Divide between onshore and offshore campuses blurring

International campuses are increasingly blurring the lines between different international activities and no longer putting international student recruitment and mobility in one silo and transnational education in another, a London conference on the future of transnational education, or TNE, was told last week.

Speaking to more than 100 representatives from British universities and government departments at the Westminster Higher Education Forum, Carolyn Campbell from the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, or OBHE, said: “Universities are trying, for example, to encourage students from the so-called ‘home campus’ to move around the global network that they are establishing.”

Janet Ilieva, founder and director of Education Insight, agreed that higher education institutions were taking a more holistic approach to internationalisation as regards the mobility of students, programmes, institution and staff.

“Every single component of the institution is being exposed to internationalisation – with or without mobility – and artificial barriers dividing what is onshore and offshore are no longer possible,” claimed Ilieva.

“When a fragment or element of the institution travels, whether it’s students, the staff, the programme or the institution itself, then we are talking about true engagement – and this is what transnational education is actually all about.”

Ilieva told the conference that the United Kingdom had masses of experience to share in TNE, with 60% – or more than 700,000 – of its international students studying towards UK degrees on TNE courses outside the UK.

But she warned that other countries were more supportive of onshore student recruitment and the UK was the only country in its peer group – Canada, Australia, United States, Ireland and Germany – not to offer post-study work opportunities. “This has made direct recruitment into the UK more challenging and transnational education has cushioned this extremely challenging external environment,” said Ilieva.

The same thing happened when Australia restricted onshore international recruitment and expanded offshore provision, she pointed out.

Kevin Van-Cauter, senior adviser for higher education partnerships and transnational education at the British Council, agreed that TNE was a way of “mitigating” falls in international recruitment to the UK.

But he added that TNE was also targeting emerging markets around the world, where it was often seen as the first choice for many students seeking high quality higher education.

He did, however, issue a note of caution, saying he was “slightly concerned” by the slowdown in the growth of UK transnational education, which according to the 2016-17 data grew at just under 1% compared with a 6% growth in 2013-14.

“This shows the consolidation of mature markets and smaller scale investment in emerging markets – often smaller countries with smaller numbers of students,” said Van-Cauter.

Uncertainty for American dreamers?

Looking at trends in the United States, Campbell said while international higher education had been focused primarily on student recruitment and studying abroad, MOOCs – massive open online courses – and short-term online provision around the world were likely to have a big influence on future developments.

“There are also the issues around migration and visa policies in the United States and what happens to the 800,000 dreamers – young people who were born and live in America but are not citizens – who are under threat of remaining in America. What implications might that have for American TNE?” asked Campbell.

Part of the answer might be the approach of the University of Arizona and its global micro-campus network, with partnerships with 13 universities in seven countries providing franchising arrangements and double degrees and having the goal of eventually educating 25,000 students, she said.

Quality assurance moving up the agenda

Campbell also predicted that quality assurance would rise up the agenda for universities in the global higher education market with more focus on performance and outcomes rather than procedures and processes.

“Thirty-five states in the US have performance-based funding for institutions of higher education and Finland is another country doing this,” said Campbell.

“Even though the purpose of these performance indicators might differ – sometimes for funding and sometimes to inform and influence student choice – they all seem to focus on very similar issues: access and diversity; retention; completion; employment and graduate salaries.”

The same matrix was used to measure success, according to OBHE research, whether on the home campus or in individual branch campuses or other TNE activities, with the emphasis on employability, research impact and industry knowledge exchange.

Campbell told University World News: “What we are beginning to see now are initiatives by regulatory authorities in major locations for transnational education, such as Singapore, where the committee for private education last year introduced the requirement of mandatory reporting by private providers of graduate employment and salaries which they are going to benchmark.”

Terminology causing chaos

The conference was told that an added challenge for higher education services delivered across national frontiers is the danger of being sidelined and misunderstood due to the confusing mix of terms used to describe them.

Kevin Van-Cauter from the British Council said: “We have found terminology chaos around the world with over 40 different terms used to describe TNE and different ways to describe different and the same things.”

To address this “huge misunderstanding”, Van-Cauter said, the British Council has launched a common classification framework and is working with countries around the world to “see if we can start to get everyone to work to this framework so we can start talking the same language”.

“This will help to better understand the impact of transnational education and we are hoping to talk to UNESCO later this year to see if this framework of common terms can be incorporated in their guidelines for cross-border education,” he said.

Campbell, from the OBHE, said a good example was the United States where she suggested that “the term TNE is not known or understood and where it is better to talk about cross-border education”.

Nic Mitchell is a British-based freelance journalist and PR consultant who runs De la Cour Communications and blogs about higher education for the European Universities Public Relations and Information Officers’ Association, EUPRIO, and on his website. He also provides English-language communication support for Norwegian, Czech and UK universities.