Germany and the Netherlands are stepping up their game to capture a bigger slice of the transnational education or TNE market, a conference launching a new international TNE-Hub heard on 10 June.
Around 70 representatives from the transnational education world gathered in Nottingham Trent University in the United Kingdom for the research symposium looking at ways to share good practice and support the development of efficient and effective TNE strategies to help export of higher education services.
Some of the biggest changes are planned in the Netherlands, which up to now has seen no government funding for TNE developments and only one publicly funded Dutch university – Stenden University of Applied Sciences – having any branch campuses.
Dr Rosa Becker, senior researcher and policy advisor at the Netherlands Universities Foundation for International Cooperation, EP-Nuffic, told the conference titled "Bridging the Gap: Research and practice in transnational education" that new legislation was expected in the autumn.
Academic, not economic, aims
“The Dutch minister of education announced that she will allow TNE development by Dutch universities, but only if TNE activities are explicitly aimed at the improvement of Dutch higher education.
“Academic aims should be the motivation, not economic ones,” Becker told University World News.
Stenden University of Applied Sciences established international branch campuses in South Africa, Qatar, Indonesia and Thailand between 2000 and 2009 and encourages intercampus student mobility.
It looks set to be joined by the University of Groningen, which wants to open a branch campus in Yantai, Shandong Province, China starting with three masters degree programmes and research programmes. “This proposal from Groningen is currently being evaluated by the Dutch ministry of education,” said Becker.
“The Dutch approach to date has taken a strong partnership approach and joint degrees are encouraged as a way to attract knowledge workers, increase outgoing and incoming student mobility, internationalise the curriculum and improve the international visibility of Dutch higher education,” Becker told the conference.
Need for more flexibility
Becker said: "The recent TNE debate in the Netherlands has highlighted the need for more legislative flexibility for universities and clearer regulations for setting tuition fees. International students currently pay two or three times as much as home tuition fees.
“We are also looking to remove the Dutch stipulation that students spend at least a quarter of their Dutch degree programme in the Netherlands and the stipulation that masters courses comprise 60 ECTS credits and last only one year. In many European countries they last two years.
"We are going to simplify accreditation and recognition of international joint degree programmes with a wider European effort through the European Consortium for Accreditation and move towards joint accreditation and mutual recognition of accreditation decisions.”
This should lead to the ministry of education making it possible soon to offer Dutch degrees abroad without having to study in the Netherlands, Becker told University World News.
Other plans include making sure courses provided abroad are quality assessed before being offered and considering ways to prevent Dutch institutions from competing with each other abroad or using TNE for commercial interests, said Becker.
A different approach in Germany
Germany’s approach to TNE is very different to Anglo-Saxon models of transnational higher education, which have traditionally dominated the market, the conference heard.
Dr Stephen Geifes, head of Transnational Education and Cooperation Programmes at the German Academic Exchange Service, DAAD, said: “TNE is not seen as something that is done for economic reasons but as a way to make our universities more international.
“Like the Dutch, we see TNE as a way of encouraging our universities to engage with international markets and to enhance visibility abroad and help find new partners for cooperation for teaching and research. It also gives us access to new markets,” he said.
Focus on engineering
Germany’s transnational education is also explicitly focused on engineering and the natural sciences, Geifes told University World News.
"The emphasis on bachelor courses is because the education systems in hosting countries is not sufficient for studying at masters level in Germany,” said Geifes.
“German students can get good jobs with just a masters degree and they don't see the need to study for PhDs and less are going on to study for a doctorate. So we need to go abroad [to find students], especially in engineering, because we need these masters students in order to produce PhD students.”
Geifes said: “The Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development sees TNE as important for capacity building and as a means of transporting key elements of German higher education, particularly in scientific specialisation and for employability, to support German industry within countries like China.”
International expansion at home and overseas
Geifes told University World News that the 16 German states are responsible for higher education and not the federal government, which made it “a bit complicated” to have a national strategy – but Germany was clear about expanding international student numbers both at home and overseas.
“Germany has seen a doubling of international students over the past 10 years, from 140,000 in 2004 to 270,000 in 2015, and it wants to grow this number to 350,000 enrolled at German higher education institutions by 2020.
"We have 25,000 to 26,000 students enrolling overseas on German TNE programmes. That is about 10% of our international student activity.
"We have very few branch campuses and no franchising. Franchising is not forbidden but there is no public funding for it.
“Geographically, German TNE is weakest in South America and strongest in the Arabic world, Asia and Eastern Europe.”
Geifes said Germany had done a number of things to improve the environment for international higher education and research, including easing visa policy, moving over to the Bologna system of bachelor and masters degrees and introducing more courses in English, especially at masters level.
“One problem we will have in meeting our target for growing international students is that we used to count students born in Germany but having foreign passports as international students. Now the OECD has changed the way international student numbers are calculated and we had 60,000 to 70,000 in this category and they will no longer count as international students,” said Geifes.
International students in Germany, like their home and European Union counterparts, do not pay tuition fees, and this adds to the attraction of studying there.
But fees are allowed in German universities overseas to cover running costs, but not to make a profit, Geifes told University World News.
So fees are allowed at institutions such as the private not-for-profit German University in Cairo, which uses a German model of higher education and has 10,000 students.
Other German campuses are based in Jordan and Oman, and says Geifes: “We are just negotiating to open one in Tunisia.”
Demand for German higher education exceeds availability as only a limited number of German universities are currently active in TNE and some worry that opening international branch campuses might reduce the number of international students wanting to study abroad in Germany.
But this hasn’t been the case in Vietnam, which has a German university with 1,500 students.
“It hasn't reduced demand to study in Germany by having a German university in Vietnam. Instead it has helped recruitment and acted as a showroom for German higher education in the country,” said Geifes.
Best environments for international engagement
The TNE-Hub launch also heard from Dr Janet Ilieva, founder and director of Education Insight, who carried out research with Michael Peak for the British Council’s survey, The Shape of Global Higher Education: National policies framework for international engagement, released at the Going Global conference in Cape Town, South Africa, last month.
As University World News reported, this said Germany and Malaysia had the most balanced portfolios of national policies supporting international higher education of the 26 countries surveyed.
Ilieva told the Nottingham conference that an interactive Global Gauge had been created to highlight the strongest and weakest performers in three areas where national governments can provide an enabling environment to help universities internationalise and forge collaborations, and thereby support transnational education.
Australia, Germany, Malaysia and the UK scored 'very high' for ‘Openness to international mobility of students, researchers, academic programmes and university research’ and ‘Quality assurance and recognition of international qualifications’.
But Australia and the UK dropped a level to just high for ‘Access and sustainability’.
China, Colombia, Indonesia, Thailand and Turkey joined Germany and Malaysia to score very high for access and sustainability.
Of the poor performers, Mexico was said to be very low for openness.
Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mexico and Nigeria all scored very low for quality assurance and recognition.
Ethiopia also scored very low for access and sustainability.
The Philippines and Vietnam both scored high in all three areas under review.
Ilieva told University World News: "The regulatory environment for TNE is changing, most significantly in Southeast Asia, but there are significant fluctuations within the same country, mainly driven by governments’ transitions.
“The majority of the ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] countries covered in this study have been through significant changes in the rules governing TNE, including the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia.
“In addition, there is a strong drive across the ASEAN states for degree recognition and comparability with a view to greater credit and degree mobility across the region.
“This is further facilitated by the acceptance of English as the language of the ASEAN community, which positions the Philippine higher education sector in a favourable position in the region. However, the regulatory environment in the country is still evolving.”
Dr Vangelis Tsiligiris, senior lecturer at Nottingham Trent University and one of the driving forces behind launching the TNE-Hub, said: "There is a real need to create a virtuous circle in international higher education, where practice, research and strategic decision-making all interlink effectively to benefit from shared intelligence.
"TNE is fast maturing to a point where supply of provision is now close to meeting levels of demand. This will intensify the competitive pressure on higher education systems in major TNE-exporting countries and challenge them to differentiate provision to maintain their competitive edge and it is here that our TNE-Hub can help."
* To register as a researcher, a practitioner, or both, to participate in the TNE-Hub, go to the TNE-Hub link.
Nic Mitchell is a British-based freelance journalist who runs De la Cour Communications. He regularly blogs about higher education for the European Universities Public Relations and Information Officers’ Association, EUPRIO, and on his website.
TNE growth must go hand in hand with quality – Panel
Germany, Malaysia excel at supporting international HE
Receive UWN's free weekly e-newsletters