Revenue ‘most important’ part of transnational education for UK

British Council finds wide range of benefits associated with overseas provision, but making money still looms large

October 20, 2022
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UK universities think generating revenue is the most important benefit of transnational education for their country, new research suggests.

The British Council also found how governments and higher education institutions are making use of transnational education (TNE) partnerships to enhance the quality of higher education provision.

In The Value of Transnational Education, researchers asked 31 UK higher education institutions how important a range of factors of TNE were for the export country.

Fifty-two per cent say increasing export revenue to their country is very important – the highest proportion of all six factors, with 90 per cent saying it was at least slightly important.

This is followed by building soft power through higher education (47 per cent) and supporting broader export and trade opportunities (32 per cent).

When asked how important a different selection of 12 transnational education benefits were to their individual institution, 68 per cent say the recruitment of international students – who pay lucrative tuition fees – was very important, with all respondents saying it was at least slightly important.

The next most popular choices were expanding the global reach of an institution, chosen as very important by 62 per cent of respondents, and enhancing institutional reputation or prestige, a priority for 53 per cent. Revenue generation for the institution was selected as very important by 50 per cent of respondents.

The British Council found that individual universities prioritised benefits differently – and even within institutions themselves – making it difficult to assess the significance of each of these factors.

“Academic units are more likely to be motivated by reputational benefits and the prospect of internationalising the student body and teaching programme; in contrast, managers are more concerned with revenue generation,” the researchers say.

Transnational education – via distance learning, partnership agreements or overseas campuses – contributed an estimated £2.2 billion to the UK economy in 2019. But Sir Steve Smith, the UK’s international education champion, says in the foreword to the report that there is limited research on its wider value.

Seeking to bridge this gap, the report drew on dozens of interviews with education ministries, regulatory bodies, higher education institutions and a survey of over 100 higher education stakeholders across the UK and other countries.

It found that 68 per cent of respondents globally say transnational widens access for students from under-represented groups.

The report also found transnational education reduced “brain drain” in host countries as students can obtain an internationally recognised qualification much more affordably.

In the cases of Cyprus and the Seychelles, transnational partnerships involving the UK contribute more than 20 per cent of the number of students in higher education.

“TNE partnerships build capacity and strengthen higher education systems overseas, improving student experience and graduate employability,” said Maddalaine Ansell, director of education at the British Council.

“At the same time they build the reputation of the UK higher education systems as among the best in the world and demonstrate that we want to use our assets as a force for good.”

The report also found that the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of long-term international partnerships and strengthened relations between partners.

Among the report’s recommendations is one that the Turing Scheme – which provides funding for international education globally – be extended to support the mobility of researchers at the master’s and doctoral level.

And researchers warned that transnational programmes – particularly students’ outcomes and employability – are likely to attract greater political scrutiny in the future.

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