Plans for an international database that will help to eliminate attempts to claim a "degree" from a mythical university are at an advanced stage.
The database will enable people to check a particular university and who validates its courses. It will not rank programmes.
This move is partly in response to increasing cross-border flows of students. New mobility figures for the 16 top sending countries were disclosed at a meeting of Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development education ministers in Dublin last week.
Figures show China is the clear leader with 124,000 students in OECD countries in 2001, followed by Korea (70,523), India (61,179) and Greece (55,074).
The US is in 12th place with 30,103. The UK is 16th with 25,198.
Tom Schuller, head of the OECD's Centre for Educational Research and Innovation, said the database would answer two basic questions: "Is this institution OK and who is validating it?"
The database is being built on information supplied by national systems.
Bogus institutions should not get past the national systems and so will not appear on the list.
The database is one of two related initiatives arising from joint work by the OECD and Unesco. Details have yet to be finalised about which organisation will hold the database, and arrangements for access to information, but Dr Schuller hopes it will be operational next year.
A second initiative firmed up in Dublin was the drawing of non-binding international guidelines on quality assurance, accreditation and recognition of qualifications. These are necessary because the increased trade in education has created regulatory gaps that trade agreements will not fill.
Dr Schuller said some movement was needed at national and international levels because of the rapid growth in trade, World Trade Organisation agreements and e-learning initiatives.
He said that the OECD's objectives were:
- Consumer protection
- Transparency of qualifications
- Enhanced international recognition
- Intensified cooperation between national quality assurance agencies.
An OECD report on cross-border tertiary education will be published in June and a forum will be held with Unesco and the Australian government in Sydney in October on trade in educational services and capacity building.