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What tool is TNE in the international student recruitment toolkit?

17 February 2015
Raegan Hiles

Raegan Hiles

Head of Outbound Mobilities Programmes
Universities UK International

HEGlobal’s head of programme Raegan Hiles reflects on the ‘Directions of travel’ discussions, and concludes that whilst TNE might not be a heavyweight recruitment tool, it certainly helps to oil the wheels of articulation.


Last November, Janet Ilieva wrote here about the role that TNE plays in pathways to the UK. HEFCE’s analysis of the transnational pathways into English higher education identified that a substantial proportion of TNE students progressed to study onshore as part of their degree. The British Council’s 2014 Impact of TNE on host countries pilot study had previously identified the opportunity of international experience as a draw for TNE study, but this was the first time we’ve really seen patterns in the data backing that up.

Fifty TNE practitioners and theorists joined HEGlobal in January to debate the place of TNE in the international student recruitment toolkit. In a case of process repeating itself, just as in many cases, TNE as an industry started up from chance partnerships but has become far more strategic, we can see patterns in how universities maximise TNE as a tool in international student recruitment. With better understanding of the pathways from TNE, many universities actively utilise the opportunity to come to the UK as part of its core offer to TNE students and contribution to global citizenship and outlooks, for example, through opportunities for intercampus exchange.

However, students who progress from TNE programmes tend to study here for shorter periods than other international students. Does the shorter period of stay affect the value of the pathway? In some ways, of course - it’s not as financially valuable a path to the UK as full programme international recruitment. It is however, a greater economic boost than if the international student doesn’t study onshore at all. Using the route strategically can mitigate against some of the difficulties in repatriating TNE income to the UK – if a period of study in a host country translates into a period of study in the UK, that translates into direct contribution in the UK. And value is so much more than a pound sign: the social contributions international students make while in the UK are substantial. Logic follows that like the economic contributions, those effects are evidently more than if the student doesn’t study here. More than that, we know from The Wider Benefits of International Higher Education in the UK that studying in another country develops an emotional connection between student and host, that continues into future relationships.

What’s more, colleagues at ‘Directions of travel’ were confident that TNE can act as a direct marketing tool for UK institution, irrespective of whether those international students progress to the UK institution through TNE study or register directly. The very presence of a university in the host country raises local awareness of the institution, and familiarity with its brand. So globally mobile students, whether they intend to be globally mobile for their full degree or only part of it, are drawn to the institutions they see regularly in their home region, and contribute to the society and economy of both home and host countries.

Is this just a temporary phenomenon rather than a long term tool? TNE traditionally serves countries with more market demand for higher education than the host is able to offer – hence universities can establish presences overseas. Host countries in the UK’s TNE key articulation regions are increasing their domestic provision. Will the UK continue to attract students to the UK through its TNE? One of our panelists argued that the demand could not hold up and that the articulation route has a finite time.

Finite or not, the articulation route is a key tool in the current TNE and international student recruitment toolkit. Subtler than a hammer, but more effective than a single drill bit, TNE might be thought of as WD40 in international student recruitment. The door might open without it, but TNE can certainly oil the door hinges.