By Michael Peak, British Council

20 March 2014 - 14:33

Dubai, where a number of UK universities offer courses and qualifications to local students. Photo by Fabio Achilli under Creative Commons licence.
Dubai, where a number of UK universities offer courses and qualifications to local students. Photo ©

Fabio Achilli, licensed under CC BY 2.0 and adapted from the original.

More and more students access UK higher education without entering the UK, but what is the impact on the countries hosting UK higher education? The British Council's Michael Peak answers ahead of the related session at our Going Global 2014 conference in Miami on 29 April - 1 May.

What is transnational education?

Some people call it ‘programme and institution mobility’, others call it ‘cross border’, ‘off shore’, ‘borderless’ or transnational education (TNE). Whether these terms are familiar to you or not, the general idea is one where students can gain a qualification from another country without leaving home - and it's something which is growing in popularity among students and universities alike.

There is a lack of robust data out there but what we can gather is that an increasing number of students are studying via TNE, and more courses are becoming available in a greater variety of forms.

What are the numbers?

The latest data (2012/13) on the number of students studying a UK qualification entirely overseas shows that:

  • nearly 600,000 students accessed UK higher education qualifications without entering the UK
  • even discounting students who are ‘registered’ but not necessarily active, more students study for UK qualifications via TNE than non-EU students who come to the UK to study in higher education institutions
  • students gaining a UK qualification via TNE have increased by 50 per cent in the last four years
  • 126 UK institutions offer some sort of TNE – a number that has increased each year and is a ten per cent increase on the number offering TNE in 2000
  • only a small proportion of students studying UK courses through TNE do so in branch campuses while the majority study via local partner institutions or through distance learning.

The UK's Department for Business Innovation and Skills is commissioning a study to assess the value of TNE to the UK. They currently estimate that TNE is worth over £330 million to the UK economy. But what benefit does this form of education give students, and what impact is TNE having on the host countries?

What is the impact on host countries?

In May 2013, the British Council convened the Higher Education Summit in the UK’s G8 Presidency Year, which brought together more than 30 higher education leaders from 17 countries. We discussed the local impact of TNE and undertook a study capturing the views of students and higher education leaders to assess this.

Our study found that this form of education has had a number of effects:

  • academic: TNE can develop host institutions' teaching and assessment methods and quality assurance processes
  • economic: TNE allows students to gain an international education while studying part-time and remaining in employment. It can also generate local income by attracting international students from neighbouring countries
  • careers: Many students told us they chose their TNE course to develop their skills and advance their career. Many students believe that TNE increases their hiring and promotion prospects
  • socio-cultural: The most frequently identified benefit was the opportunity to study in English and develop an understanding of other cultures.

Of course, the effects of TNE are not always positive. Some staff we spoke to expressed concerns about the imposition of western-centric approaches, and commented that the flow of information between the host and provider institutions could be unbalanced.

What is the most successful model?

Successful and sustainable TNE programmes are those that are developed to meet the needs of the partner institution, host country, and local students. In other words, successful TNE is a mutually beneficial relationship between international partners.

More work is needed to understand the local impact of TNE. We are working with the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), with further support from Australian Education International (AEI), the Institute of International Education (IIE) and Campus France to expand the study, capture data from a broader group of people in host countries, and develop more concrete findings. The follow-up study will be presented at our Going Global 2014 conference in Miami, Florida, on 30 April.

For more news, events and market intelligence on higher education, connect with us on LinkedIn.

You might also be interested in: