More than a third of all international undergraduates studying in England are recruited from transnational courses, a new report reveals.
The study by the Higher Education Funding Council for England found that 16,500 non-European Union students enrolled at universities during 2012-13 having previously taken a course delivered overseas by the same institution or a partner. This is equivalent to 34 per cent of the total international intake that year.
The research suggests that the increasing popularity of this route to study in England may have served to mitigate the impact of the decline in international undergraduate recruitment experienced by some institutions.
Between 2009-10 and 2012-13, there was 21 per cent growth in transnational entrants, compared with an overall increase of 17 per cent among other recruits.
It was not a uniform picture across institutions. Transnational transferees made up 55 per cent of international students at universities with a low average tariff score, the report says, compared with 16 per cent in those with a high average tariff score.
The growth in transnational entrants in recent years was driven by the institutions with low average tariff scores, which have experienced a decline in other international recruitment since 2009-10.
There was also variation among sender countries. The report says that it was the transnational route which fuelled the growth in the number of undergraduates coming to England from China between 2009-10 and 2012-13. The number of transnational entrants increased by 55 per cent over that period, compared with a 18 per cent increase in other pathways from China.
The second largest country for transnational entry to study in England was Malaysia, where that route accounted for 63 per cent of all undergraduate recruits.
Transnational entrants tend to spend significantly shorter periods of time studying in England compared with other students, according to the report, which identifies the increasing popularity of courses lasting for a year or less.
Such courses attracted 24 per cent more transnational students in 2012-13 compared with 2010-11, and this was attributed in part to the impact of the global financial crisis on middle class incomes around the world.
One-year courses accounted for 33 per cent of transnational entrants in 2012-13, compared with 28 per cent two years previously, meaning that institutions had to rely on a high number of students continuously enrolling on their programmes.
However, the report adds that 5,100 transnational students who started their first degrees in 2010-11 were continuing at postgraduate level in 2012-13.
Madeleine Atkins, Hefce’s chief executive, said relatively little had been known previously about the impact of transnational programmes on student pathways.
“In the light of this research we can see the importance of long-term commitment and a strategic approach to transnational education,” she said. “Some institutions have been particularly successful in this arena, and dedicated partnerships built on mutuality and reciprocity emerge as the foundations of their achievements.”
Pam Tatlow, chief executive of the Million+ group of universities, said students on transnational courses and the university partnerships involved had “been crucial to the success and reputation of UK higher education”.
“It is in the long-term interests of the UK that transnational education has the support of all government departments and it would be disastrous if this was put at further risk in the increasingly fraught debate about immigration,” she added.