By Kevin van Cauter

03 September 2013 - 11:42

Aspirational jump in front of the University of Nottingham in Malaysia. Photo (c) University of Nottingham, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 and adapted from the original.
Aspirational jump in front of the University of Nottingham in Malaysia. Photo ©

University of Nottingham, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 and adapted from the original.

With more and more international students taking courses at overseas branches of UK universities, what role does the host countries’ policy environment play? The British Council’s Kevin van Cauter presents new research examining the importance of policy and regulatory oversight to the expansion of transnational education (TNE).

The global growth of transnational education in the last decade has been one of the defining stories of international education and has had significant impact on both host countries and provider countries.

One of the most notable features of this development has been its global nature, with new host and provider countries emerging. This has resulted in a much greater choice and increased access to an international education programme for students, but also in more complexity.

For more than a decade, the British Council has been conducting research to try and track the scale and impact of this fundamental shift in the way UK qualifications are delivered internationally.
TNE has matured to the point where we now see a new flexible and global market for international education in which TNE is perceived to play an integral part of the international study experience as the majority of international students accessing UK higher education now do so outside the UK.

What are the predictions for transnational education?

The British Council’s first attempt to forecast TNE growth through the Vision 2020 report in 2003 predicted a huge growth in demand for the UK’s TNE sector.

In 2012, ‘The shape of things to come – volume 1’ forecast that international student mobility would slow over the years to 2020 but that overseas delivery of higher education programmes (either through teaching partnerships with local providers, or through international branch campuses) would grow in terms of the number of institutions participating, the variety of programmes on offer, and the volume of students enrolling.

But little has been done to assess the impact of this form of education delivery in the host countries, or to assess the dynamic relationship between host country and sending country.

On 5 September 2013, we are publishing ‘The shape of things to come – volume 2’, top-line findings of which were presented at our international higher education conference Going Global in March 2013. This research is our assessment of the evolution of TNE and the elements necessary to form an environment conducive to creating TNE opportunities.

Does quality assurance fetter or promote growth?

An exhaustive analysis of available global data suggests that TNE is continuing to expand at a brisk pace; both in terms of scale (programme and student enrolment) and scope (diversity of delivery modes and location of delivery). However, the report finds that a third of the 25 biggest countries studied for TNE activity have little or no quality assurance systems in place, and that, for many countries in the study, TNE is simply not a policy priority.

However, in countries where it is, the research concludes that the main objectives for embracing TNE appear to have been met in the countries studied, and it is crucial that the ‘foreign’ institution is aware of the local cultural context and priorities for partnerships to have truly mutual and sustainable benefits.

So the evidence suggests that a complex push-and-pull relationship exists between TNE activity and TNE regulations, where TNE activity reaches a certain critical mass and elicits a regulatory response from the government. The problem for TNE providers is that that regulatory response can help or hinder TNE programme development.

In countries such as Malaysia or in the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong the regulatory framework has been developed over time in partnership with provider countries and is generally regarded as having facilitated significant expansion of TNE programmes.

The research analyses factors which are likely to affect the demand for TNE programmes in the host country, as well as the extent to which host country governments have implemented policies and processes to facilitate and manage inbound TNE.

The top opportunity markets identified in this research are those with, or moving towards, a system of robust policy and regulatory oversight. It remains to be seen what host and providers can learn from this research – the ultimate test will be whether potential host countries and providers can work together to facilitate mutually beneficial growth of TNE in the coming decade.

Watch the live stream of the publication launch on Thursday, 5 September, 18:00 – 20:30 UK time, The Shape of Things to Come: The Evolution of Transnational Education

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