There are now more overseas students studying for UK qualifications abroad than there are on courses at universities and colleges in Britain, a British Council analysis of new official figures has revealed.
A study of figures provided by the Higher Education Statistics Agency shows that at the last count a year ago there were 340,000 students on programmes outside of the European Union who were studying for a UK degree or another higher education qualification. The vast majority of these students were not British.
In comparison, in the same year there were just 309,000 non-EU domiciled students on higher education courses in the UK.
The figures underline the remarkable growth and increasing significance of so-called “transnational education” (TNE) – where students study for a foreign qualification either in their home country or a third country.
The British Council analysis suggests that the number of students on UK TNE programmes has grown by at least 70 per cent in the last decade.
International students abroad are taking courses at UK university overseas branch campuses or at local universities and colleges that have entered into partnerships with British institutions. Often they study for one or two years outside of the UK and then come to Britain for one or two years to complete their degree. A growing number are also signed up on distance learning and online programmes.
The implications of this phenomenon are to be debated at the British Council’s Going Global international education conference in Hong Kong on March 11 and 12.
Martin Davidson, the British Council’s chief executive, said the explosion in demand for UK courses delivered overseas was a welcome development – but one that presented new challenges for UK universities and colleges:
“Transnational education provides greater flexibility and choice for students across the world who may not be able to afford to spend several years thousands of miles away from home.
“It clearly presents many opportunities for UK institutions, but it also brings competitive challenges as we are not the only players in the TNE market. Perhaps foremost among these challenges is that of maintaining the quality of courses and protecting the UK’s reputation for high quality education which is a key selling point for us.
“It will be important for universities and colleges working with the Quality Assurance Agency and other organisations to keep a close watch on the programmes to ensure standards are maintained at a level equivalent to that expected at home. This will be easier to achieve if institutions are very careful when choosing TNE partners and if they take care to establish truly collaborative partnerships rather than arms-length business arrangements.”
The importance of maintaining high quality has been highlighted by a survey of at least 120,000 prospective international students conducted by the British Council, which found that quality of education was the most important factor for them in deciding where to study.
The expansion in TNE has occurred at a time when the number of international students enrolled in the UK has also increased. Offering education closer to the homes of international students need not mean reducing numbers travelling to the UK, Mr Davidson added.
“Many students who have had good experiences on TNE programmes go on to study in the UK, whether at undergraduate or postgraduate level,” he said.
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