UK transnational education to grow in response to world demand

Published 21/11/2023

Transnational education, one country offering its qualifications in another, could be part of the answer to sustainable and equitable access to higher education across the world.

There is a huge and increasing demand across the world for tertiary education. Students and their families want to fulfil their potential, education providers want to internationalise and raise standards, and governments need access to higher-level skills to grow their economies and play their part in achieving Sustainable Development Goals.

Sending students overseas cannot meet this demand alone. Whilst it can be a fantastic experience, it is also an expensive one – and, while most international students do return home, sending countries worry that some will stay leading to a loss of valuable human capital.

Transnational education could build higher education capacity overseas, create opportunities for affordable higher education and facilitate “brain circulation” rather than “brain drain”.

Given the potential of TNE, the British Council is thinking about how we can use our on-the-ground presence and strong local networks to support the UK tertiary education sector.

The UK TNE report, published by Universities UK International in partnership with the British Council (2022), shows UK TNE grew by a record 12.7% in 2020/21, with more than 510,835 students studying for a UK TNE qualification in 228 countries and territories.

Some 63% of UK TNE students were studying for first degrees (63.8%), underlining the importance of UK TNE in opening-up educational and career prospects to those who might otherwise not have these opportunities.

There is a high regard for UK higher education the world over but in a competitive international HE market we must adapt to the evolving global education landscape.

Current models, such as members of staff from UK institutions delivering courses in-country, learners studying remotely, and tutorial support from local partners sometimes rely on the role TNE plays in brand recognition and international student recruitment to justify the cost. If TNE is to work at scale, we need new models that don’t rely on money from students coming to the UK.

New and financially sustainable models of transnational education are required in order to provide greater accessibility to learners of varying ages and backgrounds, while offering opportunities for institutions to expand their global reach.

Key to the emerging approaches include regulatory change to allow online and digital learning models and robust quality assurance to ensure that everyone can have confidence in the quality of UK TNE. Ideally, TNE would be part of a wider strategic partnership between HEIs in the UK and overseas that might encompass continuing professional development and research collaboration.

We must also utilise work-integrated learning, allowing students to gain practical skills and real- world experience while studying, and personalised learning, using data and analytics to tailor educational programmes to the needs and preferences of individual learners.

Trends suggest that demand from students to study abroad is likely to grow. Nevertheless, international mobility is expensive and out of reach for many students and there are early signs that some receiving systems are close to capacity. There are also concerns about the equity of the transfer of both wealth and human capital from poorer to richer countries. We need to think about what can be done to make international mobility sustainable and equitable.

This is a shared endeavour and will require a collective effort on multiple levels with the UK Government, devolved administrations, tertiary education providers, agencies, regulators, policy makers, authorities, and institutions around the world.

We look forward to playing our full part, supporting the international ambitions of all four nations of the UK in education, being a long-term and trustworthy partner of overseas governments, institutions and organisations, and transforming young lives through increased skills, confidence and connections.

About the author: Maddalaine Ansell is Director Education at British Council.

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