Background: The attainment of the Millennium Development Goals has been hampered by the lack of skilled and well-informed health care workers in many developing countries. The departure of health care workers from developing countries is one of the most important causes. One of the motivations for leaving is that developed countries have well-established health care systems that incorporate continuing medical education, which enables health care workers to develop their skills and knowledge base. This provision is lacking in many developing countries. The provision of higher-education programmes of good quality within developing countries therefore, contributes to building capacity of the health care workforce in these countries. Methods: The Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine is involved in delivering off-site higher educational programmes to health care workers in Africa. Our colleagues at one of these sites requested a guide to help them ensure that their professional development courses met international educational standards. We reviewed published literature that outlines the principles of quality assurance in higher education from various institutions worldwide. Using this information, we designed a handbook that outlines the quality assurance principles in a simple and practical way. This was intended to enable institutions, even in developing countries, to adapt these principles in accordance with their local resource capacity. We subsequently piloted this handbook at one of the sites in Ghana. The feedback from this aided the development of the handbook. The development of this handbook was participatory in nature. Results: The handbook addresses six main themes that are the minimum requirements that a higher education course should incorporate to ensure that it meets internationally recognized standards. These include: recruitment and admissions, course design and delivery, student assessments, approval and review processes, support for students and staff training and welfare. It has been piloted in Ghana and the feedback was incorporated into the handbook. The handbook is currently available free of charge online and being used by various institutions across the world. We have had responses from individuals and institutions in Africa, Asia, North America and Europe. Conclusion: The principles outlined in the handbook provide a regulatory framework for locally establishing higher education courses of good quality that will contribute to enhancing the teaching and learning experience of students in courses in the developing world. This would contribute to providing a skilled and sustainable health care workforce that would reduce the need for health care workers to travel overseas in search of good higher education courses.