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Managing quality in higher education: a Malaysian case study

M. Sadiq Sohail Department of Management and Marketing, College of Industrial Management, King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia Jegatheesan Rajadurai IKIP College, Kuantan, Malaysia Nor Azlin Abdul Rahman IKIP College, Kuantan, Malaysia


Quality, Academic staff, ISO 9000, Education, Colleges, Malaysia


The application of quality management practices by manufacturers and service With increasing competition providers has become increasingly amongst higher education widespread. Since recognising the institutions to attract students, ``quality'' has emerged as a theme differences between manufacturing and service through the dimensions of to be adopted. This paper undertakes a case study of an intangibility, inseparability and institution, which has heterogeneity of service products (Buttle, implemented a quality system and 1996; Berry and Parasuraman, 1991; was the first private college in Zeithaml et al., 1990), quality management Malaysia to be awarded the ISO 9002 certification in total for all of practitioners have been able to develop its departments. The paper approaches that have proved effective in investigates the management improving services quality. system prior to adopting the In the context of higher education, a quality system, reviews the implementation process and noticeable trend has been that of increasing evaluates the effectiveness of the competition among universities and higher system on the academic education institutes to attract students from departments. The paper reports across the globe. ``Quality'' has emerged as a findings of the study. theme adopted as they compete with each other. Competitive pressures have forced colleges to look for alternative strategies. Colleges must compete for and then retain students, maintain and even improve services, and at the same time even attempt to balance their budgets. In this context, many college administrators see implementation of quality practices, such as TQM, as a way to reassure that institutions perform well and that the customers of higher education are being well served (Beaver, 1994). Consequently, many institutions of higher learning have committed themselves to implementation of quality practices, although criticism abounds that reformation of such campuses has been mainly on non-academic matters, such as more efficient handling of admissions, improvement in campus administration, better and efficient application of funds, The International Journal of among others. In all fairness, there have been Educational Management

Abstract 17/4 [2003] 141-146 # MCB UP Limited [ISSN 0951-354X] [DOI 10.1108/09513540310474365 ] The Emerald Research Register for this journal is available at http://w ww

instances of TQM oriented campuses, having utilised the process to change the fundamental nature of academic life or curriculum (Koch and Fisher, 1998).

Quality practices in Malaysian higher education

Since the Asian economic crisis in 1997, Malaysia, as well as other countries in the region, have devised innovative ways to encourage students to pursue studies within the country, rather than having to go overseas. The strategy pursued for growth and development of education has been to encourage the private sector to meet the needs of tertiary education. A market sensitive educational system has evolved in Malaysia. To gain a competitive advantage, efforts to adopt the quality management system philosophy are fast spreading within the higher education institutions (HEIs) in Malaysia. In 1996, the Ministry of Education launched a customer charter, formalising the inception of TQM in the Malaysian education system. The ministry formed a policy and quality section to monitor the implementation of the country's education policy at all levels, based on TQM principles, with a vision that all schools and universities will eventually adopt TQM principles. In addition, to control the standards of public higher education institutions, the National Higher Education Council was formed in 1996. A grading system was put in place to assess the effectiveness of each department and faculty. In 1997, the ministry launched the national accreditation committee to assess the quality of HEIs.

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M. Sadiq Sohail, Jegatheesan Rajadurai and Nor Azlin Abdul Rahman Managing quality in higher education: a Malaysian case study The International Journal of Educational Management 17/4 [2003] 141-146

The present study

From the above discussion, it is seen that ``quality'' has been a theme adopted in general by educational providers. The competitive environment in Malaysia compels HEIs to adopt quality systems, yet at the same time, previous research suggests that the focus of quality measures have been on the non-academic side of institutions (e.g. Owlia and Aspinwall, 1996). A number of researchers have concluded that applying and measuring quality systems have posed serious problems in the academic side of higher education (e.g. Ford and Sheridan, 1992). In the light of these, this paper considers the applicability of quality practices within the HEI community. It explores the ISO certification process in an HEI. The paper undertakes a case study of a leading HEI on the east coast of peninsular Malaysia, discusses the quality policies, quality procedures, and practices of the HEI and examines the effectiveness of the quality system in relation to its objectives. The management system prior to implementation of a quality system, development of the quality system, stages in its implementation and a review of the system are examined.

The case of Pahang State College of Professional Development (IKIP)

The Pahang State College of Professional Development is a private college in the business of providing higher education and training. To meet its objective of providing high quality education and training; total customer satisfaction; continuous improvement in all aspects of services, among others, the HEI embarked on a quality implementation exercise in 1997. Subsequently, it was awarded the ISO 9002 certification in 1998 receiving the accreditation in total for all its departments, based on MS ISO 9002 clauses recommended by the Standard and Research Institute of Malaysia (SIRIM).

Management system prior to ISO certification

Prior to the implementation of a quality system, there were 13 departments in existence, one being the academic. Each department operated independently with little co-ordination between them. Within the academic department itself, various program courses operated independently of the other course programs. Without documented

procedures as guidelines, each course program claimed that their system was the best and did not want to co-operate with the other course programs. In addition to that, the modus operandi of each program co-ordinator differed from the others. As a result, some course programs were seen to be efficient and some lacked such initiatives. Each lecturer within a course program had different practices and the approach to the delivery and the use of lecture material depended on the individual lecturer. This approach towards teaching was very arbitrary and differed in style and administration from one lecturer to another. Hence, communication among and within course programs was chaotic and lacked consistency in its operation. Another feature that was in existence related to the unclear nature of job responsibilities. It was not mandatory to have clear job responsibilities. As a result, task overlapped without clear task objectives and without measure of achievements. There were cases where two members of staff were carrying out duties similar in nature in one department. In addition to this, there were also members of staff carrying out various duties not specific to a department. Staff secondment and redundancy of workforce were rampant and this created confusion among members of staff. Other features of the internal system in evidence were that there were no standard methods of record maintenance and filing systems in most departments. The traceability of records was difficult especially when these records were required by other departments for cross-referencing. Another feature related to the achievement of the targets set for lecturers, which were not uniform. The very ambitious lecturers would normally set high targets while the less able lecturers would not set targets or set them at a very low level. As such, in many cases, the less able lecturers were not committed and did not show interest in student performances. Lecturers were evaluated based on verbal inquiry from the students and there was no formalised method of evaluation. Under these circumstances, a quality system was developed.

Developing the quality system

The first stage in developing the quality system was to create awareness among the heads of department. The awareness program included creation of a quality-working environment, regular meetings between employees and

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M. Sadiq Sohail, Jegatheesan Rajadurai and Nor Azlin Abdul Rahman Managing quality in higher education: a Malaysian case study The International Journal of Educational Management 17/4 [2003] 141-146

management briefing on quality policy and objectives. A consultant conducted motivational talks and made the employees aware of the importance and relevance of their contributions to the achievement of the quality objectives. In order to make the occasion more memorable, badges, key chains, and bookmarkers bearing the IKIP ISO 9002 logo were distributed to employees. The next phase in developing the ISO system established a steering committee that would drive the organisation towards achieving the ISO status. A total of 22 steering committee members were appointed by the chief executive officer of the college and consisted of heads of department and selected senior lecturers. The steering committee was led by a management representative person who was chosen unanimously by all members of the steering committee. This committee was responsible for writing the procedures, relevant support documents and conducting training for the employees in their respective departments. It was also during one of these steering committee meetings that the quality policy and quality objectives of the college were established. The management representative was responsible for ensuring that the quality policy and quality objectives were known and understood by all members of the college. During this challenging phase of developing the system, there was a high turnover among the heads of departments owing to the stressful nature of the responsibilities. Among the members of the steering committee, there were a few who were resisting the change towards a more organised and transparent system. The CEO played a major role in ensuring that this resistance was overcome, by personally chairing all the steering committee meetings and constantly monitoring the progress of the development of the ISO system. As for the academic system, 18 procedures were written to govern the quality activities towards performance achievement, this being measured through students' pass rates, cumulative grade point average scores, lecturer's performance scores, and attendance. The academic flow and linkage of IKIP academic procedures were prepared for a total of 20 activities that included: verification of parent body supplied items; receipt of syllabus from parent body; program and subject coding; selection of lecturers; production of teaching plan; production of course material; record of changes in course materials; record of resources;

preparation of distribution lists; and production of a timetable. These procedures were finalised after a number of meetings among the member of steering committee. During these meetings, procedures were checked for cross-references among the departments. Once this was completed, the procedures were sent to the document control manager. A standard format or layout was used and proper coding was assigned to the procedures for traceability purposes. A master list of the current procedures was prepared and maintained by the document control manager. After the procedures were formalised, the HEI embarked on facing an adequacy audit by SIRIM to test whether they were adequate and fulfilled the ISO 9002 requirements. IKIP was assessed to be adequate at this stage in March 1998.

Managing the quality system

A total number of 20 internal quality auditors (IQA) were appointed by the CEO of the college. This group of auditors was headed by the lead auditor who was responsible for monitoring the management/implementation of the internal audit activities. The IQA activities included visiting all departments and checking whether the respective department's implementation activities comply with the documented procedures. Non-conformance reports (NCR) were raised for non-compliance that was found. During the first few audits, it was found that most NCRs were due to the way the procedures were written.

Changes in procedures

The document control manager was responsible for handling document amendments. A proper amendment system was created following the documented procedure on document preparation and amendment. Any change was initiated by filling in a change request form, which recorded the changes made.

Continuous training

Whenever there was any change in the departmental procedures, the heads of departments were given the responsibility for conducting continuous training for their members of staff. This was to ensure that the staffs were continuously informed of the current status of the procedures.

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M. Sadiq Sohail, Jegatheesan Rajadurai and Nor Azlin Abdul Rahman Managing quality in higher education: a Malaysian case study The International Journal of Educational Management 17/4 [2003] 141-146

Conduct management review meeting (MRM)

Once the internal quality audit has been completed at least once before the compliance audit, the management review meeting was conducted. The purpose of the meeting was to review the quality management system to ensure its continuing application; effectiveness and implementation were in line with the needs of the organisation. Prior to the compliance audit, all head of departments were responsible for conducting an independent audit within their own departments to ensure that all quality records were updated, finalised and properly filed. The quality records were properly controlled by using a matrix that was attached to each of the procedures. The matrix clearly stated the coding of the records; where it should be stored; who can have access to the records and the retention period of the records. The compliance audit was conducted for a period of three days and the audit covered various core areas. A total of five minor non-conformances (NCR) were reported. Immediate corrective actions were taken in response to the NCR.


The college was awarded its certification of ISO 9002 on 19 November 1998, under the scope of ``Provision for higher education, training and education supporting services''. The college was the first private college in Malaysia that was awarded the certification in total (all departments).

inhibits them from delivering the course content with their instinctive flair and creativity. The course materials provided for the students are standardised. The progress of the achievement is monitored by the respective heads of department in order to ensure that all employees are on track towards achieving the objectives of the college. With record maintenance and filing systems being standardised, record traceability is much more systematic within a department. Information required by other departments is easily available. Further, with the job responsibilities of the employees being clearly defined and documented, each and every employee is clearly aware of their objectives and is able to set their achievement targets. Achievement targets for the various departments are set in discussion with the chief executive officer at the management review meeting. Heads of departments assess the performance of their subordinates based on the set targets. Overlapping of duties, work overload and work redundancies are lessened tremendously. As a result, employees are seen as being more satisfied with their work schedules.

Student enrolment

A survey was conducted to gather information on the reasons for student enrolment. Students studying various courses at the institution were randomly selected. The survey was conducted in the second half of 2001. Student respondents' views were sought on 13 dichotomous questions. A total of 226 responses were obtained. Table I provides an overview of the findings. Interest in the course offered, availability of hostel facilities and courses with consistent employability have been the three major reasons for students to enrol at the institution. The quality of education and the ISO 9002 certification have also been the other major reasons for students to enrol at the college. It is interesting to note that the nearness to place of residence and lower tuition fees have been the least important reasons for pursuing studies. It is obvious from this that quality in education has a premium. A cross comparison between genders on the reasons reveals interesting results. While an overwhelming percentage of male respondents cited an interest in course offered as a major reason for enrolling, this has been in stark contrast to the results from female respondents. Clearly a major reason for female respondents to enrol has been the nearness to place of residence. While the award of ISO 9002 has

A review of the quality system after ISO certification

With the heads representing their department on the steering committee, any issue pertaining to the individual departmental management was easily resolved. Efforts to co-ordinate and link tasks of the various departments resulted in a more co-ordinated management across the board. The college functioned in a more co-ordinated manner across all the departments. It is observed that there has been a consistency in approach to the delivery of lectures. The administration of the program is regulated and monitored through the program co-ordinator. Consequently, communication among program courses has been more organised, manageable and consistent with the requirements of standardisation. However, the drawback has been that there is some kind of restriction on the lecturers, as the system is rigid and

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M. Sadiq Sohail, Jegatheesan Rajadurai and Nor Azlin Abdul Rahman Managing quality in higher education: a Malaysian case study The International Journal of Educational Management 17/4 [2003] 141-146

been a reason for enrolling by an overwhelming number of female respondents, this has not been so in the case of the male respondents. Other findings are also reported in Table I.

Overall pass rate

A review of the records relating to the overall pass rate at the HEI reveals that a progressive trend is in evidence. The student pass rate for year 2001 was 93.6 per cent; for 2000 it was 89.3 per cent, and in 1999, it was 79 per cent. While the cause of this cannot be conclusively established, indications are that the implementations of quality measures are largely the contributing factors for this trend.

Staff satisfaction

A survey was conducted to collect information on the level of the teaching staff satisfaction. A structured questionnaire was developed and respondents were randomly selected from the academic staff teaching different courses at the college. The survey was conducted in the second half of 2001. A total of 43 responses were obtained. Table II

provides an overview of the findings. Respondents were divided into two groups, with those having been in service for three years or less and those with three years or more. The three-year service was chosen as a cut-off as the college was established in 1994 and the quality implementation exercise commenced in 1997. It is evident that male staff with more than three years of experience are more satisfied as compared to those with fewer than three years at the institution. As for the female staff, length of stay does not appear to influence satisfaction. Overall, a majority of the staff are satisfied with the system in existence. Given the dichotomous grouping of data, phi-coefficient correlation coefficient and its significance were obtained (Siegel and Castellan, 1988). From the results obtained, it is obvious that there are no significant differences between the gender and the two groups of respondents for each of the measures.

Supplier satisfaction

Supplier satisfaction and confidence are also an essential aspect of quality in education in HEIs. Suppliers here mean the parent body

Table I Reasons for enrolling at the college R ea sons for enro llin g a t IKIP college 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Interested w ith the courses offered W a s no t offered a pla ce in public university IKIP w a s reco m m en ded by the ir parents IS0 9002 ce rtificatio n H ostel facilitie s ava ila ble Low er livin g c osts co m pare d to livin g in K uala Lum pur Spo nsorship a rra nged C ourses offe red cons istent w ith e m ployability N ear to place of resid ence W as not offered a place by a nother in stitution Th e quality of ed ucation is sim ilar w ith othe r c ollege s Tu itio n fees cha rge d are cons istent w ith the facilities o ffered Low er tuition fe es c om pa re d to som e other colleges O verall % (satisfied) 95 77 60 80 93 67 92 91 16 17 88 38 40 M a le 88 86 74 33 8 53 49 49 28 47 50 72 33 Y es (% ) Fem ale 12 14 26 77 92 47 51 51 72 53 50 28 67 O verall % (dissatisfie d) 5 23 40 20 7 37 28 9 84 83 13 62 60 M ale 27 29 33 73 75 49 51 60 79 48 48 21 86 N o (% ) F em ale 73 71 67 27 25 51 49 40 21 52 52 79 14

Table II Staff satisfaction at the college Yes (% ) Lecture r sa tisfac tion m easures 1 A gree that they w e re n ot b urden ed w ith th e task of tea chin g m o re th an tw o sub jects a sem ester 2 W illingne ss to w o rk be yond n orm al w orking hours w itho ut e xtra reim b ursem ent 3 W illingne ss to unde rtake m ana gem ent du ties in ad dition to their teach ing load 4 C ou rse s o rga nised as pa rt of sta ff d eve lopm en t pro gram enhan ced the ir level of pro fessio nalism O verall % (satisfied) 73 72 73 78 M ale > 3 years 48 49 45.1 29 0±3 yea rs 20 24 19.4 24 Fem a le > 3 yea rs 0-3 years 16 12 19 .1 29 16 15 16.1 18 Ph i-c oefficie nt (signific ance) 0 .24 4 0 .24 5 0 .39 0 0 .68 1

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M. Sadiq Sohail, Jegatheesan Rajadurai and Nor Azlin Abdul Rahman Managing quality in higher education: a Malaysian case study The International Journal of Educational Management 17/4 [2003] 141-146

or universities that have permitted IKIP College to administer their tertiary programmes. If a HEI were unable to produce high achievers in the university programmes, these universities would normally withdraw the permit granted. From a review of information obtained from internal records, it is evident that the college has been able to forge partnerships and maintain relations with a number of universities and institutes, since obtaining the quality certification. The college has been successful in establishing relations with three overseas universities, two local universities and the Malaysian Ministry of Education for running matriculation programmes since the implementation of the quality system.

effectiveness of quality certification in improving interdepartmental working relationships, student enrolment, staff and supplier satisfaction. The approach adopted by IKIP College may provide useful guidelines for many institutions of higher learning in Malaysia as well as across the globe.


Beaver, W. (1994), ``Is TQM appropriate for the classroom?'', College Teaching, Summer, Vol. 42 No. 3, pp. 111-15. Buttle, F. (1996), ``SERVQUAL: review, critique, research agenda'', European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 30 No. 1, pp. 8-32. Berry, L.L. and Parasuraman, A. (1991), Marketing Services: Competence Through Quality, Maxwell Macmillan International, Oxford. Ford, A.T and Sheridan, J.F. (1992), ``Moving a graveyard'', AGB Reports, May/June, pp. 28-32. Koch, J. and Fisher, J. (1998), ``Higher education and total quality management'', Total Quality Management, Vol. 9 No. 8, p. 659. Owlia, M.S. and Aspinwall, E.M. (1996), ``Quality in higher education: a survey'', Total Quality Management, Vol. 6, pp. 161-71. Siegel, S. and Castellan, Jr, N.J. (1988), Nonparametric Statistics for the Behavioural Sciences, 2nd ed., McGraw-Hill, London. Zeithaml, V.A, Parasuraman, A. and Berry, L.L. (1990), Delivering Quality Service: Balancing Customer Perceptions and Expectations, Collier Macmillan, London.


From the case study, it is concluded that it is simply a mistake to dismiss the implementation of a quality system in academic institutions. Implementing quality programmes encourages HEIs to collect data, which will enable them to measure progress in key areas and establish benchmarks. Accurate, timely and relevant data can be of great assistance in timely decision making. With competitive business environments and tougher controls in higher education, HEIs must explore the possibility of gaining competitive advantage through quality enhancements. The study proves the

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Managing quality in higher education: a Malaysian case study

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