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It’s all strategic

10 April 2015
Raegan Hiles

Raegan Hiles

Former Head of TNE
Universities UK International

HEGlobal’s head of programme, Raegan Hiles, considers the publication last week of Australia’s draft international education national strategy. TNE features throughout the draft strategy, with ambitious targets for growth – but what will the final version look like?  

Last week, the Australian government released its draft international education national strategy. The publication follows on from the 2013 Chaney report which proposed a sustainable growth model for international education. The draft strategy builds on the Chaney recommendations to set ambitious targets as part of what the minister, Christopher Pyne, describes as a “return to growth in international education.”

Governments around the world are identifying higher education as a key export industry ripe for growth. The UK government likewise identified international higher education as a key industry in the 2013 industrial strategy, Global Growth and Prosperity. Given the similarity it is unsurprising that there are commonalities in the priorities identified in both the Australian and UK strategies. They draw on a tradition of strong international higher education engagement, whilst citing opportunities to strive for more. Common themes include a warm welcome for international students, a high quality international student experience, the value of international higher education for longer term economic prosperity, the cultural and social value(s) of international higher education, its role in soft power and in growing skills for aid based economies. Both strategies look to developing market intelligence for future opportunities, raising the profile of the country’s higher education ‘brand, outward student mobility, and expanding transnational education (TNE).

Indeed, TNE runs through the Australian approach. The Chaney report specifically identified TNE in several of its recommendations:
B. Quality
B.7 Liaise with TEQSA ad ASQA t o ensure the quality of transnational education is effectively regulated
D. Partnerships
D.9 Facilitate the offshore provision of education and training by Australian providers by participating in the foreign aid programs of AusAID.
D.10 Encourage institutions to identify and pursue possibly partnership opportunities arising through the development of regional education hubs such as Singapore and Malaysia.
International Advisory Council (2013), Australia – Educating Globally

The conviction that TNE is a key element for Australian growth is even stronger in last week’s draft strategy publication. Of five measures of success, expanding provision of Australian education overseas is explicitly stated in one measure and implicit in another two.

Through the actions of the strategy, Australia will:

  • Maintain our place as one of the top five international study destinations
  • Create an education system that stands out as the best in the world
  • Raise our profile as a world leader in international education and improve the global connectedness of Australian
  • Improve the experience of students in Australia
  • Expand the provision of Australian education and training overseas
In the strategy’s six proposed goals, TNE is explicit in Goal 6 and each of its related action points.
Goal 6: Australia will embrace new opportunities to grow international education
6.1 Leading good practice in new modes of delivery, including online
6.2 Enhancing opportunities to provide education services overseas
6.3 Understanding the opportunities

Not only do specific actions and goals look to TNE, the idea of offshore delivery is highlighted throughout the strategy’s narrative. Australia’s 31 offshore campuses are referred to as early as the third paragraph in the Executive summary, and the opportunities in Asia and the “tropical economy” for growth, including for TNE, are highlighted almost as immediately.

Australia may not currently deliver the most TNE programmes to the most students of any country, but it is one of the most active TNE delivery countries and a significant player. 

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There are strong data recording TNE activity, and growing TNE enrolments even without the boost that this new strategy offers. Australian universities have set high standards in establishing offshore delivery, often in new territories: the draft strategy notes that Curtin University established the first foreign university campus in East Malaysia a quarter of a century ago. There is a notable difference in this to some other TNE campus approaches: the Curtin campus delivers not only to Malaysian students, but is an international campus in its own right, serving students from more than 40 countries. Could this be the most international interpretation of international higher education? Models like this, together with a strategy which weaves TNE through its core themes as well as voicing specific TNE targets, mean that Australia could be seen as developing a truly holistic approach to the basket of international higher education tools.

But there is a difficulty for any governments in targeting TNE delivery for growth. Institutions rightly have autonomy over their own international strategies, and there are few levers that government can pull to require universities to develop TNE beyond “encouraging” growth. Meanwhile there are plenty of interventions that host country governments can use to control the opportunities for delivery countries operating TNE. There are, however, many ways that government can equip its universities to better their chances of TNE success, and both the Australian and UK strategies refer to tools such as enhancing market intelligence, actively promoting the quality of the country’s education overseas, and empowering programmes like HEGlobal. But these measures can always go further.

Australia’s international higher education leaders have been quick to welcome the draft strategy. Universities Australia’s Chief Executive Belinda Robinson commended the strategy’s potential to move towards Australian graduates being “true global citizens” and welcomed the ambition to extend beyond traditional partner countries for international engagement. The International Education Association of Australia’s president Brett Blacker noted the importance of the strategy in “meeting competition head on” and that “IEAA has long been advocating for a whole-of-government approach to Australia’s international education industry … It’s promising to see this national strategy coming to life.”

It will be interesting to see the reactions to the draft strategy that come through in the consultation. What role will TNE have in Australia’s approach to international education when the agreed strategy is published later this year?​