tool for continuous improvement in all aspects of institutional activities
The introduction of the National Education Act in 1999 has given a new connotation to the terms
“internal quality assurance (IQA)” and “external quality assurance (EQA)”. According to the Act,
quality assurance in educational systems comprises of internal and external systems. For internal
quality assurance, it is the responsibility of each academic institute and its governing organization to
oversee that such internal mechanisms are put in place and remain a part of the continuing
management system. As for external quality assurance, the Office of the National Education
Standards and Quality Assessment (Public Organization) (ONESQA) is responsible for the external
assessment of institutions at all levels.
Framework and Processes
Internal Quality Assurance
The baseline for Thailand’s quality assurance framework lies in the establishment of standard
criteria and requirement set forth by the Ministry of University Affairs for all levels of degree
programs offered in the country. All degree programs offered in public and private higher
education institutions, including transnational ones, will have to meet these standard criteria before
approval and commencement. Over the years, the MUA had transferred such approval authority to
public universities. Academic boards and governing councils have the responsibilities for the
quality of educational provision including control of academic standards. Some universities may
invite external experts for reviewing aspects of internal activity and curriculum development. The
accreditation system is concerned mainly with professional courses such as medicine, accounting,
nursing, engineering and architecture.
As for private higher education institutions, programs approval and accreditation are very much
under the supervision of the MUA (now the Commission on Higher Education under the Ministry of
Education) as a quality control and consumer protection systems.
Over the last decade there have been worldwide movements in education towards quality
assurance especially in higher education. The underlying concept of the quality assurance
framework proposed by the MUA was based on three basic cornerstones of quality, namely:
Quality Audit, and
The framework based on background and nature of development of Thai universities, taking into
consideration university autonomy and academic freedom, serves as a broad outline for each
institution to adapt and modify to fit their traditions. The framework consists of 9 aspects of quality
1. Philosophies, Commitment and Objectives
2. Teaching and Learning
3. Student Development Activities
5. Academic Services
6. Preservation of Art and Culture
7. Administration and Management
8. Finance and Budgeting
9. Internal Quality Assurance System and Mechanisms
Although the framework specifies some key items considered to be essential factors in the quality
management system, there is no specific directive instruction as how to establish such a system
within the context of each institution. The idea is for each and every institution to develop their own
system which is most suitable to institutional environment and uniqueness. Implementation process,
audit procedures and review cycles are also depending upon the policy makers in each institution.
This was not easy a task for any academic institution since the quality audit process and self-
reflection concept were both novel to Thai culture.
In order to encourage all public institutions to embrace such framework, the MUA introduced a pilot
project inviting 22 faculties in 5 various disciplines from 12 institutions 1 to participate in the quality
assurance exercises. The project was well-accepted by participating universities and when the
project ended in 2002 many universities already began to expand the model throughout their
The 12 participating institutions are: Chulalongkorn, Kasetsart, Khon Kaen, Chiang Mai, Thammasat, Mahidol,
Srinakarinwirot, Prince of Songkla, Naresuan, Burapha, Kong Mongkut’s University of Technology – Thonburi, and
Pramongkutklao College of Medicine.
External Quality Assurance
The Office of the National Education Standards and Quality Assessment (ONESQA) was established
in 2000 as a public independent body responsible for external assessment of all educational
institutions. At the higher education level, ONESQA requires each institute to present results against
28 indicators and to review the institutional performance in 8 categories as follows:
1. Quality of Graduates (4 indicators)
2. Learning Process (4 indicators)
3. Learning Support Resources (5 indicators)
4. Research and Innovation (4 indicators)
5. Academic Services (2 indicators)
6. Preservation of Art and Culture (2 indicators)
7. Administration and Management (5 indicators)
8. Internal Quality Assurance System (2 indicators)
Majority of the indicators are statistical with only 5 descriptive indicators. Because there are such
differences between institutions, the use of these statistical indicators to assess the performance of
each institution requires first benchmarks that represent the diversity and factors contribute to
differences between them. Not only there are no such benchmarks established, information
pertaining to these indicators are not usually reported through the normal channels in the
institutional operations. ONESQA then decided that the first review cycle is to encourage all
institutions to present their actual performance and statistical data together with their institutional
review report that reflect their IQA system.
The review cycle is set to be 5 years with focus on institutional assessment. Some of the guiding
principles set forth by ONESQA on external assessment are:
1. Ensure that higher education is developed to the standards of international
2. Uphold the quality of academic standards in higher education institutes
3. Operate under the objectives, principles and directions set forth in the National
4. Review and confirm existing system of the institute, assessing quality of each
and every main function while keeping in mind their academic freedom,
uniqueness, values, principles, missions and goals.
5. Assure and support the implementation of internal quality assurance system
within the institution.
6. Employ amicable assessment procedures without lessening the integrity of
transparency and accountability.
The assessment process looks into three dimensions of development within the institutions, namely:
Each institute is to submit data and a self-review report to the ONESQA before being subject to
external assessment visit. Additional document and reports on internal quality assurance system
might be requested to supplement overall understanding of the nature of institution prior to on-site
visit. A team of external reviewers consisted of experts and academicians in the related areas and
disciplines then make the visit on campuses according to a predetermined schedule. After the visit
an evaluation report together with findings and recommendations will be sent back to the institution.
The first round of the exercise will be completed by August 2005. Before then we expect to see
some feedback reports from all stakeholders on the assessment process and criteria being
Stages of Development
Although the development of Quality Assurance in Higher Education in Thailand has been in
practice for less than a decade, the stages of development of IQA can be identified as four phases:
Phase I: Introductory phase (1996 - 2002)
This phase began when MUA introduced its policy and guiding principles in quality assurance
system. Awareness campaigns were launched in all public and private universities along with the
start of a pilot project initiated by MUA to encourage implementation and introduction of internal
audit process which was newly established. There were 22 faculties from 5 discipline areas
participating in the project. The project began with a working group in each area identifying a set of
indicators to be used as a minimum requirement for internal audit. Each participating member in
the group then applied this set of indicators together with the framework set by MUA to their own
faculty. MUA facilitated the project by providing a wide range of support of consultancy services
and secretaries to working groups, organizing training and workshops in relevant areas, publishing
guidelines and booklets to extradite knowledge and practices in IQA. This phase ended when all
the participating faculties had been audited and audit results published with plan to proceed the
process to ‘internal quality assessment’.
Phase II: Total implementation phase (began in 1998)
A large number of institutions that participated in the pilot project and had been through the audit
exercise in the first round realized the importance of internal quality assurance and how it could be
employed to stimulate continuous improvement mechanisms in the organization. Many universities
then established a policy to expand their internal quality assurance systems to cover all faculties
and other functional units throughout the campuses. However, since the framework introduced by
the MUA was a model suitable for academic functions and faculty, many institutions faced
challenges in applying such a model to their non-academic work units. The introduction of QA
Forum in 2001, under the initiatives of Council of University Presidents of Thailand, helped
members share knowledge and learn from experience of other member universities in applying
other models such as ISO 9000, Total Quality Management and National Quality Awards. Similar
efforts have also been made by private universities through their Association. It should be noted
that this phase has seen increasing concerted efforts of MUA, public and private higher education
institutions, developing momentum in the higher education circle on quality assurance.
Phase III: Internal integration phase (began in 2001)
The total implementation phase was just in time for the introduction of external assessment which
first began in 2002. ONESQA requires that each institution must complete their internal quality audit
and institutional review process before submitting requests for the visit. Although most institutions
are now implementing IQA throughout all faculties and supporting units, many are merely focusing
on limited aspects and partial operation and not being able to integrate into the main stream of the
institution activities and contribute to the achievement of the institutional aims and objectives. After
the external review and feedback by the external reviewer team of ONESQA, many institutions
began to realize that there is a need to integrate each and every functional unit to complement the
activities of the others so that the institution can move towards the unified direction. Many
universities have had since revisited their internal quality assurance system, reissue new policies
and guiding principles, and even begin transformation processes.
Phase IV: Learning and sharing phase (began in mid 2002)
Although learning and sharing occurs in every phase, it is worth mentioning learning and sharing as
a separate phase. Every learning and sharing phase that occurs brings the organization and the
people within into the next level of implementation, integration and hence new awareness and
learning (see Figure 1). Internal quality auditing process have brought staff members in the same
institution together to share and learn from each other, seek out and publicize better practices and
appreciate the achievement and contribution of one another. Moreover the audit process have
taught Thai people to give and take comments in a more constructive manner. Learning and
sharing among universities are also increasing through exchanges of auditors, cross-audit
processes, and invited experts for curriculum review. Benchmarking and networking are being
introduced in some discipline areas to help improve the nationwide quality.
One of the sharing examples worth mentioning is an initiated pilot project of MUA on ‘Benchmarking
and Best Practices’ in which 10 faculties (science, medical science and nursing) have been
involved, using Malcolm Baldrige Criteria as the framework. This could be considered the very first
time for leading faculties in established universities to assess their own performances while learning
better practices from others professional colleagues in a systematic way. The project resulted in
seeing most of the faculties integrate their learning into their quality assurance system. It is also
welcoming to note that many have voiced for more challenging indicators which not only link to their
academic operations and management system, but also take into more serious consideration the
alignment and integration of the implementation to the overall faculty/university direction.
Note that there is an overlapping period of each phase due to different stages of development of
universities in Thailand. These stages of development are not a one-time cyclical event but rather a
helical process. Many universities will see themselves revisiting these stages many time in the
future and every time there will be new issues surface, new learning and understanding that will
bring them to the next higher level.
Figure 1: Stages of Development
Experience and Learning
Much has been learned over the past 8 years, both at the individual as well as at the institutional
levels. Although experience brings both positive and negative lessons, here are some of the more
revitalizing aspects of the learning in general and not restricted to any institution in particular;
1 Quality in Higher Education is a complex and multi-dimensional concept. It takes
different perspectives from different groups to embrace the concept.
2 Supports and cooperation from all parties contribute to the successful implementation of
IQA system in public institutions. Some of the more ensuing factors are; participation of
personnel from all levels, academic and non-academic, supports and guidance from
MUA in a timely manner, information dissemination through QA Forum, workshops and
campaigns both at the institutional and national levels.
3 The implementation of internal quality assurance has created a sense of responsibility
and new awareness of process approach throughout the organization. Following the
continuous improvement cycle of Plan - Do- Check - Act, basic problem solving process
had been instilled into the work culture creating quality awareness throughout the
4 More innovative methods of teaching are being created through classroom action
research and student centered learning concepts.
5 Involvement of stakeholders through feedback and interview during audit exercise has
brought about better understanding between institutions and external communities.
Students are made more aware of their roles and importance in the IQA system and how
they can contribute to quality teaching and learning.
6 External review process has forged most institutions to improve their management of
information systems and employ institutional research as means for improvement.
7 Introduction of Quality Assurance System had created a willingness to share and learn
from each other both internally and externally and fostered a very positive atmosphere
among the quality circles of higher education institutions in the country.
Challenges Facing Thai Higher Education Institutions
Despite the somewhat successful introduction of Quality Assurance in higher education system in
Thailand, this does not diminish the problems and challenges facing most institutions. These
threats and challenges both from internal and external forces can be summarized broadly as
1 While Thai public institutions are moving towards autonomy, there is an atmosphere of
fear and uncertainty among staffs and academic members especially in terms of
budgeting, sources of funding and continuing academic freedom.
2 Most institutions adopted the model recommended by MUA as their internal quality
assurance framework. The framework focuses mainly at the academic faculty while the
external assessment of ONESQA is at the institutional level. Many institutions need to
find the balance between their internal assessment and monitoring of quality and
external requirements regulated by ONESQA.
3 There is a need to communicate clearly how the quality assurance mechanisms have
resulted in the improvement and changes in the quality of programs, courses and other
related activities and eventually the quality output and outcome.
4 There is an international trend towards transnational education. Issues like cross-border
delivery of programs and courses, mobility of higher education students and staff, online
degrees and offshore degrees from overseas institutions will be inevitable. Thai
institutions will have to be more internationalized not just merely the curriculum and
5 Global competition and business expansion demands new breed of workers and
leaders. Some knowledge and skill which were once considered to be among the
exceptional few will become more common and a basic requirement among all
university graduates, such as computer literacy and foreign language proficiency.
6 The rapid changes of technology and information are apparent through the usage of ICT
in teaching and learning. Technology-mediated learning is a challenge to Thai
academics who still believe in the conventional method of direct in-class contact. Thai
academics have yet to strike a balance between the existing form and the ‘new form’ of
deliver mechanisms to produce the best learning output.
7 Finally, Thai institutions will have to face the challenges of cost effectiveness versus
quality and efficiency.
Looking towards the Future
Although there are no direct answers to the challenges above, here are some of the
recommendations for continuing sustainability of quality assurance system in higher education:
1. The Commission on Higher Education - CHE (previously known as MUA) should
continue to take the role of a catalyst in stimulating the on-going quality activities and
engineer networking among Thai institutions towards quality excellence.
With the new organizational structure, CHE, in addition to the supervision of the existing
24 public and 56 private higher education institutions, will be thrusted with other
newcomers, namely, 41 Rajabhat Institutes (soon all will be upgraded to have a
‘university status’) and 35 Rajamangala Institute of Technology ( will be upgraded into 9
universities) and 10 Community Colleges. CHE needs to introduce them into the existing
learning and sharing circles while rendering strong support not only to newcomer
institutions but also promote the continuing quality movement among the more mature
2. Public understanding and stakeholders involvement in the internal and external quality
assurance processes will be vital parts in giving feedback to the system. Universities
need to take into consideration the essence of input and feedback from different groups
and integrate them into their improvement plans.
3. Thai institutions should share and learn from each other’s experience. More symposia
and seminars should be organized at the local and national levels to facilitate informal
and formal debate and discussions on lessons learned and initiatives in the related topic
in quality assessment, audit and better practices. They should also benefit from the
wealth of knowledge and experiences already available within and beyond the region
through networking with relevant education institutions and agencies concerned.
4. Each institution should make full use of IQA mechanism to create quality culture and
continuous improvement towards quality excellence.
5. University leaders should make efforts to induce the desire for quality an overarching
principle in every operation in their institutions to create a quality culture. More
importantly is linking the institutional strategies with internal key processes and
alignment of resources to improve performance and support organizational direction and
6. Quality Assurance like the process itself is dynamic and ever changing. Developments
of both Internal and External Quality Assurance should be monitor consistently. Periodic
review of development needs to be carried out by those involved in the process.
Pursue of Quality Excellence is a never-ending process. The experience of Thai higher educational
institutions with Quality Assurance should be a valuable lesson in leading us on track to academic
excellence. Many organizations and individuals had put in their efforts and contributed to the
pavement of such path, and though too numerous to mention here, all should be applauded. Better
understanding and sharing of knowledge should be encouraged throughout the quality circles to
create continuous learning and cooperation for better quality education 2.
The author would like to extend her special appreciation to Ms. Porntip Kanjananiyot, Executive Director of
Thailand United States Educational Foundation (Fulbright) and former Director of Bureau of Higher Education
Standards for her constructive comments to this paper.
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