Recent research by the British Council in Spain, which reviews the UK-Spain higher education relationship, shows evidence of a dynamic and varied range of cooperation.
Activities – including long-term student mobility and recruitment; research cooperation; student and staff exchanges; and interesting transnational education agreements (including joint and dual degrees, validation and various programmes of articulation) – all contribute to offer students highly competitive education models.
Given the social, economic and political impact of English and Spanish (see the British Council Spain and Instituto Cervantes’ joint publication, Word for Word), there is clear motivation for both UK and Spanish universities to embrace collaboration and reinforce current ties.
On top of this, Spanish is becoming increasingly popular with students in the UK and vice versa with Spanish students wanting to study in the UK. This increasing trend in student mobility can be attributed to the rising demand to acquire higher competences in the Spanish and English languages respectively.
Despite current economic difficulties, Spain remains a highly competitive economy and shares important commercial links with the UK. The latter receives 6.5% of Spanish exports and provides 6.5% of overall Spanish imports – the second largest investor over the past decade.
While it could be claimed that the number of Spanish applicants for UK higher education may decrease, it is also conceivable that affordable options for postgraduate programmes delivered in English (including for employment-related masters degrees) could become increasingly attractive in Spain.
As has been seen in other countries with high levels of unemployment, new graduates frequently seek additional skills to compete more favourably in a competitive labour market. This implies probable growth in demand for dual and joint degrees and transnational education programmes delivered in Spain.
University institutional partnerships
At the institutional level there is strong evidence claiming that UK and Spanish universities are interested in growing more strategic relationships with similarly focused universities in the other country; such institutional links would be comprehensive and embrace more than one activity and-or subject area.
Some Spanish and UK universities are already involved in larger global networks, such as the Coimbra Group, or UNICA, which links King’s College with Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and Universidad Complutense de Madrid.
As explained above, in spite of (or maybe even because of) the economic downturn, it is expected that the demand for undergraduate programmes will grow. For masters, the growth will probably be even higher, given the attractiveness of one-year masters programmes and the weighting given to gaining an intercultural experience in an English-speaking country.
Although an array of UK universities is involved in recruiting these students, Cranfield, Heriot-Watt and London-based universities are the most attractive.
There would seem to be opportunities to grow double-degree and articulation (or twinning) partnerships with Spanish universities for delivery of masters degree programmes. The research undertaken has identified the following models of existing partnerships:
Double, joint and other forms of degree delivery partnerships
There are already a number of successful degree delivery partnerships with Spanish universities that fall within these general descriptions and they seem set to expand. Joint degrees appear to be less common, as they require more complex clearances from participating universities.
Double degrees offer an attractive proposition at the masters degree level, especially if, as expected, Spain changes its current degree structure and moves to a 3+2 format. These could include some form of articulation route, such as an initial period at a Spanish university followed by up to 12 months in the UK partner where the masters degree will be awarded.
Similar articulation or transfer agreements are possible at the undergraduate level, with a number of programmes in place. It could be that the Scottish four-year degree might offer more flexibility for such partnerships.
Delivering UK degrees in Spain – Transnational education
There were more than 4,000 Spanish students enrolled on UK degree programmes delivered in Spain in 2010-11. The largest single group (2,300 enrolments) were following University of Wales-validated programmes. There is no doubt that they would welcome some form of successor arrangement.
While the degrees validated by the University of Wales are delivered completely in-country, other institutions have developed partnerships based on accreditation and advanced standing to qualify their students for a top-up course, to be delivered on the UK university’s home campus.
Two colleges have developed articulation arrangements with a UK university based on a higher national diploma programme followed by a degree top-up delivered entirely in Spain.
Students enrolled on these programmes have typically paid about €6,000 (US$7,800) a year in fees. There is likely to be growth in demand for affordable, good quality and employment-related degree programmes in Spain, both to top up local non-degree programmes and for applied masters degrees.
In addition, the Open University has successfully developed its delivery of programmes in Spain with more than 500 students enrolled.
Into the future
What is required now – given this demand as well as demand for the degree partnership arrangements mentioned previously – is for any UK university interested in growing ‘in-Spain’ delivery to assess the potential market and its segmentation in Spain and the variety of institutions that might prove to be appropriate partners, from public and private sectors to both degree and non-degree awarding institutions.
The research outlines very clearly that Spanish institutions are generally very keen to develop double-degree or other forms of articulation programmes.
The constraints identified for UK institutions not prioritising transnational education delivery in Spain include a lack of understanding of both the Spanish market and the regulatory requirements.
* Carolina Jimenez is head of higher education and society at the British Council in Spain.
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