Avoid ‘lift and shift’ transnational education, universities told

UUKi conference told that it is wrong to think that Western courses and models can be easily replicated abroad

November 4, 2021
warehouse worker in uniform loading boxes by forklift to show lift and shift in transnational education
Source: kadmy/iStock

Some transnational education (TNE) still takes a “lift and shift” approach and assumes that simply replicating Western courses and approaches will equate to quality, a conference has heard.

Paula Sanderson, former chief operating officer of the University of Reading’s Malaysia campus, said instead that for TNE to work well, it was vital that it was designed for the specific country and context where it was being delivered.

Speaking at a Universities UK International (UUKi) conference, Ms Sanderson, who has interviewed up to 30 TNE leaders for a PhD looking at the issue, said ethical challenges were “a real threat” to succeeding in the area.

Criticisms of some TNE – whose delivery can include distance learning or overseas campuses – that had emerged in her research included “the continuation of a colonial attitude towards the provision of education” and “replicating Western knowledge and power systems”.

“There is still TNE which is lift and shift sadly, and by that I mean we lift our mechanisms and we put them into a global environment in which they aren’t contextualised, in which they don’t meet student needs, they don’t meet educators’ needs, and they don’t meet governments’ needs,” she said.

“There is still a temptation to think that quality is replicating what we do well here or in Australia or in the US…and I don’t think that is the case.”

Ms Sanderson urged those trying to deliver TNE in developing countries to be aware of the different cultural attitudes that might exist towards issues such as gender or religion and to iron out any problems early.

“They are knotty, difficult things that people will encounter. I think it is really important to start that dialogue up front,” she said.

Ms Sanderson, who is now managing director of UK shared services provider Falmouth Exeter Plus, also said it was important for universities delivering TNE to collaborate as it was an area where there could potentially be “more competition and a little bit less sharing of best practice”.

She added that in Malaysia, all the UK institutions with campuses had “formed a really helpful and collaborative group” as they were aware “that if one delivered badly”, then the UK’s whole reputation could be affected.

Sir Steve Smith, the UK government’s international education champion, told the same panel discussion that he hoped a new network for UK overseas campuses, announced at the event, would also help in this regard.

“It is going to be a lot easier for us to have an aggregated view of…what the issues are,” he said, adding that “at the end of the day, we’ve got to be able to assure quality and we’ve got to be able to deliver what other countries need rather than what we happen to have on the shelf”.

Meanwhile, he also said that the UK’s focus in its international education strategy on five countries – India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam – would still mean others receiving attention.

“That does not mean that countries that are not in the five are not important. We have got a second tier of countries,” he said, adding that other markets would still get support, especially if they were in the same region as the core nations.

“They have been identified because in the UK government’s view they have enormous potential for growth. And also there are areas where there are market barriers we need to overcome.

“So they are a statement of intent but there are other countries coming along closely behind.”


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