TNE could widen access to world’s poorest communities

Government support for transnational education, or TNE, is expected to grow as part of the aid budget of advanced economies because it ‘ticks all the right boxes’ in terms of widening access to education in lower- and middle-income countries, a London conference on the future of TNE heard last week.

Dr Janet Ilieva, director of Education Insight, told the Westminster Higher Education Forum that TNE offered the flexibility to reach poorer rural communities and ethnic minority groups who are missing out on the expansion of higher education in developing countries.

It also offers the opportunity for collaboration between universities in the advanced countries and emerging economies to fill gaps in provision and knowledge at the postgraduate level.

Ilieva, an adviser to the Philippine-UK Transnational Education programme run by the British Council and the Commission on Higher Education, or CHED, of the Philippines, told University World News that postgraduate courses were being jointly developed by universities in both countries in niche areas of national importance not currently taught in the Philippines.

Postgraduate expansion in the Philippines

“The programmes are either masters or PhD, depending on where the local universities feel they can have the most benefit. The subject areas are identified by CHED and other government departments like the Economic Bureau,” said Ilieva.

They include a dual MSc degree programme in disaster risk reduction and management developed by Saint Louis University in the Philippines with Coventry University in the UK. This has been designed to support students working in both the public and private sectors and improve their understanding of response and forecasting, as well as handling natural and man-made hazards in the Northern Luzon area of the Philippines – a region fraught with natural dangers and emergent environmental disasters.

The University of Liverpool in the UK has developed several programmes with higher education institutions in the Philippines covering sustainable food systems, including a masters dual degree with Bicol University and a PhD joint programme with Central Luzon State University.

The UST Faculty of Medicine and Surgery in the Philippines and the UK’s University of Leeds LIHS Nuffield Centre for International Health and Development are developing a collaborative TNE model for a masters public health international dual degree. This will help health workers from low- and middle-income countries address the causes of common diseases and evaluate different strategies for disease control.

Ilieva told University World News: “I understand that the second phase of funding for the CHED and British Council TNE programme has been approved and will bring industry partners to the established TNE partnerships with the aim of developing a culture of university-industry engagement.”

She said the joint development of niche programmes was not only helping to establish strong teaching partnerships between Philippines and UK universities, but would also helping to support research collaboration between the two countries.

Widening access through TNE

Ilieva told University World News she was among advocates of harnessing the flexibility and collaborative approach of the TNE model to help expand higher education at all levels in less developed countries in Africa and Asia and increase access and participation by students in more rural and remote areas.

“Some communities can be left behind in the rush to build capacity in higher education and access can be a sensitive issue for some ethnic communities,” she said.

“There’s no doubt that the world’s access to higher education has improved significantly over the past decade, but the growth has mainly been in urban areas.

“Rural areas are missing out in terms of participation in tertiary education and transnational education has the means to correct that by reaching remote communities irrespective of their geographical location. This is where distance learning and online delivery can be very helpful.”

Ilieva told the Westminster Higher Education Forum that she believed the number of actual TNE partnerships was likely to diminish with the slowing down of franchise arrangements and the new focus on deeper engagement with reciprocity on both sides.

“The future shape of transnational education will, I believe, be more about dual degrees, double degrees and more about involving more than international partners to sustain engagement and widen the reach.”

She said TNE meant more equitable access to international education by offering participation to those unable to study abroad and to communities who find it hard to access higher education in their own country.

“Given the substantial contribution to local development agendas and capacity building in less developed countries, TNE engagement should be attractive to advanced economies in terms of development assistance and aid funding,” she said.

Switch to capacity building at home

She also predicted the continued decline in countries funding individual scholars to travel abroad to gain high-quality higher education and a new focus on building stronger universities at home.

“On the development agenda we have seen not the collapse, but the significant decline, in scholarships through initiatives such as ‘Science Without Borders’ in Brazil, and in Saudi Arabia and Malaysia and other countries.

“In the Brazilian case, funding is going from supporting individual scholars to institutional development to support capacity building at home, such as the initiative run by CAPES on the internationalisation of higher education institutions.

“The Philippines is doing exactly the same and consciously funding TNE programmes where they don’t have enough provision, in collaboration with UK institutions. That programme has been so successful it is being expanded into its second phase to add industry partners.

“I think that countries’ aid programmes, such as the UK’s, are bound to support teaching partnerships for the purpose of capacity building because these types of programmes tick all the right boxes. It is a cost-effective way of widening access to education; but not just education. It widens access to international education both at home and abroad,” Ilieva said.

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.