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ISO 21001:2018

WHY ISO 21001:2018?

Since 1984 to the present the majority of education has been certified to ISO 9001 standard, which covers quality and customer satisfaction. During this more than three decades of adherence, debates and interpretation dysfunctions have risen among the non-manufacturing organizations like the education sector. In 2003 and 2007 ISO tried to resolve this issue by providing guidance for a quality management system in educational organizations called International Working Agreement (IWA 2). Unfortunately, the guidelines contained within IWA 2:2007 and are not intended for use in contracts for conformity assessment or for certification.

Due to the specificity of the education sector making it different from manufacturing and other services sector activities, ISO published the IWA 2:2003 Guidelines for the application of ISO 9001:2000 in education. These guidelines were written by a group that included education experts along with experts representing national organizations for standardization (El Abbadi et al.,2013), however these guidelines are not intended for use in contracts for compliance assessments or for certification. Unfortunately, the application of ISO 9001 in Higher Education has been generically limited to the institution’s services and not their core functions, namely teaching and learning (Rosa et al., 2016). It was argued then that the idea of the student as a customer can lead to a damaging commodification of learning knowledge and the service that the schools and university provides. For ISO 9001 a customer focus is a quality management principle that has many negative connotations and is widely misunderstood by the education community.

According to Cuthbert (2010), the commodification and the rise of academic capitalism encourages a utilitarian instrumentalism that distances the student from the deep learning and personal growth that most people believe is the most valuable part of the university experience for students, and is also the best way for universities to meet their broader social responsibilities. The IWA 2:2007, the upgraded version of the guidelines was withdrawn in 2013 that prompted the set-up of a project committee in 2014 to draft a new standard specifically dedicated to educational organizations. The project committee was given a wide mandate to consider any and all factors which have a bearing on the operation of educational organizations (Camilleri, 2017). Within the framework of WG1 of the project committee, 140 experts from 34 countries have prepared 9 iterative drafts of a standard over 10 meetings.

Finally in 2018 the ISO published 21001 standard that specifies requirements for a management system for educational organizations (EOMS) when such an organization: a) needs to demonstrate its ability to support the acquisition and development of competence through teaching, learning or research; b) aims to enhance satisfaction of learners, other beneficiaries and staff through the effective application of its EOMS, including processes for improvement of the system and assurance of conformity to the requirements of learners and other beneficiaries.

ABOUT ISO 21001:2018

ISO 21001:2018 is an international standard developed by the International Organization for Standardization which provides management tools for organizations that offer educational products and services. It intends to help educational providers meet students’ requirements and needs. ISO 21001:2018 is based on ISO 9001 – Quality Management Systems, but it provides a specific framework for educational organizations that aim to enhance the satisfaction of their learners by improving the educational processes and ensuring conformity to learners’ requirements. The standard can be applicable to all organizations that provide a curriculum for the development of knowledge, skills and attitudes by means of different lecturing methods.

ISO 21001:2018 focuses on the specific interaction between an educational organization, the learner, customers and other relevant interested parties. It is a stand-alone high-level structure management system standard targeting organizations providing educational products and services, based on ISO 9001 (without being a sector application), and aligned with other ISO management system standards through the application of the High Level Structure. ISO 21001 provides a common management tool for organizations providing educational products and services capable of meeting learner and other customer requirements and needs. It aims to enhance the satisfaction of learners, other customers, and personnel through the effective application of its EOMS, including processes for improvement of the system.


The world has changed and is currently in the transition from traditional or so called the old normal to the new normal education system due to the overwhelming pandemic crisis that greatly affected humankind and the entrepreneurship education system. Educational organizations, leaners, and lecturers’ have no choice but to adapt to a warping speed of Fourth industrial revolutions (4IR) in teaching and learning. “Characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres” (Schwab, 2016) most tertiary institutions have adapted the eLearning systems in their core services to sail forward in this wave of unprecedented passage. As an institute, our goal is to provide quality education to the learners. The course delivery should be in such a way that it is in line with the requirements of the learners. The ISO 21001:2018 Standard is tailor-made for the education sector to achieve the goal of delivering quality education. Thus, a metamorphosis of standards for an entrepreneurship institute like the Institute of Classic Entrepreneurship, Nigeria (ICENT) transitioning to a more tailor-fit Quality Standards is inevitable to manage the changes in educational organizations. ISO 21001:2018 has been published in order to replace IWA 2:2007. This prompted the Institute to evolve from the traditional ISO 9001:2015 standard.

Unlike the ISO 9001, which has a primary focus “… to consistently provide products and services that meet customer and applicable statutory and regulatory requirements …” As stated in Clause 1.a of ISO 9001:2015, the ISO 21001:2018 navigates its course leaning toward competence as stated in 1.a Scope “…to demonstrate its ability to support the acquisition and development of competence through teaching, learning or research; “.With the vision of the institute to be Africa’s master brand in the provision of entrepreneurship education for sustainable development, certification with the standard is indeed a milestone and breakthrough.


ISO certification invokes quality recognition among industry groups, employers, those seeking a business degree and provides a unique competitive advantage. ISO has global “brand” recognition. ISO’s reputation for the certification of quality also provides current and potential students with the assurance that an independent international body with “a membership of 163 national standards bodies…covering almost every industry, from technology, to education, to food safety, to agriculture and healthcare” Recognized in 163 countries by businesses, governments and organizations of all types, the ISO certification provides a global evaluation standard that students can look to with confidence. It should be noted that one of the most prominent globally recognized business accrediting bodies, the AACSB, selected ISO certification to independently verify its quality management system.

In a 2018 article “Proposing Alternative Masters Degrees Models for Small Colleges/Schools of Business” in a review of the importance and value of the ISO Certification for academic institutions, Gary Keller, award-winning educator and management practitioner and Professor of Management at Monarch Business School Switzerland emphasized that one method to ensure an institute, college, university or business school is providing a credible and quality degree programme is to become certified by an independent professional accreditation agency, one which is an appropriate and widely recognized accreditation body that benefits both the institution and students. He then concluded that the options available to tertiary institutions is certification from the International Standards Organization (ISO) which is the optimal choice due to its global reputation for quality standards and that even one of the most prominent business programme accrediting bodies (AACSB), selected ISO to certify its own quality management system”.

ISO 21001:2018 Certification is the world’s first international management system standard for educational organizations, published in May 2018. There were eleven (11) evaluation elements, including leadership, accessibility, ethical conduct, management, performance achievement, risk management, and follow-up. The certificate is valid for three years until March 2025. Each year it will be re-audited or monitored


Douglas J. Gilbert, in his article “ISO Alongside, Instead, or Inside? The potential of ISO 21001:2018 to change and challenge higher education accreditation”, published in International Journal of Business and Applied Social Science - October 2020 highlighted the following: The recently released ISO standard, ISO 21001:2018, Educational organizations Management systems for educational organizations Requirements with guidance for use, is poised to have a significant impact on critical elements of quality assurance in higher education. Depending on the nature and extent of existing quality assurance structures, three potential use scenarios of the new standard appear possible: ISO Alongside, ISO Instead, and ISO Inside. The Standard may be used as an adjunct to existing quality assurance approaches (ISO Alongside). Some quality assurance systems may opt to incorporate the attainment of ISO 21001 certification as the determinant of holding an accredited or approved status (ISO Instead). Finally, the achievement of ISO 21001 certification may serve as a pre-requisite to the application for specific recognitions or accreditations (ISO Inside).

Potential advantages of ISO 21001
There are several advantages to the use of ISO 21001 in an accreditation setting. ISO 9001, as the foundation standard, is well known globally as a quality mark in the business, government, nonprofit, and education sectors. Attaining ISO certification would be understood as indicative of a level of quality by the stakeholders external to education. The use of a regularized approach to auditor and reviewer qualification provides a further advantage. Perceived professionalism may increase with the use of certified auditors and team members trained in the principles of effective quality reviews. Such professionalism can lead to a perception of a fairer and thorough review.

The short and limited duration of ISO certificates and the requirement of surveillance audits support a view that the quality assessment of the institution represents current reality rather than a decades-old history. The fluidity of educational certificate offerings rather than credits and degree programs will almost certainly require a more rapid and current quality assurance review system than delivered by accreditation today. A final advantage lies in the relatively high institutional completion rates and relatively low time to completion for ISO projects.

Scenarios for the future: ISO Alongside, Instead, or Inside? Potential scenarios for the influence of ISO on accreditation may be described as alongside, instead, and inside. The HEI experience to date with ISO 9001 reflects an ISO alongside scenario. ISO 9001 has not displaced accreditation but tends to be an additional quality certification sought or required for certain HEIs and other providers. Such a situation reflects the current focus of accreditation on programs offering courses, credits, and degrees. With ISO 21001, it may be plausible that the triple crown designation is displaced by a quadruple crown with the addition of ISO certification.

An ISO instead scenario would require a major shift in accreditation practice away from peer- and discipline-based practices of review and recognition. Such a change could upend the entire accreditation enterprise. Significant change takes time because wholesale changes in education regulation unfold over decades, not years or months. Some areas such as the specialized or programmatic accreditors serving less regulated, non-licensure programs may see change sooner. Agencies such as AMBA, AASCB, ACBSP, and IACBE serve schools feeding students directly to business organizations, many of which use ISO certification for business operations. The demand for a transnational quality standard with independent recognition may well be felt first in this arena. The scenario of ISO inside may prove tempting to settings where accreditation has meshed with regulation or authorization. Incorporating required ISO certifications into a regulatory web would allow regulators to offload supervision and oversight to a neutral third party. ISO standards serve as de facto regulatory norms in many sectors, including healthcare, IT, and aviation. For example, the healthcare accreditor DNV GL Healthcare incorporates ISO 9001 certification into its accreditation model (DNV GL, 2020). The approach exists within the highly regulated healthcare environment in the United States, a much more complex and challenging environment than higher education. It would not thus be surprising to see educational accreditation and quality assurance adopting a similar model.

Conclusion The use of ISO 21001 in HEI quality assurance may prove a noteworthy development with potentially significant influences on accreditation processes. Higher education is an economic sector that has historically followed other service sectors such as healthcare, aviation, information/communications technologies, and financial services, in adopting consistent approaches to measuring and reporting quality. The further use of ISO 21001 may provide a useful step towards greater consistency of quality assurance in the sector


ISO 21001:2018 focuses on the specific interaction between an educational organization, the learner, sponsors and other relevant interested parties. It specifies requirements for an Educational Organization Management System (EOMS) when such an organization:

• Needs to demonstrate its ability to consistently provide, share and facilitate the construction of knowledge while conforming with applicable statutory and regulatory requirements;
• Aims to enhance the satisfaction of learners, other customers and personnel through the effective application of its EOMS, including processes for improvement of the system;
• Can demonstrate compliance with the Standard’s requirement through independent third-part assessment by an accredited Certification Body.

EOMS incorporates the requirements of ISO 29993 (vocational training) and ISO 29994 (distance learning). By implementing and maintaining an ISO 21001-based EOMS we demonstrate successful application of these principles:
• Focus on learners, sponsors, and other beneficiaries,
• Visionary leadership,
• Engagement of people,
• Process approach,
• Continual improvement,
• Evidence-based decisions,
• Relationship management,
• Social responsibility,
• Accessibility and equity,
• Ethical conduct, and
• Data security and protection.

It must be stated that this standard is applicable across the field of education providers – be it primary, middle, or high schools, university level settings, training providers, public or private education sector, and so on. The EOMS is not confined to schools or institutions of higher learning sectors only, but also applies to any organization which utilizes a curriculum to provide, share and transfer knowledge.


The current information and knowledge economy requires a wide variety of training and learning services, some of which are very specific. These go well beyond the services provided by the formal education system of Nigerian and international institutes, universities and colleges. Above all, they require measures, methods and instruments in the entrepreneurship and enterprise education that are directly relevant to and suitable for practice. The new ICENT- ISO 21001:2018 standard, released in March 2022, ensures international recognition and credibility for teachers and learners by ensuring minimum requirements for internationally agreed quality levels of learning services and measures.

Key benefits of the ISO 21001: 2018 certification are for ICENT as well as for its members/students to have the international comparability of education management systems, the harmonization of global requirements for supply and demand of competences and knowledge, the independence of cultural, ethnic, religious, gender and system differences, the facilitation of resource exchange and above all the access to new experiences, competences and knowledge through new partnerships and a transnational knowledge transfer.


1. Focus on learners and other beneficiaries – The primary focus of the EOMS is to meet learner and other beneficiary requirements and to exceed their expectations.
2. Visionary leadership – Visionary leadership is to engage all learners and other beneficiaries in creating, writing, and implementing the organisation mission, vision and objectives.
3. Engagement of people – It is essential for the organisation that all individuals involved are competent, empowered and engaged in delivering value.
4. Process approach – Consistent and predictable results are achieved more effectively and efficiently when activities are understood and managed as interrelated processes that function as a coherent system, including input and output.
5. Improvement – Successful organisations have an ongoing focus on improvement.
6. Evidence-based decisions – Decisions and curricula based on the analysis and evaluation of data and information are more likely to produce desired results.
7. Relationship management – For sustained success, organisations manage their relationships with interested parties, such as providers.
8. Social responsibility – Socially responsible organisations are sustainable and ensure long-term success.
9. Accessibility and equity – Successful organisations are inclusive, flexible, transparent and accountable, in order to address learners’ individual and special needs, interests, abilities and backgrounds.
10. Ethical conduct in education – Ethical conduct relates to the ability of the organisation to create an ethical professional environment where all interested parties are dealt with equitably, conflicts of interests are avoided, and activities are conducted for the benefit of the society.
11. Data security and protection – The organisation creates an environment where all interested parties can interact with the educational organisation in full confidence that they maintain control over the use of their own data, and that the educational organisation will treat their data with appropriate care and confidentiality.


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