Assuring Quality in Engineering Education via
Implementation of ISO 9000

Norman Mariun

Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering
Faculty of Engineering
University Putra Malaysia
43400 Serdang Selangor Malaysia


A phenomenal growth of the education industry in the last two years due to demand for engineering, information technology and management professionals have shifted the whole paradigm and philosophy of education. There is a need to look into the quality of education, and this can begin by looking at the management of the faculties that offer the program, through the ISO 9000 standard.

ISO 9000 standard maybe is still new to some of us in the academic world even though it is not something new. In Malaysia more than 1000 companies have successfully attained the ISO 9000 certificate. Their objective in attaining the certificate is to increase their ability to compete their manufactured products or services in the global market or to win contract worth million of dollars. In this era of competition and globalization of knowledge which emphasized on the importance of quality, ISO 9000 certification will soon be a must for each degree program. This is to assure quality in education especially engineering education.

In this paper, the importance and benefits of ISO 9000 for an engineering program is further elaborated. The steps, requirements and factors for successful attainment of ISO 9000 certificate and then implementation and maintaining of a quality system for an engineering faculty are discussed. The obstacles in implementing a quality system and ways of overcoming them are also highlighted.


Education is vital in our modern society and no one can ignore its role and contribution. The educated are always commanding a higher social status and demonstrating a distinctive life style. It should be noted that the developed world has a large proportion of the highly educated. Many developing countries are planning their higher education carefully. Their aim is to increase the number of the educated to the level now enjoyed by the developed nations. They believe that higher education is to furnish at least two fundamental prerequisites for growth, namely, to provide the necessary tools for analyzing changes in socio-economic structure and to provide the onus of the insight of working knowledge of the old as well as the newly introduced technological know-how 1.

Education itself is a multimillion dollars industry and is very important to the development of a country. It determines the future of the country, especially engineering education when the country decide to become an industrial country. The engineers through their inventions and innovations are the agents in creation of wealth and job opportunities for a country. It is the Malaysian government’s vision to see this country become a developed nation by the year 2020 (Vision 2020) based on science and technology 2.

The decade of the 1990s has begun and will likely conclude with quality as a major theme. In industry, commerce, government and now higher education, a focus on quality abounds. Its assessment and enhancement, and attempts to define and measure it, are major issues for higher education throughout the world. This is not only because of the growing demand within countries for better higher education with fewer resources, but also because of the growing inter dependence of national higher education systems 3.

Apart from finance, questions of quality and accountability in higher education are inevitably going to be the principal themes in the higher education policy debate in future years. Issues such as accountability to students, meeting the needs of industry and other employers, maintaining academic standards and financial accountability to the government and funding bodies will attract much attention as competition between institutions for students becomes much more severe in the years to come 4.

Shifting Paradigm

A staggering phenomenal growth of the education industry in the last two years due to demand of engineering, information technology and management professionals have shifted the whole paradigm and philosophy of education. Malaysian universities are expected to produce some 2,000 engineers annually, a figure far below the expectation of the local population of engineers required for the year 2000 and beyond. It is estimated that the country will face an acute shortage of some 17,200 engineers by the year 2000 5, 6. The government recognized the important role played by the private sector in filling the gap.

Until 1990, there were only seven public universities in Malaysia. But in 1997, eleven have been approved and five more have been mentioned. The government’s liberal education policies have resulted in more than thirty foreign and local colleges submitting their application to set-up their own universities 7. These new private universities, institutes and colleges of higher education are set-up through twinning programs with established foreign counterparts or franchising of other established foreign or local universities’ higher diploma, degree and postgraduates courses. These new institutions will compete with the existing higher education institutions for the best qualified students.

Universities in this country are government bodies funded totally by the public sector. Hence there is no thought of profit making or financial gain. But now, with the plan of corporatisation of the existing universities due to ‘brain drain’ of the professional academicians and formation of private higher educational institutions, the issue of not only economic viability but also dividends for the funding bodies must be considered. Can the standards set by the old universities be maintained and upgraded to a world class, or with this new management, without regulating standards and accreditation bodies Malaysia will end up with the so called non-competitive universities in the United States.

In recent years, there is a growing awareness that if higher education institutions are to meet the challenges of the 21st century, they must attract students from all sections of the population. In particular this can be implemented by increasing access from those social groups whose participation so far has been very low 8. This means that university education is no more for the academic elite. The entrance to the university will not be determined solely on academic merit but that regard will be taken of a number of other considerations including; socio-economic status of parents, unemployed youth and mature persons who wish and deserve a second chance, groups poorly represented in certain areas of professional training, minority groups in society especially ethnic group, and those living in rural areas and isolated communities. Are there special provisions to cater for these groups of students such as bridging program in mathematics and physics which are prerequisite for entry into engineering, or an extra foundation year added to the normal three years program? On top of that, may be more intensive teachings and extra tutorials must be provided to ensure quality products.

At the approach of the new millennium, society is moving from industrial to the information age. Utilization of advanced communications technologies and electronic media promises both to extend universities’ reach and to change their approach to instruction. Already some institutions are offering ‘virtual university’ courses. Even though the instruction, administrative services, and library resources are all accessed electronically, the virtual university system is highly interactive and facilitates frequent communication among students and the instructor. This can enhance education, provided that universities are prepared to break away from old models and reconceptualise how they teach 9. This may even require a reengineering of the whole institution which include; training of staff to teach with new technologies, appropriate reward structure to encourage staff to adopt new methods, investment in high technology infrastructure, and restructuring of administrative and bureaucratic procedures. Given the present and projected expansion of electronic distance education, mechanisms must be developed to assure quality.

In September 1996, the Malaysian education minister announced to introduce quality education management based on total quality management (TQM) and ISO 9000. Even schools should attain accreditation for ISO 9000, and a school was announced to have achieved ISO 9000 certification. On the other hand, have the educational establishments, more accurately the higher education institutions offering the engineering programs assured their clients that they have a quality education management?

The clients are the students from within the country and overseas, and the quality of learning they achieve is the service they expected. This is also the ‘product’ which the higher education institutions ‘sell’ to their future employer. In November last year, the Malaysian deputy education minister also announced that Malaysia will become an exporter of education services best in Asia. With these challenges the higher educational institutions offering the engineering programs have to assure that they have a quality management system which can produce quality engineers that can be designers, innovators, managers and balanced persons professionally, socially and spiritually.

What is ISO 9000?

ISO (the International Standard Organization) head-quartered in Geneva, is a world wide federation of national standard bodies (ISO member bodies, such as SIRIM, SISIR, etc) which is responsible for creating standard for each member country. The objective of setting up of this body is to encourage the formulation and practice of international standard. The creation of ISO 9000 standard is to assure the products and services offered by the member countries are globally recognized and accepted 10.

ISO 9000 was initially published in 1979, and from a slow start it is now being implemented by a very large number of commercial organizations. The ISO 9000 deals with quality system requirements that can be used for external quality assurance purposes. The quality assurance models set out in this International Standards represent three distinct forms of quality system requirements suitable for the purpose of a supplier demonstrating its capability, and for the assessment of the capability of a supplier by external parties.

Before any organization achieved ISO recognition, it has to established a quality system and procedure outlined in the models set out in the standard. ISO 9000 is divided into three basic sections: ISO 9001, for quality assurance system which includes design, development, production, installation and servicing, ISO 9002, for quality assurance system in production, installation and servicing, and ISO 9003, for quality assurance in final inspection and testing.

For the case of engineering programs, to achieved ISO recognition each department responsible for each program have to established a quality management system and procedure that conformed to the standard, which is the ISO 9001. The ISO 9001 Quality Systems give a guideline how to establish, document and maintain an effective quality system and demonstrate to the customer that the organization emphasized the importance of quality.

Benefits of Implementing ISO 9000

SIRIM carried out a survey on 536 companies which have attained ISO 9000 certification and received 500 respondents. From the survey it is found that the two major advantages are improved in quality (76.5%) and increased customer perception or improved advertising campaign (72.9%). Other than that, increased productivity (42.3%), reduced cost (36.7%), better staff morals (29.6%) and improved market shares (28.6%) are also gained when ISO 9000 is implemented 11.

  • Enhance organization image with internationally accepted quality standard.
  • Recognized globally as a centre of engineering education where quality is assured.
  •  Demonstrate documented quality management system.
  • Satisfy customers and current market environment.
  • Foundation for a total quality management program.
  • Sets a baseline for continuous improvement.
  • Reduction in customer complaints.
  • Improve productivity and efficiency.
  • Increase quality awareness, motivation, co-operation, workmanship and consciousness.
  • Reduces time consuming audits by customers and regulators.
  • Focuses training and professional development.
  • Reduce mistakes and rework (right first time).
  • Improved communication internally.
  • Prepare for future market requirement.
  • Table 1 Benefits of ISO 9000

    If ISO 9000 is implemented for the engineering program and organization that offers it, the benefits listed in Table 1 can be achieved. Furthermore, Malaysia being considered as a developing country have to prove that our education system is a world class or at par with the developed countries. These can be achieved by having international accreditation through ISO 9000 and then only can we compete with the developed countries of the West having equal standing. Observing these virtues, it is an advantage for any educational institution to implement ISO 9001 to enhance its ability to serve the world and future generations.

    Requirements of ISO 9001:1994

    There are 20 requirements for the quality system which have to be observed as listed in Table 2 10. These requirements form the basis of the two manuals that must be prepared which are Quality Policy Manual and Operational Procedures Manual. These are the documentary proof of an organization's dedication to the implementation of Quality Assurance and the implementation methods used 12. The following requirements on documentation is clearly stated in the ISO 9001; documentation on Quality Policies and Objectives (4.1.1), documentation of responsibilities and authorities which include organization structure (4.1.2), documented Quality Manual (4.2.1), documented Quality System Procedures (4.2.2), and documented Quality Planning (4.2.3).

    4.1 Management responsibility

    4.11 Control of inspection, measuring and test equipment

    4.2 Quality system

    4.12 Inspection and test status

    4.3 Contract review

    4.13 Control of nonconforming product

    4.4 Design control

    4.14 Corrective and preventive action

    4.5 Document and data control

    4.15 Handling, storage, preservation, packaging and delivery

    4.6 Purchasing

    4.16 Control of quality records

    4.7 Control of customer supplied product

    4.17 Internal quality audit

    4.8 Product identification

    4.18 Training

    4.9 Process control

    4.19 Servicing

    4.10 Inspection and testing

    4.20 Statistical techniques

    Table 2 ISO 9001 Quality System Requirements

    Furthermore, this documentation is required to clarify, and describe the organization's quality system to its personnel. It is also required to define the organization's process and procedures for the organization's personnel to operate and comply, and be right the first time. Documentation also means proper recording of the appropriate data related to the activity. These records provide useful information on the performance of the organization's quality system and could be used by the organization for troubleshooting and continuous auditing and improvement purposes. The effectiveness of a documented quality system will depend on how it is perceived and understood by users and it is most important that they are written in a simple, user friendly and practical manner.

    Implementation of ISO 9001

    Before the ISO project can be implemented, the faculty’s management have to select a group of staff as the steering committee (SC). It should be lead by a senior management staff (deputy dean) as the quality manager (QM). The committee comprise of representatives of each department (departments’ head), academic as well as technical and general staff. This will ease the preparation of the documents that should be plan and responsibilities for the co-ordination of documentation writing have to be assigned normally to the QM.

    The QM has to compile the existing quality policy, organization structure, job specifications, process flowchart and work procedures of the faculty. For example at UPM, the Faculty of Engineering’s quality policy is stated in the customers declaration ( Piagam Pelanggan: Kami akan memberi perkhidmatan yang berkualiti, cekap, tepat dan memberi kepuasan kepada pelanggan. Kami sentiasa bersedia melaksanakan tanggungjawab kami dan akan memberi layanan yang sempurna, mesra dan selesa. ) and further details of the services provided is listed according to the functions that include administration, academic, finance and facilities13. The organization structure and job specifications of each staff from the Dean, Deputy Dean, Head of Department, Professors, Associate Professors, Lecturers, Technicians and to the general supporting staff are listed and compiled 14, 15.

    The core activities for any faculty are mainly confined to four areas namely teaching, research, consulting and administration. As an example, the teaching process can vary amongst courses in programs of different disciplines. But they are all under some common processes as shown in Figure 1 7.

    (Figure not available)

    Figure 1 Teaching Process Flowchart

    Apart from the above activities, the process flowchart for students selection and registration, students assessment and evaluation and other processes such as curriculum design and development, staff training and development should be charted and compiled. These process flowcharts will assist the clients internally (faculty members) and externally (students, external assessors and examiners) to understand the functional process of the faculty.

    In any organization there are certain work procedures followed and adopted by the staff. These work procedures must be established and documented to satisfy external assessors for the purpose of ISO 9000 accreditation. For an engineering faculty, to achieve and maintain a smooth and high quality services various work procedures have to be established and implemented. These include how to procure equipment, run the laboratories, set examination papers, evaluate the students, evaluate the lecturers and course content and other administrative functions. Work instructions or manuals for using the facilities such as specific engineering test equipment, computing facilities, design packages, and laboratory work space should be issued and clarified. It is also essential that rules and regulations for using the facilities is spelled out so that the facilities are not abused.

    These documents have to be evaluate for adequacy and conformity against the ISO requirements. Once the inadequacies have been identified, the QM have to organize the writing teams for various functions such as teaching, research, administration etc related to the program. For any departmental procedure that do not exist to the ISO requirements, the particular department’s heads need to develop a system or systems that conform to the requirements. Then the responsibility for document preparation and authorization should be delegate to respective process owners.

    Procedures and work instruction should be listed and interface to the Quality Manual. Normally it is easier to write the procedures and work instructions first then followed by the quality manual. Figure 2 shows the hierarchy of a typical organization documentation. The SC should also identify the style and format to be used throughout the documentation, and flowcharts, symbols, diagrams and pictures where necessary should be used to explain the process and procedures in the organization. If necessary the SC have to supervise the depth and style of the documents and provide training for the new procedures.

    Purpose ISO 9000 Document
    Policies, structures & system outline Quality Manual
    Activities Procedures
    Specific Task Work Instruction
    References Support Documents

    Figure 2

    Activity Comment
    Application Application form, Questionnaire.
    Adequacy Audit Quality System
     Documentation Audit
    Compliance Audit Quality System implementation
    Audit Maximum 2 audits.
    Recommendation Certification Committee
    Approval Director General
    Surveillance Twice yearly audit
    RM3000 certificate renewal.

    Figure 3

    Figure 3 shows ISO 9000 registration process 16. The next step after compiling the documents is to ask users to implement as per written in the documents. The SC should identify issues related to contents, understanding, user’s perception and specific problems to be address. Then the documents need to be rewrite, simplify or clarify and an internal audit undertakes before SIRIM is invited for the adequacy audit. Normally independent consultants are engaged to assist in this assessment 12.

    The adequacy audit is to establish that the quality system exists, it is documented and it meets the requirements of ISO 9001. This is just one assessor and one day exercise. If all the documents and other information as requested are available and satisfactory to the assessor then the compliance audit may be carried out in a few months' times. If not, correction is made and procedures updated.

    The compliance audit is to establish an effective implementation of documented system. It is performed by a team of qualified auditors. The exercise can take from a few days to a few weeks depending on the size of the organization. Detail appraisal is carried out which includes; examination of quality system documents and records, observation of all relevant departments and interviews with company staff at all levels. Findings and recommendations are presented to the organization before the audit team leaves in the form of non-conformance reports or summary report and recommendation for registration. In the event of a recommendation for non-registration, reassessment and corrective action is discussed. The company have to wait at least 3 months for another compliance audit.

    After registration, a certificate will be issued by SIRIM and is only valid for one year. All registered body are placed under a surveillance program. For that particular year, SIRIM shall send an auditor to the company at its discretion but in any case not more than 2 times a year, for the purpose of verifying that the obligations imposed by the Certificate of Registration are being carried out. A complete reassessment is carried out every 3 years.

    Success or Failure Factors In ISO 9000 Accreditation

    Generally employees of many organizations are afraid of change. People resist change or do not change quickly due to our culture. Culturally, we link negative associations to the idea of instant change17. The general misconception when ISO 9000 project is implemented is that it will change the organization's entire operating procedures12. This is not true at all. Only where systems or documentary deficiencies are identified that changes and additional documentation are required.

    To overcome this, the management has to show total commitment in carrying out quality assurance exercise. The management can start off by a launching ceremony and hanging banners around the organization premises. This will create the environment and awareness that the organization is moving towards ISO 9000 certification. All staff must be made aware at the earliest possible moment of the company’s intention to seek ISO 9000 accreditation.

    The success of the project depends on every employee of the organization. They have to understand their role in the organization to make the project a successful one. The management has to explain the importance of implementing ISO 9000 for the organization to the member of the staff. All employees must attend training on ISO 9000 and appreciation course, quality policy and procedures manual contents. The management also has to motivate and perhaps promise them incentives in term of bonus or excursions if accreditation is attained within a certain period.

    The preparations of manual also require participation from every staff member and departments. Good co-operation and team work among the departments and employees is a necessity. If consensus is not achieved for a working procedure, this may also be a cause of failure in obtaining accreditation. This is because one of the requirements for successful implementation of ISO 9000 is to show evidence that practice is equal to theory. In any organization there is an establish operational procedures. In the process of documenting the work process and procedures, the SC has to identify areas of improvement and changes maybe introduce. Here, discussion and explanation have to be done and agreement on the new process must be achieved with the employees involved.

    A sound quality assurance system can function effectively only if all the staff understand the ethos of quality assurance and appreciate that their individual and collective responsibilities are essential for the operational procedures to work effectively. On going staff training is a must if everyone in the organization is to have a sound understanding of quality issues. Regular induction meetings should be held for short periods with staff attending in small groups on a departmental basis. Small groups are preferable because they encourage questions, comments and opinions that is extremely useful and positive influence on quality assurance.

    To sustain ISO certification, management must accept quality improvement as a continuous process and part of TQM. Commitment towards quality improvement should continue even after certification. Internal quality audit must be done on a periodic basis stated by the procedures at least once each year by trained and competent internal auditors in the years following successful accreditation.


    The ultimate determinant of the quality in any institution, is within the institution itself. It is within the quality of the management, and the ability of those who manage, especially at head of department level, to give wide spread ownership of goals, and an ethos of quality control, throughout all the activities of the institution18. The ISO 9000 quality assurance system sets out how we can establish, document and maintain an effective quality system that will demonstrate to the customers that we are committed to quality. In short, the system provides an orderly and systematic way of providing quality services to the customers. The key elements that this system address are; responsibilities are defined, documents are controlled, process are controlled, if something goes wrong a corrective action is taken and internal audit and periodic review are carried out. The quality management system after certification should be a foundation of continuous improvement of an organization.

    In this era of competition and importance of quality, ISO 9000 certification will soon be a necessity. For this we need a paradigm shift and rectification where necessary. Both the higher education institutions management and employees must be committed, and participate in the process of change for a successful implementation of ISO 9000, attained and furthermore maintained the certification. Then, this would be a platform to catapult Malaysia higher education institutions to a world class standard.


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    13. Fakulti Kejuruteraan, UPM, "Buku Hari Q" 22 Jun 1994.
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    16. Lee Ng Chai, "Course notes: In-Plant ISO 9000 Appreciation Course, For Jabatan Kerja Raya Malaysia", Standards and Industrial Research Institute of Malaysia, April 1996.
    17. Anthony Robbins, "Awaken The Giant Within", Fireside Simon & Schuster Inc., 1992.
    18. Pauline Perry, "Is There a Need for a Higher Education Inspectorate?", Chapter 2 of "Quality Assurance and Accountability in Higher Education", Kogan Page Ltd, London, 1990.

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