Can UK universities protect themselves against uncertainty following the EU referendum by offering transnational education? Which countries should they partner with? The British Council's Michael Peak answers.
An air of uncertainty is blowing through UK higher education circles since the UK's decision to leave the European Union. Some commentators have argued that UK universities will face rocky times over the coming years, especially in relation to their international outlook. Political changes could affect students' and researchers' freedom of movement. The UK is already losing ground in its share of the global market for internationally mobile students. Given this gloomy state of affairs, are there any glimmers of hope?
Yes. Transnational education (TNE), where universities run courses and offer qualifications outside of their home country, could help universities maintain international ties while student mobility fluctuates. TNE is different from traditional international student recruitment, because the students can complete their studies in their home country. This means that it is less likely to be affected by changes in domestic visa regulations or work permit rules.
It's a phenomenon which is increasing in scale and scope, and an area in which the UK is leading the way.
Why should universities set up transnational education programmes?
Let's briefly look at four benefits.
First, a TNE programme raises an institution's profile abroad. Research by the UK government's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) in 2014 showed this can create a ‘halo effect’, attracting more students to apply.
Second, it encourages international student mobility. Domestic students have the chance to study abroad in partner institutions and satellite campuses, and TNE students often progress to complete their studies in the UK.
Third, by building stronger networks overseas, TNE can help an institution boost its collaborative research output.
Fourth, TNE can bring income to universities in the form of fees, as a recent report shows.
Where should universities look for TNE opportunities?
British Council research from 2012 shows that, as an economy grows, so too does the proportion of 18- to 22-year-olds starting higher education. This relationship is particularly strong for countries with GDP per capita of up to USD 10,000, which tends to equate to an enrollment rate of 40 per cent: meaning that four in ten young people are in tertiary education.
Thanks to their rising prosperity, these countries tend to want more higher education. So they could be excellent options for UK universities looking for a TNE partner. By looking at the local spending power of individuals, institutions can see which countries have a growing segment of the population able to invest in higher education. If a country's enrolment ratio is lower than 40 per cent, this could mean that local demand for higher education is not being met. These countries could benefit from more higher education, potentially provided by an international partner.
Another thing to consider is the proportion of a national economy which is made up by services (rather than from construction, production and manufacturing, or agriculture). A growing services sector is a sign that the economy is increasingly reliant on its citizens' knowledge and expertise. To keep that growth steady, the country will depend on the continued development, training and education of its workforce.
These indicators suggest that countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, and the Philippines present real opportunities for UK universities who want to cast their net more widely. In the case of the Philippines, there are even national government funds from CHED (the Philippines Commission on Higher Education) to encourage TNE partnerships between institutions in the UK and the Philippines.
Are there any other tools that universities can use to help them choose where to go?
At the Going Global conference in May 2016, we released data to help universities understand more about where to work based on the local policy environment. The tool assesses the policy environment in 26 countries to see how supportive they are of international higher education, by measuring 37 indicators for each country – a total of 962 nuggets of information on their openness, policies, regulatory frameworks and funding support. Malaysia and Germany came out top, followed by the UK, Australia, and other nations in East Asia.
Submit a proposal to speak at Going Global 2017, the British Council's annual international higher education conference.