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Is transnational education (TNE) in the EU the answer to Brexit?

How can we ensure our partnerships and connections with Universities in the EU are not affected by Brexit? Is it possible that our current efforts could temporarily sooth Brexit turbulence and help sustain us post-Brexit?

There is no doubt the EU is a historically popular destination for UK TNE and that this is growing in popularity. In 2016-17, the EU hosted the joint-third highest number of undergraduate UK HE TNE students in the world, with 10% of the world's share. However, for postgraduate, it was placed joint-second with 19% of the world's share. Between 2013-14 to 2016-17, there has been 7.9% growth in TNE in the EU and 5% in non-EU Europe. The numbers of UK HE TNE students in the EU has grown from 39,935 in 2015-16 to 44,120 in 2016-17.

TNE initiatives require large investments in planning, finance, resource and time. However, this is not to say that the rewards in Europe cannot be considerable. There are many very successful TNE ventures across the continent and many more expected. For example, just this summer Coventry University announced their plans to launch a new campus in Poland and in April, Northumbria University announced a stronger partnership with Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences and will be offering Northumbria accredited Masters programmes in Business and Project Management.

Greece hosts the highest number of UK TNE students in the EU and is ninth in the world. Switzerland hosts the second highest number of students in Europe and is 14th in the world with Cyprus (EU) in 15th, Germany in 16th, Ireland in 18th and Spain 20th in the world. As the examples of Coventry and Northumbria show, though, many universities are looking to engage in countries in the EU that have smaller but expanding markets such as the Netherlands and Poland.

The future of TNE programmes won't be without challenges. There is no guarantee that having a presence in the EU will allow UK institutions to access EU research funding, given that the eligibility rules for Horizon Europe have not yet been finalised.  

Brexit has undoubtedly propelled institutions to strengthen their already valuable EU partnerships, but it is also an area that is on the rise in the EU policy agenda more generally. In November last year, the EU launched its plans for a European Education Area by 2025. As part of this area, the EU launched its European Universities Initiative which will be part of the Erasmus+ successor programme. With the pilot launching in the 2019 Erasmus+ call which opens in autumn 2018, this initiative aims to bring together consortia between three and six universities across Europe and allow them to award joint degrees. Students at one of these universities will have an "a la carte" menu of mobility options around the different universities in the consortium and will receive with a European degree upon successful completion.

Regardless of the outcomes of Brexit, the UK HE sector will want to continue and strengthen its partnerships, collaborations and exchanges with Europe and the EU. Whether this comes in the form of research partnerships, bilateral exchange partnerships, TNE or others is to be determined. It is this diversity of what the UK can offer to overseas partners that makes our sector truly unique and world leading.

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