British higher education is playing the quality card in its efforts to compete with Australia and the United States for a share of the Southeast Asian market.
Close links between government departments and agencies in Malaysia and Thailand and Britain's Quality Assurance Agency are helping British institutions sell themselves as the "quality option".
Visits to both countries by QAA chief executive John Randall have been well received by governmentofficials and are seen as an indication of Britain's commitment to the region and to protecting the quality of twinning arrangements, courses on branch campuses and new "3 plus 0" British degrees delivered in Malaysian colleges.
The QAA has been invited tohelp both Malaysia and Thailand develop new national quality assurance systems that are seen as crucial components in the radical higher education reforms being introduced.
It is working with Malaysia's new National Accreditation Board, which has been given responsibilityfor overseeing the quality of programmes in Malaysia's private colleges and is expected also to assess quality inits public universities. Mohamed bin Suleiman, chief executive of the NAB, said: "We are pleased that the QAA wants to make its own evaluation of the franchised programmes, and they have agreed that their reports can be used by us. It is important that quality assurance agencies cooperate in this way."
In Thailand, ministers have been meeting Mr Randall to discuss possible models for the country's proposed new higher education quality assurance regime.They see this as crucial in theireffort to maintain standards as Thailand's public universities move towards gaining autonomy. Thai university heads have also become interested in raising standards following the publication of league tables by Asia Week, which gave most Thai institutions a low ranking.
Wanchai Sirichana, Thailand's education permanent secretary, said: "I have to thank Asia Week for making the institutions know they cannot just stand still. They haveto improve their quality."
Mr Randall said the QAA was determined to assess thoroughly arrangements for ensuring quality on all programmes, whether these were delivered entirely in an overseas college or on a British branch campus. This was easier to do if the QAA was working closely with quality agencies overseas. "We carry out overseas audits, but itis clearly beneficial for us if there are good quality assurance systemsthat we can have confidence in that affect the partner institutions in Malaysia or Thailand. It makes our job in looking at the links that much easier," he said.