Monday 26 April 2021


UK transnational education (TNE) has an overwhelmingly positive effect on the partner country and their overseas students and UK universities need to ‘sell’ that better at home and abroad, says new research commissioned by the British Council.

UK TNE programmes are perceived in Europe as contributing to the local development, circulation and transfer of knowledge, and students say the experience can be life-changing.

‘Local Impact of Transnational Education’Report focuses on TNE partnerships in 12 European countries: Bulgaria, Cyprus, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain.

A series of stakeholders interviews and student surveys produced the following findings:

 Key findings:

  •  TNE makes an active contribution to the local community: reducing ‘brain drain’, sharing knowledge locally, improving job prospects for students and  widening access to Higher Education (HE). 
  • There is a direct contribution of UK TNE to the achievement of United Nations Strategic Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) by increasing access to HE and improving education capacity in host countries.
  • Primary evidence suggests that UK TNE improves access for underrepresented and disadvantaged groups.
  • UK HE institutions need to properly analyse the local impact of their work and the local environment in which they set up their partnership. Crucially, they need to promote this impact and make sure it is understood in the local community where their partner institution is located. This is essential to the long-term success of a TNE partnership.

The number of students studying on UK programmes in EU countries grew by 30 per cent between 2016 and 2019, and in 2018-19, the EU hosted the second largest number of TNE students globally: 54,585 or 16.3 per cent of the world’s total. UK universities are extending their TNE links in Europe, new campuses have opened in Germany and Poland since 2016 and new partnerships have developed in several other EU countries.

The report shows some of the advantages there are – for example, offering a UK education in the home country leading to increased access and entry routes.  

Almut Caspary, Higher Education Lead for the British Council in EU Europe, said:

‘Transnational education is an extremely important emerging area for UK-EU university relations, particularly given the changing environment of Covid-19 and the UK’s redefined relationship with the EU.   TNE programmes provide students with access to the same high quality programmes they can expect from universities in the UK. Our focus in the British Council is to support UK and European institutions so that students can benefit from the high quality of teaching, employability prospects and depth of opportunity that UK higher education has to offer in all its forms.’The findings also challenged some commonly held misconceptions about TNE.

The first is that TNE acts as a substitute for full-time study in the UK, i.e. that programmes are effectively competing with student mobility to the UK.  In this study, both the students’ profiles and their responses suggest that, as a group, they have very different characteristics from those students who would choose to study full-time in the UK.

The second misconception, held predominantly in the UK, is that TNE is inferior to courses delivered in the UK. The perceptions of stakeholders and students in this study suggest that this is not true for them. Rather, TNE is seen as delivering high-quality programmes that are entirely fit for purpose.

The findings show that the measurement of impact is mostly one-dimensional, focusing on student numbers and income. Yet the stakeholder and student perceptions point to the importance of some impacts not currently measured effectively. Consequently, much of the significant impact of programmes is neither visible nor recognised beyond those immediately involved.

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Notes to Editor

Read the report here

This research took place between February and June 2020.

Structured interviews were conducted with nine HEIs involved in delivering TNE programmes. Of these, four interviews were with the UK provider, three with an international campus or office in Europe, and two with the local HEI partner in-country.  The student survey received 78 responses.

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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.