Written by: Maddalaine Ansell, Director Education

One of the most humbling parts of my role is listening to leaders of developing nations talking about the challenges they face in trying to ensure their young people have access to high quality tertiary education. Higher level skills are necessary to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals. If solutions to global challenges are to be designed in partnership with the people affected and contextualised to their situations, as is generally thought to be more effective, these skills need to be available locally.

Scholarship schemes that enable students from developing nations to study abroad can be part of the solution. We have many case studies that show the tremendous contribution that students who studied in the UK have made when they have put their new knowledge and skills to the service of their home country. But student mobility cannot deliver the scale required and, unless they are lucky enough to win a scholarship, is only available to students with access to a significant amount of money. There is also always a risk that students who study abroad won’t return home and that their talent will be lost to their homeland.  

How much better then, if high quality tertiary education, designed to be relevant to the economic and social needs of a country is available within that country at a price that many of the citizens can afford? Transnational education (TNE), where a university offers its courses and qualifications overseas, often in partnership with a local university, is a good way to build capacity. British Council research on the Value of TNE has found that it can both enable more people to access education and also improve the quality of their experience of education. A strong and sustained partnership between two universities can also improve research capacity and support the development of university leaders and faculty.  

TNE has grown tremendously over the last few years – and UK universities are in the vanguard.  In 2020–21, UK TNE was offered in (at least) 228 countries and territories, with more than half a million students studying a UK course or qualification in their own country. This is a 12.7% increase from the previous year and nearly matches the number of students who come to the UK to study. This is why the British Council launched its new TNE Strategy at our flagship Going Global Conference in Edinburgh last year. As the theme of the conference was “towards sustainable, scalable and equitable partnerships in tertiary education”, this was entirely appropriate.

Supporting TNE is not new for us. We have long worked with UK and overseas governments, universities, and sector bodies to influence policymakers to remove market barriers and to establish system-level agreements. This has led to the signing of bilateral, government-to-government agreements in India, Brazil, Nigeria and Vietnam, all of which will pave the way for UK education providers to offer TNE programmes with local partners. But we feel we can do more. We will use our trusted position and strong reputation, our knowledgeable and respected in-country colleagues with excellent networks and our convening power to take advantage of the fact that TNE can be at least part of the answer to some big questions.

So what will we do? The Strategy sets out four areas where we will take action.  

The first is to contribute to better data and insight on UK TNE. This will both make the case for its value and provide information that will help UK HMG and HEIs develop their own TNE strategies. This will include looking at what data we can draw about student experience and graduate outcomes from the new Alumni UK digital network. Secondly, we will promote the quality of UK TNE, including explaining our quality assurance systems, running marketing campaigns and using alumni as peer-to-peer ambassadors for TNE. Thirdly, we will continue to support the International Education Champion and UK HMG to remove barriers to TNE and support new opportunities. This includes providing small grants to support the creation of university partnerships. Finally, we will keep learning about which aspects of TNE partnerships provide the most positive social impact for all partners involved. This includes ensuring they are founded in a shared vision for success, work for mutual benefit, build respect and trust between the partners and promote inclusivity and diversity.  

Please do read our strategy and, if you think there is any way you can support us, please do get in touch.