UK ‘yet to fulfil potential’ for transnational education

Report calls on universities to expand and diversify overseas delivery

December 14, 2023
Source: iStock

The UK has a lead in transnational education over its global rivals but is yet to fulfil its full potential, according to a former universities minister.

A report by the International Higher Education Commission (IHEC), of which Chris Skidmore is chair, makes the case that transnational education (TNE) can help to address many of the challenges faced globally by universities and students.

It comes at a time when governments across the world are re-examining their policies towards the recruitment of overseas students: the UK is reviewing a key post-study work visa, Australia is adjusting its visa rules, and Canada has increased its student finance requirements.

The IHEC report says the UK has a global lead in TNE over its rivals, with more than 500,000 students enrolled on degree programmes overseas, giving it a substantial base on which to enhance programme capacity even further and diversify engagement.

Just four countries – China, India, Nigeria and Pakistan – currently account for half of UK TNE recruitment, and a majority of students are enrolled at just over a dozen institutions.

Saying the UK is “yet to fulfil its potential”, the IHEC calls for wider engagement among the UK’s world-class universities, as well as new approaches to delivery.

“If we stand still and fail to embrace the opportunities TNE presents, then the UK will miss the opportunity to be an international leader in TNE,” said Mr Skidmore, who had two spells as universities minister between 2018 and 2020.

“While TNE demonstrates substantial growth, the challenges in scaling up impede the full realisation of its potential.

“Addressing this gap will necessitate a series of significant and substantive measures to truly ‘move the needle’ and unlock the true power of TNE on a global scale.”

While pockets of expertise exist in UK institutions, the IHEC warns that there is a lack of specific experience, particularly concerning a number of key countries, and the motivations of students and partner institutions are not well understood.

The commission says the benefits of TNE include research enhancement, greater financial returns, increased international profile and improved access and quality experiences for students.

The IHEC is developing recommendations for a new “International Education Strategy 2.0” in partnership with the higher education community.

The report recommends that targets be set for TNE that reflect both volume and diversity to mirror the success of the target-driven approach of the government’s first International Education Strategy in 2019, which Mr Skidmore launched.

It also calls for the establishment of an academy, modelled on Advance HE, to help develop capacity and capability to undertake TNE.

David Pilsbury, co-author of the report and chief development officer at Oxford International Education Group, said: “It is increasingly evident that TNE is not only a viable, but a crucial, offering for nations witnessing a rapid rise in the number of ambitious young minds seeking access to world-class education.

“The global landscape of education is evolving, and TNE emerges as a strategic response to meet the diverse needs of higher education institutions on their quest for excellence and inclusivity.”

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