UK transnational education (TNE) has an overwhelmingly positive effect on the partner country and their overseas students and UK universities need to ‘sell’ that better at home and abroad, says new research commissioned by the British Council.
UK TNE programmes are perceived in Europe as contributing to the local development, circulation and transfer of knowledge, and students say the experience can be life changing.
‘Local Impact of Transnational Education’ focuses on THE partnerships in 12 European countries: Cyprus, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Spain, France, Malta, Portugal and Lithuania.
A series of stakeholders interviews and student surveys produced the following findings:
UK transnational education (i.e. partnerships where UK universities deliver part or all of a course in another country, with another university):
TNE makes an active contribution to the local community: reducing ‘brain drain’, sharing knowledge locally, improving job prospects for students and widening access to Higher Education (HE).
There is a direct contribution of UK TNE to the achievement of United Nations Strategic Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) by increasing access to HE and improving education capacity in host countries.
Primary evidence suggests that UK TNE improves access for underrepresented and disadvantaged groups.
UK HE institutions need to properly analyse the local impact of their work and the local environment in which they set up their partnership. Crucially, they need to promote this impact and make sure it is understood in the local community where their partner institution is located. This is essential to the long-term success of a TNE partnership.
The number of students studying on UK programmes in EU countries grew by 30 per cent between 2016 and 2019, and in 2018-19, the EU hosted the second largest number of TNE students globally: 54,585 or 16.3 per cent of the world’s total. UK universities are extending their TNE links in Europe, and new campuses have opened in Germany and Poland since 2016 and new partnerships have developed in many other EU countries.
The report shows some of the advantages there – for example, still offering UK education, but avoiding complications of higher fees or visa costs that are now a factor for European students since the UK’s departure from the EU.
Almut Caspary, Higher Education Lead for the British Council in EU Europe, said:
‘Transnational education is an extremely important emerging area for UK-EU university relations, particularly given the changing environment of Covid-19 and the UK’s departure from the EU. TNE programmes provide students with access to the same high quality programmes they can expect from universities in the UK. Our focus in the British Council is to support UK and European institutions so that students can benefit from the high quality of teaching, employability prospects and depth of opportunity that UK higher education has to offer in all its forms.’
The findings also challenged some commonly held misconceptions about TNE.
The first is that TNE acts as a substitute for full-time study in the UK, i.e. that programmes are effectively competing with student mobility to the UK. In this study, both the students’ profiles and their responses suggest that, as a group, they have very different characteristics from those students who would choose to study full-time in the UK.
The second misconception, held predominantly in the UK, is that TNE is inferior to courses delivered in the UK. The perceptions of stakeholders and students in this study suggest that this is not true for them. Rather, TNE is seen as delivering high-quality programmes that are entirely fit for purpose.
The findings show that the measurement of impact is mostly one-dimensional, focusing on student numbers and income. Yet the stakeholder and student perceptions point to the importance of some impacts not currently measured effectively. Consequently, much of the significant impact of programmes is neither visible nor recognised beyond those immediately involved.