Friday 06 November 2020


UK universities’ offshore delivery and partnerships played a significant role in bringing international undergraduate students onshore before the pandemic, says new research.

Nearly 17 per cent of all non-UK first degree entrants from abroad in 2018/19 came through UK university programmes delivered abroad, and credit recognition agreements, according to new research by the British Council and Universities UK International (UUKi).

Student mobility to UK campuses is often a key part of the rationale for building university academic partnerships and programmes abroad, but the actual payoffs are often poorly understood due to a lack of data.

The new British Council – UUKi report, Transnational Routes To Onshore UK Higher Education, confirms that these kinds of offshore programmes helped bring around 17,000 new international students to the UK each year for the past four years.

Available data, however, precedes Covid-19 and does not reflect the disruptions to mobility caused by the pandemic. 

Anecdotal evidence collected in interviews suggests that mobility through these pathways may drop sharply in the 2020/21 academic year, especially among students from China where transnational education courses typically give students the option to either go abroad for the final part of the course or complete their degree in China.

Over the longer-term, the aftermath of the pandemic may push universities to increase their offshore activity. Indeed, some universities reported increased interest in transnational education from students who would otherwise have gone overseas for their whole degree course.

Matt Durnin, British Council report author said: “As disruptions to student mobility persist, we will likely see greater demand for UK programmes delivered offshore.  At the same time, the pandemic will force universities to turn a more critical eye towards the financial sustainability of their global activities.  All we can say for sure now is that overseas partnerships will continue to be important after the pandemic, and yet they will also likely look somewhat different than they did before.”

The data also shows that student mobility through partnerships varies widely by region, with China and Malaysia accounting for the largest numbers: more than a third of Chinese entrants to UK first degree programmes and 40 per cent of Malaysians come through these pathways.

In contrast, partnerships have so far played a much smaller role in mobility from EU countries, with only around 10 per cent of new undergraduates entering the UK through these pathways. This may present an area for future growth as universities rethink their strategies on the continent after Brexit.

Eduardo Ramos, Head of TNE at Universities UK International, a key contributor to the report, said: “The report shows the diversity of ways through which UK universities recruit international students. Transnational routes to onshore recruitment have the benefits of offering greater flexibility, the ability to earn both UK and local qualifications, and the chance for those who could not afford to study an entire overseas degree to experience university education in the UK. We may see expansion of this type of route in countries where these benefits become more relevant.”

Notes to Editor

Transnational Routes to Onshore UK Higher Education, is available here. 


About the British Council

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We build connections, understanding and trust between people in the UK and other countries through arts and culture, education and the English language. Last year we reached over 80 million people directly and 791 million people overall including online, broadcasts and publications. Founded in 1934 we are a UK charity governed by Royal Charter and a UK public body. We receive a 15 per cent core funding grant from the UK government.

 About Universities UK International

Universities UK International (UUKi) represents UK higher education institutions (HEIs) globally and helps them flourish internationally. To do this we actively promote UK HEIs abroad, provide trusted information for and about them, and create new opportunities through our unique ability to act at sector level. We draw on UK university expertise to influence policy in the UK and overseas, delivering information, advice and guidance to facilitate mutually beneficial collaboration between UK HEIs and a broad range of international partners.