We are all accustomed to international students on campus, but in recent years higher education institutions have developed different ways of delivering international education; instead of students travelling to the University, the University travels to them. Transnational Education (TNE) – recently highlighted by Department of Education in International Education Strategy: 2021 update, is the provision of education for students based in a country other than the one in which the awarding institution is located.  

What is the rationale for undertaking TNE? Southampton performs well in the university rankings for international outlook (top 75), but there is a limit to growth for international students on campus, and we have a smaller number of students offshore than comparable universities. But demand is growing, especially in emerging economies where household income has increased relatively, but not at levels required to study in OECD economies. TNE can create a shift away from international study as an elite activity, to a more inclusive approach of global learning for all, as well as provide an opportunity to succeed in a post-Covid world in which students will be less likely to travel for higher education in the short-to-medium term.

How can TNE be delivered? TNE can include education programmes and awards at any level, from certificates and diplomas all the way up to PhDs.There are various ways of delivery including Branch campuses (our Engineering campus in Malaysia, for example); Collaborative provision offered in partnership with an overseas institution (these include ‘flying-faculty’ arrangements, franchised delivery, ‘top-up’ programmes,  joint/dual degree programmes, and articulation/progression arrangements); and distance/online learning provision.

What about TNE opportunities and options for our faculty? Our faculty has already done well in establishing long-standing partnerships with overseas higher education institutions and attracting international students. The recent international census survey indicates great efforts and successes colleagues have made globally. Can we expand upon these successes via developing TNE offshore? I have been working with colleagues to identify potential opportunities and options. TNE can help to increase our global visibility and equality of access to higher education; it can also promote our academic reputation, increase income diversification and improve risk management.

How about challenges? Well, it is expensive and time-consuming to set up, particularly in understanding and meeting the country’s regulatory and legal requirements. Marketing and recruitment operations for TNE are also more complex than recruiting international students to come to Southampton. We need to consider these factors when deciding what our strategic priority for international education should be, what part TNE can play, and how it sits in our faculty’s new vision plan.

I have been having very constructive discussions with colleagues, especially our passionate education team, and yes, there are challenges, but we can see tremendous opportunities as well. While we are celebrating the first 50 years of medicine here in Southampton, it is exciting to imagine that, in a few more years, we could be celebrating Southampton medicine around the world!

Developing Transnational Education: a new opportunity? by Dr Ruihua Hou, Associate Dean International

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