Clearer policies needed for transnational education – Report

While the overall operating environment for transnational education (TNE) in Egypt is “positive and enabling”, there are key differences between formal policies, procedures and regulations governing TNE and what must be undertaken in practice.

This is one of the main messages that emerged from a British Council report titled Transnational Education in Egypt: Operating environment, delivery models and partnership opportunities, published recently.

The report notes that “the broader vision is to ensure opportunities for all Egyptians to access higher education, and even turn Egypt into a hub for international education, drawing on recruitment opportunities in the wider Sub-Saharan and Middle Eastern regions”.

To achieve this, Egypt is introducing “new categories of domestic universities, such as the ‘national’ and ‘technological’ universities, and, second, to engage and encourage foreign universities to set up TNE in Egypt, with a preference for international branch campuses (IBCs)”.

As such, the Egyptian government dedicated most of its efforts in the past four years to raising foreign university interest to set up IBCs, according to the report. “Other forms of TNE, such as joint-dual degrees, or validation-franchise models, continue to operate in Egypt but have not received distinct legislative or regulatory attention in the past few years.”

Stakeholder partnerships opportunities

Opportunities to work with local partners on different types of TNE vary, depending on the type of partner, according to the report. IBCs are typically established in cooperation with local private investors that finance the IBC’s infrastructure and its operating costs, while the overseas university partner is responsible for academic provision.

Public universities are keen to set up or expand joint- or dual-degree cooperation, while national universities (a type of non-profit institution that is partly funded by the state and partly by tuition fees) are interested in partnerships that can facilitate Egyptian student progression to the United Kingdom (UK). Private universities are keen to internationalise and are interested in a variety of TNE models, including franchise and validation agreements.

“Finally, technological universities [a relatively new form of publicly funded institution] present comparatively lower cooperation opportunities overall but may have some potential in TVET-related courses,” the report notes.

“There are specific laws and requirements on establishing IBCs, but there are also unwritten expectations surrounding the involvement of local investors and consultants as well as around the business and-or legal partnerships that universities must set up to create IBCs,” according to the report. It also refers to a lack of visibility to and knowledge of key stakeholders.

Processes not clear

“Processes for developing other kinds of TNT partnership, such as joint or dual degrees and franchise or validation, are more opaque,” the report notes.

For example, bilateral collaborative provisions such as joint or dual degrees are regarded as inter-university business, a matter to be arranged between the partner universities, according to the report. “There is no publicly stated official ‘ranking’ requirement for foreign universities to be able to set up TNE, though the government wants to encourage higher-ranked foreign universities.”

Thus, “the overall operating environment is welcoming in terms of enthusiasm to partner with UK universities, but complicated in terms of the processes, and different sets of stakeholders involved,” the report notes. “Universities are, therefore, impelled to rely on the advice and guidance of local Egyptian stakeholders, which could include Egyptian universities, MOHESR [the Egyptian Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research] and Supreme Council [of Universities] representatives, consultants and investors,” the report notes.

“Egyptian authorities are keen to attract foreign universities, though many stakeholders recognise the need for greater clarity of rules and regulations across different TNE delivery models to enable this.”

British TNE activities in Egypt

The UK has more TNE activity in Egypt than any other country, delivered via a range of operating models, including IBCs, joint and dual degrees, franchise and validation arrangements, and online delivery, according to the report.

“However, growth in recent years has been driven by other countries, including Germany and the United States (US), amid a more cautious approach from UK universities.”

“Conditions for TNE recruitment appear strong due to Egypt’s population size and growing youth population, the high regard for British higher education, as well as the Egyptian government’s support for overseas universities’ establishing campuses in Egypt,” the report reads. “However, clearer regulations for non-IBC forms of TNE, as well as more information on localised processes of partnership creation, development, and approvals may provide greater clarity and encouragement for UK universities in setting up new TNE provision.”

Education abroad is often regarded as prohibitively expensive. TNE offers a more affordable option for many.

Egypt a top destination

Professor Salwa Thabet Mekky, the dean of the faculty of economics and political science and former director of international affairs at Future University in Cairo, told University World News that Egypt is among the top destinations for TNE and offers different forms of international partnerships.

“Egypt offers the most affordable world-class education and research for international degree seekers compared to many countries in the region, the US, and Europe,” Mekky said.

“One of the main goals of the reform policy implemented by the ministry of higher education and research is to upscale campus internationalisation of both state and private universities where facilitating the licensing process as well as student and staff mobility, and supporting the promotion of investment in higher education are considered key pillars.”

Professor Mohamed Orabi, head of the ranking committee and vice president for postgraduate studies and scientific research at Aswan University, said: “This report shows the importance of Egypt as a valuable market due to Egypt’s population size and growing youth population, and as UK key partner for its superior location and as a proven education hub for African and Arab Gulf students. Having Egypt as a hub for education business should be the target.

“By nature, the location of Egypt and its lifestyle are very attractive to students and can be a key factor. However, other actions should be considered, such as the variety of programmes offered, cost, quality level based on ranking, and IBC hosts,” Orabi said. He pointed out that getting approval for online and distance learning can support reducing the cost of the offered TNE programmes and support more entries.

Obstacles can be overcome

Nigel Healey, professor of international higher education and vice president of global and community engagement at the University of Limerick in Ireland, told University World News that the British Council report is “welcome and timely”. “It assesses the operating environment, possible delivery models, and partnership opportunities for transnational education in Egypt.

“Although it is aimed at UK universities, four of which already operate international branch campuses in Egypt, its findings will be of interest to universities in other countries,” Healey said. He is a co-author of the October 2022 British Council report, The Value of Transnational Education Partnerships.

“Like most British Council reports, its conclusions are built on both detailed desk research and qualitative interviews with stakeholders, giving their reports considerable credibility,” Healey added.

Asked what should be done to make Egypt an ideal destination for TNE partnership activities, Healey said: “For a university, entering a TNE partnership in a third country is a highly risky venture, both reputationally and financially. The challenges are exacerbated by the difficulties of operating in a foreign language in an alien religious and cultural context.

“And, of course, the legislative environment can be very different, with unfamiliar tax, business and labour market laws, as well as potentially incompatible academic quality assurance regimes. Many of these challenges are unavoidable – literally ‘they go with the territory’ – and surmountable with good planning, but it is an opaque or uncertain and volatile legislative environment which is the most damaging to confidence,” Healey emphasised.

He said that, by ensuring the official rules, regulations and procedures are simple, transparent and stable over time, the Egyptian government can do a great deal to make the country welcoming to foreign universities.