TNE students outnumber foreign students in UK by 60%

As plans for a new China campus for Xi’an Jiatong-Liverpool University (XJTLU) were announced during British Prime Minister Theresa May’s state visit to China on Friday, a new report revealed that there are now 1.6 times as many students studying for UK awards overseas than there are international students studying in the United Kingdom.

The plans for the new campus were unveiled as May visited China accompanied by University of Liverpool Vice-Chancellor, Professor Dame Janet Beer. The new campus, to be constructed in the city of Taicang, will mirror aspects of XJTLU’s existing provision and will open in 2020, with the aim of growing to accommodate 6,000 students by 2025.

Dame Janet said: “The new campus will forge innovative, dynamic relationships between the university, local companies and society, providing highly-skilled, international graduates and contributing to the knowledge economy.”

It will also be the latest addition in a trend of growing UK higher education transnational education (TNE) identified by a new Universities UK International (UUKi) report, which claims to show the scale and scope of UK transnational higher education through regional breakdowns for the first time.

It says UK TNE provision in higher education grew by 17% from 2012-13 to 2015-16. More than four in five UK universities offered some form of higher education TNE during that period, with Malaysia and Singapore the top host countries for UK higher education TNE.

Asia hosted the majority of UK TNE students (52%), followed by Africa (15%), the European Union (13%), the Middle East (11%), North America (5%), non-EU (3%), Australasia (1%) and South America (less than 1%).

The number of students studying for UK degrees in each of the world’s eight geographical regions increased by between 5% (EU) and 41% (Africa) from 2013-14 to 2015-16, but in the last year of that period, between 2014-15 and 2015-16, two regions (non-EU Europe and North America) experienced declines.

Director of UUKi Vivienne Stern said the report shows a “fascinating picture of the scale and scope of UK university TNE, drilling down for the first time into both the level of study and mechanism. I’m proud that our sector is at the forefront of delivering education through innovative international partnerships, as evidenced in the report.”

Of the 20 countries which hosted the most students, seven were in Asia, six in the Middle East and Africa, four in Europe and three in the Americas, “demonstrating a take-up of UK higher education TNE across mature and emerging economies”, according to UUKi.

Some 76% of students were on academic programmes in these 20 countries.

As well as examining where UK higher education TNE students are studying, the report, The Scale of UK Higher Education Transnational Education 2015-16, looks at the split between undergraduate and postgraduate study and at the different types of provision. This is analysed at both global and regional levels.

Trends from 2012-13 to 2015-16 have been identified through a detailed analysis of the Higher Education Statistics Agency Aggregate Offshore Record (HESA AOR) data.

According to UUKi, the report shows that UK higher education TNE is “growing in both scale and strategic importance”. It says this is underscored by HESA’s Statistical First Release of 2016-17 data, released on 11 January 2018. The 2016-17 summary data shows that 707,915 students were studying for UK degrees overseas.

UUKi says that with 82% of UK universities offering transnational education, this higher education TNE should be an important component of the UK government’s education export strategy. The report notes that TNE helps to cement and maintain bilateral education connections between the UK and its many global partners.

The report showed that two in three TNE students were undergraduates, the remainder postgraduates. Nearly one in two (44%) were studying through collaborative provision, which includes joint degrees. Just 8% of students were studying through a branch campus. However, distribution by type and level of study differed greatly across regions.

UUKi said in a press statement that as many countries look to meet demand for higher education and address skills gaps, many have been keen to host UK TNE programmes, and it expects to see new markets opening for UK institutions to deliver TNE, “continuing the trend”.

Asia, Middle East ‘not yet saturated’

“The number of UK higher education TNE students grew from 2013-14 to 2015-16 in the already popular TNE locations of Asia and the Middle East, suggesting these are not saturated with provision,” UUKi said.

For example, the proposed campus in Taicang is expected to contribute to the overall growth of XJTLU to 24,000 students by 2028.

It will include space dedicated to research, learning and teaching, and innovation and entrepreneurialism. It will also have a dedicated library, sports facilities and accommodation for students and staff, and be designed to support an international community in an eco-friendly environment.

Launched in 2006, XJTLU is a joint venture between the University of Liverpool and Xi’an Jiaotong University, which has rapidly grown to a diverse international community of more than 12,000 students and 1,000 staff, who come from more than 50 different countries. It is ranked as the number one joint venture university in China and is the largest of its kind in the country.

The partnership is based at the modern, purpose-built XJTLU campus in the city of Suzhou and its students gain both Chinese and UK degree accreditation. Many XJTLU students opt to finish their degree overseas, and there are currently around 3,000 studying at the University of Liverpool. A number of University of Liverpool students take the opportunity to spend a year of their studies in Suzhou.

Professor Youmin Xi, executive president of XJTLU, said: “The new Taicang campus meets our ambitious mission to develop the ‘University of the Future’, establishing a new relationship between the university and companies, industries, and the wider community.”

UUKi believes UK quality assurance frameworks help to communicate to global partners the “continued excellence in the UK’s education offer”, but at the same time new approaches and innovative models which are “context-sensitive” and “work collaboratively with local policy-makers and-or partners” have shored up the UK's position as a leader in providing awards overseas.