UK offshore enrolment now over half-million mark

UUKi report records 12.7 per cent increase in transnational education headcount in space of a year

November 17, 2022
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UK universities now educate more than 500,000 students offshore, according to latest data.

A report published by Universities UK International on 17 November says institutions enrolled 510,835 students via transnational education in 2020-21, the most recent year for which data are available.

This was an increase of 57,445 – 12.7 per cent – on the previous year.

Transnational education covers students learning overseas via distance learning, collaborative provision or branch campuses.

The UUKi report, published in partnership with the British Council, says that nearly two-thirds of offshore learners – 63.8 per cent – were studying for undergraduate degrees. Meanwhile, 31.4 per cent were on master’s courses, with 1.5 per cent on postgraduate research degrees.

Recruitment was spread across 162 providers, but the majority of enrolment – 50.8 per cent – was concentrated in just 15 universities. However, 90 providers reported having more than 1,000 students studying via transnational education in 2020-21, up from 82 year-on-year.

And nearly half of all offshore students – 49.5 per cent – were hosted in Asia, where the quickest growth in enrolment was reported, too. The next biggest regions were the European Union (15.8 per cent), the Middle East (13.8 per cent) and Africa (11.1 per cent).

Twelve per cent of all transnational students – 61,495 – were in China, followed by Malaysia (9.5 per cent, 48,460), Sri Lanka (7.3 per cent, 37,175) and Singapore (5.5 per cent, 27,875).

The report recommends that universities seek to remove barriers to transnational education to diversify provision, for example, via free trade agreements. And it says that transnational education could be used to support global development, for example, by improving gender equality and helping to tackle climate change.

However, a British Council report published last month found that, while this was the case, UK universities still said that generating revenue was one of the most important elements of transnational education.

Joana Westphal, UUKi’s head of transnational education, said offshore enrolment “enables cultural exchange and diversity for students and staff and contributes significantly to the UK’s economy, so it is great to see the strong demand for UK TNE across the world”.

“However, TNE partnerships do not exist in a vacuum and can be heavily affected by political developments. It is therefore crucial that the sector and UK government work closely together to continue to mitigate risks in TNE and ensure that partnerships can continue delivering for students around the world,” she said.

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