UK: Universities build transnational links in Nigeria

Transnational education includes all types and modes of delivery of higher education courses and programmes, including distance education in which the learners are located in a country different from the one where the awarding institution is based. Transnational education is not a new phenomenon, but is growing at a rapid rate.

In the past, the UK's main involvement in transnational education has been through the recruitment of overseas students to Britain. But in recent years an increasing number of UK universities are looking at other ways to globalise.

For example, Nigeria has long been a key country for overseas recruitment by UK universities, evidenced by more than 14,000 students coming to the UK each year to study. However, recently UK universities have started to diversify the types of engagement they have with Nigerian universities, not only looking to recruit Nigerian students, but also entering into a wide range of education partnerships.

On 28-29 March, 10 UK universities visited Abuja to assess the opportunities for developing new educational partnerships between UK and Nigerian universities. The institutions involved were the universities of Durham, York, Leeds, Greenwich, Northumbria, Sheffield Hallam, Oxford Brookes, Wolverhampton, Central Lancashire and Newcastle.

The mission, led by the Training Gateway, was developed in conjunction with UK Trade and Investment of the British High Commission and Nigeria's National Universities Commission (NUC).

The Training Gateway, which works with all UK universities, helps public and private sector organisations address their skills needs by providing a free single point of contact through which to source corporate, vocational and executive training and educational partnerships from UK universities and colleges.

During the mission, the universities spent two days in Abuja delivering seminars and workshops to more than 100 vice-chancellors and senior academics from top Nigerian universities and meeting with key public and private sector organisations, including the Federal Ministry of Education and the World Bank.

The themes of the seminars and workshops had been identified by the NUC and selected to address a range of topics that were of interest to Nigerian universities. The themes included:

* Capacity building through staff training and development.
* Employer engagement.
* Employability skills development.
* Quality assurance and development of curricula.
* Transnational education and distance learning.
* Split-site PhDs.
* Soft skills and entrepreneurship.

The workshops and seminars provided an excellent opportunity for two-way discussions to identify common interest for future collaborations, and several of the UK universities are already discussing specific partnership opportunities in the areas of entrepreneurship and sustainable development.

As well as delivering seminars and holding one-to-one meetings with Nigerian universities, the delegation met with private sector organisations to identify the skills they are looking for in Nigerian graduates.

The UK universities were also interested in partnering with Nigerian universities to develop undergraduate and postgraduate programmes that meet the needs of local employers.

In addition, the delegation met with training providers to explore the development of joint programmes in tailored executive education and training courses that are linked to specific industries. Such courses can demonstrate value in the present economic scenario and are also of great interest in the region.

The mission is the first step to developing greater collaboration between the UK and Nigerian higher education sectors and it is hoped that over the next 12 months a range of high-profile partnerships will be developed.

As the world becomes more transnational, with resources and people moving across national boundaries, these partnerships will provide benefits for both the UK and Nigerian university sectors.

Such benefits will be realised through the empowering both staff and students in the UK and Nigeria with skills and knowledge contextualised within diverse cultural perspectives, which will in turn help develop global citizens able to contribute more effectively within the global economy.

Furthermore, for a country like Nigeria where each year only about 17% of candidates seeking admission to universities are offered a place because of the limited capacity of the nation's institutions, transnational educational partnerships will help to eliminate or reduce this challenge.

* Amanda Selvaratnam is head of continuing professional development at the University of York in the UK, and Director of the UK Training Gateway.