ISO 21001 focuses on the specific interaction between an educational organization, the learner, customers and other relevant interested parties. It is a stand-alone management system standard, 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 satisfaction of learners, other customers, and personnel through the effective application of its EOMS, including processes for improvement of the system.

ISO 21001:2018 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. All requirements of ISO 21001:2018 are generic and intended to be applicable to any organization that uses a curriculum to support the development of competence through teaching, learning or research, regardless of the type, size or method of delivery. ISO 21001:2018 can be applied to educational organizations within larger organizations whose core business is not education, such as professional training departments. ISO 21001:2018 does not apply to organizations that only produce or manufacture educational products.


The EOMS is meant to serve as a management tool with a set of requirements that aim to help educational organizations/institutions establish the necessary policies and procedures which would ensure that students, staff (teachers, employees), customers and other beneficiaries' needs, requirements and objectives are met - and at the same time, the interaction between these interested parties and the educational organization is elevated to a successful level for all parties involved.


Another focus of this standard is the alignment with other ISO management system standards, which is achieved through the application of the now well-known "High Level Structure" (Annex SL). This means that the EOMS has the same structure as ISO 9001:2015 and other subsequent revised standards but with sector specific aligned content. The High Level Structure (HLS) is key for those organizations that may choose to operate a single management system (commonly known as Integrated Management System) which combines two or more management system standards. What distinguishes ISO 21001 from other ISO management system standards, are its guidance for use annexes (A to G) which are quite extensive, and provide considerable information and guidance in regards to ISO 21001 requirements and education related concepts. However, what is more attention-grabbing is that Annex A provides further requirements for Early Childhood Education providers, which is in stark contrast to other ISO standards, since ISO standard annexes mostly serve as guidelines for use. 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.


Standards in education are not a new thing. For decades now there have been teacher standards, standards of achievement, standardized curricula, learning standards, standardized tests and so on. Even within the realm of ISO standards, standardization in educational organizations is not an entirely new concept. In 2003, ISO published ISO 9001:2000 guidelines for the education sector with the aim of helping - as the name implies - educational organizations in providing educational products and services. The guidelines were intended for educational organizations at all levels, providing all types of education, such as: elementary, medium or higher education; including distance and e-learning. In this context, one could claim that ISO 21001 is the successor of ISO 9001, the Quality Management Systems Standard, adopted for the education sector. The development of ISO 21001 was carried out by the ISO/PC 288 team. The work was led by the Korean Agency for Technology and Standards (KATS) and the working group comprised of eighty-six cross-sectoral experts from 39 national standardization bodies, with the added participation of stakeholder organizations from various educational sectors. ISO 21001 applies to management systems used by educational organizations, i.e., the "set of interrelated or interacting elements of an organization to establish policies and objectives and processes to achieve those objectives." In other words, ISO 21001 intends to provide a common management tool for organizations providing educational products and services, capable of meeting learner and other beneficiary needs and requirements. Although the main beneficiaries are learners and educational organizations, it is safe to say that all parties involved can benefit from a properly implemented management system for educational organizations based on ISO 21001 and accompanied with industry best practices. Compliance with the standard will involve various mandatory activities within the management system's scope of recognition, i.e., internal auditing, learner satisfaction evaluations, control of externally provided processes, products or services, review of programs and annual management reviews of the organization's management systems among other aspects to address gaps.


What the organization does to manage its processes, or activities in order that its products or services meet the organization's objectives, such as - satisfying the learners' requirements - balancing requirements from other stakeholders - complying to regulations, or - meeting educational objectives


  • Large organizations, or ones with complicated processes, could not function well without management systems.
  • In the fields of education, multiple national and regional standards have regulated parts of these management systems.
  • Educational organizations around the world have been applying ISO 9001 to their quality management.
  • ISO 21001 make a comprehensive set of these successful practices available for all educational organizations.
  • All Management Systems use a harmonised High-Level Structure in line with the ISO Directives.
  • Examples of Management System Standards: ISO 9001: Quality Management, ISO 14001: Environmental Management, ISO 21001:2018 etc.


New Standards of ISO 21001:2018 is based on Annexure SL and key requirements are as following:

  • Scope
  • Normative References
  • Terms and Definitions
  • Context of the Organization
  • Leadership
  • Planning
  • Support
  • Operation
  • Performance Evaluation
  • Improvement


Key Difference in ISO 9001 and ISO 21001 is that ISO 9001-2015 focuses on customer Satisfaction while ISO 21001:2018 focus on satisfaction of learners and other beneficiaries (government, labour market, parents & guardians) How to develop Policy for Quality Assurance under ISO Policy must: - Be created, monitored and reviewed by top management - Involve the setting of objectives which will allow the organization to realise its vision in line with its mission - Include Commitments to: Continual improvement, Social responsibility, Intellectual property management, Satisfying legislative & regulatory requirements - Take into account: Needs and expectations of stakeholders, Latest research in pedagogy and content - Be communicated.


Student Centred Learning ISO 21001s first principle is a "Focus on Learners and other Beneficiaries". ISO 21001:2018 states that Educational Organizations should actively engage learners in their own learning. teaching is defined as working with learners to assist and support them with learning ISO 21001:2018 state requirement for Teaching Staff: Organization must: analyse its staff needs and show how it uses recruitment to reach them: determine competence standards for all staff, check that staff meet those, competence standards (both at recruitment and during employment), Provide training for ongoing, competence development, Provide ongoing performance review of all staff. Student Admission, Progression, Recognition & Certification ISO 21001 provides specific sections with detailed requirements for each of these processes:

- admission of learners
- identification and traceability of learners throughout the organization
- award of certificates for assessed learning

Learning Resources: ISO 21001 considers resources for: Learner engagement & Satisfaction, Staff engagement & satisfaction, Other beneficiary satisfaction Information Management: ISO 21001 provides significant additional guidance over the ESGs as to: which policies, processes and procedures to document and maintain, which records to retain, ISO 21001 has over 50 references to documented information which must be maintained or retained, It further has a section on how to maintain / retain this information and a further section on data privacy, Additionally, an entire informative annexe gives examples of measures and tools which can be used in collecting and managing information.


  • 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.
  • Visionary leadership - Visionary leadership is to engage all learners and other beneficiaries in creating, writing, and implementing the organization mission, vision and objectives.
  • Engagement of people - It is essential for the organization that all individuals involved are competent, empowered and engaged in delivering value.
  • 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.
  • Improvement - Successful organizations have an ongoing focus on improvement.
  • Evidence-based decisions - Decisions and curricula based on the analysis and evaluation of data and information are more likely to produce desired results.
  • Relationship management - For sustained success, organizations manage their relationships with interested parties, such as providers.
  • Social responsibility - Socially responsible organizations are sustainable and ensure long-term success.
  • Accessibility and equity - Successful organizations are inclusive, flexible, transparent and accountable, in order to address learners’ individual and special needs, interests, abilities and backgrounds.
  • Ethical conduct in education - Ethical conduct relates to the ability of the organization 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.
  • Data security and protection - The organization creates an environment where all interested parties can interact with the educational organization in full confidence that they maintain control over the use of their own data, and that the educational organization will treat their data with appropriate care and confidentiality.


If we were to find a common denominator across the field of education, then students must be one of them. Thus, it is only fair to see that students' needs are emphasized throughout this standard's requirements and its guidelines. Whether it is the context of the organization clause, leadership and commitment, performance evaluation or improvement requirements - all of them are clear that student needs, satisfaction, and feedback must be dealt with in an appropriate and inclusive manner. Student needs can vary a great deal. They could be related to curriculum, instruction, mode and duration of study, or assessment methods, psychological or social needs, to those known as special needs education. This extensive range of student needs carries with itself numerous challenges that the field of education is faced with on a daily basis. There are obviously numerous approaches (best practices and researches conducted) that aim to address and overcome these challenges - all with added specifics depending on the context of the educational organization. However, when one analyzes the ISO 21001 standard, it can be seen that the committee involved in drafting this standard was quite cautious of those needs. Consequently, those needs were translated into specific and rather general requirements that can be found in this standard. Additionally, special needs education requirements were emphasized in some of the key clauses, such as: Knowing that ISO standards are meant to serve as standardizing tools, ISO 21001 makes sure to emphasize that educational organizations are the ones to address learners' specific needs. Knowing very well that a "one-size fits all" approach does not work in an education setting (or anywhere else, for that matter); moreover, it is these very uniform approaches to education curriculum, instruction and assessment that are causing quite the uproar across the educational field. Highlighting the need for flexibility in curriculum development, instruction and assessment methods, so that all students can learn and are able to express their learning in ways that allow them to be their best - provides the necessary focus from ISO's perspective that this issue entails. It must also be stressed out that 'special needs education', although primarily focusing on learners with special needs, provides educational organizations and all stakeholders involved in those processes the perspective that all learners (in one way or another) have special needs, and those educational organizations that are able to meet those needs will succeed. All this focus on learners is rounded with clause 9.1.2 Satisfaction of learners, other beneficiaries and staff, which in a way concludes the circle of learner focus, by adding the component of beneficiaries (parents, community, etc.) and the staff satisfaction, knowing that these are crucial parts of monitoring the overall satisfaction with the educational services and products.


In a world where there are 7.6 billion of us and we have only a finite amount of resources, there is an immediate need that we, both as individuals and societies, learn to live sustainably. Thus, investing in educational organizations, by making them more socially responsible is a good start in the long journey of ensuring long-term success and achieving our sustainability aspirations. Education, apart from providing the foundations for social and economic development shapes us as individuals, and things that we learn through education and the habits that we create during our schooling tend to stay with us for the rest of our lives. Hence, it is only logical to assume that if we add a touch of social responsibility thinking into our existing educational organizations, we increase the chances of leaving a brighter and better planet for the future generations. Knowing that curriculums and other standardized educational documents have "socially responsible" commitments within them, though not necessarily realized or acted upon, ISO 21001 can help in this regard by serving as a catalyzer of these initiatives and, at the same time, also provide a structured and methodical approach with a strong focus on the needs of learner and other beneficiaries. ISO 21001 can also help to amplify the message that education is better off when it gives back to and has regard for the society that is responsible for funding it and for the environment where it operates. Young learners begin to construct their connections with the world early in their life and parents, guardians, teachers (especially kindergarten and primary school teachers), and other role models are crucial for each child's formation of a positive and empowered relationship with the society. One of the most effective ways of helping the young learners develop this connection is to provide them with the opportunity to enter and engage with the real world around them. Failure to do so can lead to a lack of connection and commitment between self, the communities around them, and larger communities. Within the higher education institutions, there are initiatives to embed social responsibility as a core element of the curriculum and their culture. These initiatives have the potential to further help students develop their social skills, create a sense of connection with the world surrounding them, develop their ability to study and explore questions about their responsibilities as a local and global citizen, and ultimately help them create the confidence that they make a difference in the world. For this purpose, ISO 21001 provides clause 8.3 Design and development of the educational products and services which lists the requirements to establish, implement and maintain a design and development process of educational products and services, including: planning, inputs, controls and outputs. The standard states the requirements for the controls on educational services, curriculum and summative assessment. All these requirements, when properly implemented and adhered to, have the potential to help higher education institutions create learning environments where all students strive for excellence in the use of their talents, seek responsibility for the integrity and quality of their work, find meaningful practices and do not yield on their endeavor to be socially responsible. To conclude, in a journal article titled "Strengthening the Foundations of Students' Excellence, Integrity, and Social contribution", Anne Colby and William M. Sullivan, senior scholars at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching state that: "It is important for the institutional culture to help students think about what they want to be like as individuals, as professionals in their fields, and as citizens as well as to engage them habitually in socially responsible behaviors through providing opportunities, incentives, and structures for that behavior," and ISO 21001 can be just the right tool to provide that.


As stated above, ISO 21001 follows the Annex SL - 'High level structure' (HLS) for ISO management system standards. It is written in a language where the requirements are intended to be adaptable to the particular context of the educational organization, based on the complexity of their size and activities, level of maturity, their strategic direction, policies and objectives.


As stated throughout this paper, ISO 21001 displays a consistent focus on learners; this is also reflected in regards to other beneficiaries. Be it the learners themselves (former or present), parents or guardians, governments, community, and so forth. Knowing well that these very interested parties (other beneficiaries), directly or indirectly influence the success of an educational organization. Furthermore, the attention to learners and other beneficiaries is also in line with the main ISO 21001 principles, such as Focus on learners and other beneficiaries; Engagement of people; Social responsibility and Ethical conduct in education. All of them combined, in one way or another, complement each other in the process of meeting learners and other beneficiaries' needs. What is more intriguing in this midst is that the guidelines provided by the standard for classifying, involving, and managing the communication process are quite detailed. This is especially true when it comes to managing the communication between the interested parties; there are four types of classification which are put forward by the standard, including:

  • Involvement: represents cases where interested parties are directly involved in processes, such as: involving relevant industry actors in creating a trainee or internship policy for students.
  • Representation: appointed student representatives as interested parties, involved directly in the process, such as: electing student representatives into a university's governing body and other relevant committees.
  • Consultation: meaning that interested parties are consulted, but do not directly participate in it, such as: consulting architects regarding the accessibility of a building before purchase.
  • Checking: meaning that the educational organization can check on the perspectives or positions of interested parties, but does not involve, represent or consult them. Such as: prior to starting a new program or implementing a certain policy, they can check their competitors.

These guidelines are by no means exhaustive as far as learners and interested parties communication and involvement in EOMS (and other) processes is concerned. They do however provide a basis for managing interested parties involvement in relevant processes.


ISO 21001:2018 will provide a common management tool for organizations providing educational products and services capable of meeting learner and other customer requirements and needs. ISO 21001:2018 aims to enhance satisfaction of learners, other customers, and personnel through the effective application of its EOMS, including processes for improvement of the system.


TNV has developed a PDCA methodology for implementing a management system so as to ensure that all certification and standard requirements are captured, thus aiding step-by-step systematic deployment and use. It is called the "Integrated Implementation Methodology for Management Systems and Standards" and this is based on international best practices. This methodology is based on the guidelines specified in ISO standards, which also meets the requirements of ISO 21001. This method is based on the PDCA cycle, which is divided into four phases: Plan, Do, Check and Act. Each phase has a number of steps which are further divided into activities and tasks. This 'Practical Guide' considers the key phases in the organization's implementation project from start to finish. Constructively, it suggests the appropriate 'best practice' for each step while directing the organization as it embarks on its journey to implement ISO 21001. By following a structured and effective methodology, an organization can ensure that it covers all the minimum requirements for the implementation of the management system. As stated above, whatever methodology used, the organization must adapt it to its particular context. The key to a successful implementation relies on a contextualized and adaptable approach by the respective organization.


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