Expansion of UK universities’ transnational education activities has dwindled dramatically after years of strong growth.
Although the number of those studying for UK awards overseas in 2016-17 was a new record high, 707,915, this was up by just 1 per cent on 2015-16, according to a Universities UK International report, The Scale of UK Higher Education Transnational Education.
This compares with a 5.3 per cent increase from 2014-15 to 2015-16, and rises of 4.3 per cent and 6.7 per cent in the preceding years, says the report, which is based on Higher Education Statistics Agency records.
In 2015-16, 44 per cent of UK transnational education students were learning via provision delivered collaboratively overseas. A quarter (25 per cent) were studying via an international partner organisation, with one in five (20 per cent) following distance or flexible learning courses. International branch campuses accounted for just 8 per cent of provision.
Raegan Hiles, head of outbound mobilities programmes at UUKi, said that it was not possible to explain the apparent slowdown in growth because breakdowns by region or institution were not yet available for the 2016-17 data.
The shift in the management of transnational programmes to overseas partners might mean that some activities no longer show in the data, or it might be that large providers have stabilised their numbers and that growth is now being driven by smaller providers.
Janet Ilieva, founder and director of research company Education Insight, said that the apparent slackening of growth of transnational education (TNE) was not surprising.
“TNE has emerged to support local higher education agendas, and as such it has absorbed unmet local demand for HE,” she said. “As countries’ HE systems are maturing and their participation rates are nearing 40 per cent, local HE growth and TNE growth are bound to decelerate.”
Dr Ilieva added that there was anecdotal evidence to suggest significant consolidation of UK universities’ overseas provision.
“I have the feeling that many institutions are slowing down or withdrawing from so-called ‘light-touch TNE’ – or franchising and validation agreements,” she said.
By contrast, she continued, the growth appears to be concentrating in joint degrees that require heavier involvement on behalf of the two institutions.
Data collected from 2015-16 and included in the report showed that more than four-fifths (82 per cent) of UK universities offered some form of transnational provision that year, with Malaysia and Singapore maintaining their position as the top partner countries.
Asia as a whole hosted more than half of UK transnational education students (52 per cent). This was followed by Africa (15 per cent), the European Union (13 per cent), the Middle East (11 per cent), North America (5 per cent), non-EU European countries (3 per cent), Australasia (1 per cent) and South America (less than 1 per cent).