07 Nov 2013

Transnational education: the next step towards internationalisation?

Next steps for internationalisationIs transnational education the new buzz word? Is it more than the newest form of student recruitment? Or will it change internationalisation as we know it and drive our internationalisation strategy? Simply defined as education from one country offered in another, transnational education (TNE) is a hot topic. A one-day conference on TNE recently took place in London. Find out what was discussed and what effect TNE could potentially have on higher education as we know it.

Recently defined by Jayne Knight as “the third stage of internationalisation”, TNE is any form of education delivered by a provider in another country, the host. The recent conference, ‘Transnational Education: opportunities to engage, share and learn’, organised by UCAS, Universities UK and the UK HE International Unit, sought to educate British universities on how to ‘export’ their ‘product’ using the idea of TNE.

A growing trend

The tone was set by William Lawton, Director of the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, who showed the growth of TNE: more foreign students receive UK education in other countries than in the UK itself. The UK is actually the world leader in TNE and the long-term trend is that TNE will only be growing. The different models of TNE (International Branch Campuses, flying staff, twinning programmes, foundation programmes, franchising, dual/joint degrees) were discussed as well as the underlying business models. For a clear description of the models, check the article by Kevin Van-Cauter in the Internationalisation Handbook (EAIE members can request access to the publication for free in the EAIE Member Centre).

Motivation factors

Some of the most visible forms of TNE are Education Hubs and International Branch Campuses (IBC). They are often very much government driven: a government has the ambition to become a regional centre for high level education and research. Some clear examples are United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore. With these forms, the power is clearly shifting to the host countries instead of the providers – keeping the brains at home. They are, however, seen as interesting opportunities allowing universities to embark on TNE under economically favourable conditions (subsidies from governments). In general, the feeling at this conference was that under normal conditions, branch campuses cannot be economically feasible and should be seen as long-term investments that enhance the brand of an institution.

Driver of transformation

While William Lawton was able to paint an overall picture of the present and future developments in TNE, the keynote speaker Rahul Choudaha, who recently received the EAIE Tony Adams Award for Excellence in Research, told a story about transformation; how higher education institutions, like businesses, have to reinvent themselves to remain relevant in the future, and expressed the idea that TNE might actually be a driver for this necessary transformation.

Both opening speeches made it very clear that the landscape of student mobility is changing dramatically. Increased capacity in certain countries (China) reduces the need for students to go abroad and more students prefer to have an international experience in their own country or in their region (‘glocals’). Choudaha referred to these ‘glocals’ as a huge untapped potential. These trends of course feed in nicely to the concept of TNE, but also serve as a wake up call for those of us who are maybe not in the business of TNE to reconsider the ways we are doing things. When we also take into account the influence that MOOCs might have on the higher education landscape, (MOOCs, argued by Lawton, can be defined as a part of TNE), it could be said that we are experiencing a paradigm shift that many institutions today might not be ready to accommodate. The term ‘from bricks to clicks’ is a good way to express the idea that higher education is becoming detached from its traditional confinement to place and time.

Education as a product?

To be honest, before this conference I saw TNE as another way to recruit students and a new form of the economically driven internationalisation. From this perspective, it is not a surprise that the UK and Australia are the world leaders. And although higher education is big business, we should not forget that it is not only big business, or as the Pro Chancellor of Liverpool University, Professor Michael Hoey, put it “if we only talk about it in terms of business, we loose one of our main reasons for our existence”. It was this more ethical and moral perspective that was completely missing in this UK conference on business and export opportunities.

Nevertheless, the idea that the internationalisation landscape is changing dramatically as shown by the steep increase in TNE activities, the needs of ‘glocals’ and the rise of MOOCs, should be a wake up call for many professionals and institutions who are perhaps stuck in the old way of doing things. It seems to be time to reinvent ourselves.