At a time when international student numbers are decreasing in many Western countries, especially the UK, could transnational education be the solution to the crisis? The emergence of education hubs, the level of local investment in tertiary education in many of the traditional student recruitment regions, and the increasing cost of education abroad are all leading to students looking closer to home for their studies. Campus branches, joint degrees and online education may be solutions for institutions reliant on international student fees.
Transnational education (TNE) offers students the ability to study in their home country with an institution, or in partnership with an institution, from another nation. It generally costs much less than enrolling abroad and offers all the comforts of a domestic education with the benefits of an international institution.
International student recruitment is slowing
International student recruitment in the UK is slowing and has been for a while. It grew by just 2.7% between 2012/13 and 2014/15. The effects of Brexit and the increasing restrictions placed on international students in the UK look set to see those numbers decreasing even further in the near future. In the same period however, TNE student numbers grew by a huge 12.4%, suggesting that transnational education could become the answer to the recruitment crisis.
Transnational education in the UK
Transnational education has been a part of the international strategy of UK universities for a long time, but recently has begun to expand far more rapidly. Right now, the UK is the fastest-growing market and the world’s second-largest provider of international education – it’s currently worth around £18bn to the economy. In fact, over 80% of the UK’s public universities offer degree programmes internationally. There are only 15 countries in the world where UK institutions don’t already offer some form of TNE.
For many universities in the UK, TNE is a major part of their recruitment strategy. Edinburgh Napier, for example, offers degrees in a number of international universities including City University of Hong Kong, where students can study a number of bachelor’s degrees. The University of London, meanwhile, has been running programmes in partnership with overseas institutions for over 100 years.
The scope of options available for institutions is vast, including everything from online degrees – which were tipped to become the dominant form of international education a few years ago – to joint degrees and branch campuses. Online delivery is popular, especially due to the rapid development of internet connectivity in less technologically developed nations. It offers flexibility, support and isn’t financially crippling.
Partnerships and joint degree programmes are the most popular form, allowing students to study at a domestic institution, but receiving an international accreditation. This is beneficial for institutions as well as students because it helps form solid global links.
Branch campuses, which we may think of as the leading form of international degrees, actually only make up around 5% of the industry. Despite this, they’re worth more than the rest of the TNE sector combined. Not only are they high profile, but they give universities complete control and offer the benefits of a world-class education which is grounded in the domestic culture of the host country. They boost internationalization, provide students with exchange options and increase global connectivity.
Branch campuses are also the best way to tackle the issues of validity and quality that emerge from international degrees. Not only do they offer more control than joint degree programmes, but the risk of low standards reflecting badly on the main university means that students can be assured of continued investment.
With more students deciding to stay local for tertiary education, TNE offers universities the ability to continue bringing in tuition fees and offers students access to a good education without the need to travel.
But is it 21st century colonialism?
A criticism of TNE is that it represents a form of modern-day colonialism; the West exporting a Eurocentric or US-centric education to developing countries. This argument is, of course, challenged by many institutions which take part in such programmes. They argue that internationalization is the key to development, that branch campuses take into account domestic cultural norms, and that any programmes on offer are not meant to usurp traditional courses, but rather to offer additional options. In China, for example, local institutions have traditionally placed much more focus on the sciences than the humanities, meaning that international branch campuses from nations where there are more options in the liberal arts offer students the option to embrace this area of academia without the need to travel internationally.
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