Leader: Not all franchises fail

August 27, 2004

This week's concerns over claims made by the European University of Lefke, in Northern Cyprus, represent the latest of a long list of cautionary tales about the dangers of transnational collaboration in higher education. Only last week, the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education called for more effective quality assurance to protect students, raising questions about the motivation behind much franchising and the standard of some overseas operations. The British Council raised many of the same doubts four years ago and the Quality Assurance Agency has been highly critical of some courses.

The easy (but expensive) response would be to dismiss all such collaborative efforts as cynical money-making enterprises and demand their closure. But that would not serve the interests of foreign students or British institutions. The worldwide boom in demand for higher education is such that franchising is the only practical option in many of the countries involved. Even successful countries such as Singapore, which have developed extensive higher education systems, still welcome overseas assistance in specialist areas. Some universities engaged in transnational operations already find the level of regulation too restrictive, but there is little alternative if students' interests and the reputation of British higher education are to be safeguarded. Even where the franchising university is vigilant in monitoring standards and strict about the claims made in its name, long-distance control can be hard to exert. The minority of bad practice should not be allowed to colour the valuable provision that is being offered to students who would otherwise be deprived of higher education.

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