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Scaling up via partnerships

17 November 2016
Rod Bristow

Professor Helen O'Sullivan

Associate Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Online Learning
University of Liverpool

In summer this year, HEGlobal launched its first major research report, The Scale and Scope of UK HE TNE. Alongside analysis of the data available about UK HE TNE, and a detailed survey of university activity, it featured several case studies of innovative practice. They showed some of the ways that universities have managed TNE through innovative models and opportunities.

Liverpool Online is a global partnership between the University of Liverpool and Laureate, which has allowed the programmes to be delivered at scale and quality. Helen O'Sullivan tells us more.

Strategy 2016

At University of Liverpool, we have just launched Strategy 2016. Our guiding vision for the next 10 years is to be a connected, global University at the forefront of knowledge leadership. Our global activities are therefore central to our distinctive vision for the future and transnational education is a key part of that.

Why is TNE so important to University of Liverpool's strategy? We are one of the great centres of research, knowledge and innovation. Our pioneering reputation attracts students, experts and partners from around the world. And through our research, teaching and collaborations we seek to be life changing and world shaping.

Although we have some smaller scale TNE provision, our main focus has been on large scale innovation through 2 pioneering initiatives: the development of Xi' Jiaotong Liverpool University (XJTLU) and "Liverpool Online" - a partnership between University of Liverpool and Laureate Online Education that began in 2004.

Liverpool Online

Liverpool Online runs wholly online programmes that are all at the postgraduate level and designed predominantly for working professionals. Whilst we started with masters and postgraduate diplomas, more recently we introduced online doctorates, which have also been in very high demand.  We currently have 7,393 active students and over 9,000 have graduated since the start of Liverpool Online. This means that we have a global network of online alumni who are great ambassadors for the online programmes.

Over 70% of our online students come from 3 regions: 35% from Africa, 19% from Western Europe and 17% from the Middle East 17%. There are 29 programmes in total across Business and Management, Computer Science, Health; Psychology; Law and Education. Accreditation in becoming an increasingly important factor for students in choosing our programmes.

Sharing the load

In terms of the partnership model, Laureate provides finance, operating and market capabilities and University of Liverpool provides brand, academic vision and infrastructure including quality and accreditation services. We chose the partnership model in preference to building a full in-house capability because of the anticipated scale of operations and costs associated with that. The expertise that Laureate have provided in terms of marketing and recruitment, market research, technological expertise has been valuable and we have also learnt from their processes and business focused culture.

Academic governance is through University of Liverpool's established infrastructure and quality assuranceprocesses. There is a regular joint senior management review of strategy and performance

The pedagogic model is one of collaborative learning which enables students to use online discussions to bring experience of their local context into the global classroom. There is a very large network of online tutors, who are located around the world, ensuring that there is a high level of student support.

What's worked; and what have we learned?

The main benefit of the partnership to University of Liverpool is that it has enabled us to deliver at scale, and this has had a very positive impact in terms of strengthening our presence and brand internationally. It has also helped us to develop capabilities in online learning and technology enhanced learning and to develop innovative strategies for teaching and learning. There have been challenges naturally! For example,

  • learning to navigate and translate between the different cultures encountered in an academic and a corporate organisation has been tricky but ultimately very rewarding. Laureate is based in the United States and Europe and has a multinational workforce so the opportunity to work with colleagues from all parts of the globe and in all time zones provides very practical lessons in global collaboration.
  • our online students are often mid-career professionals who are looking to develop their career and develop personally. They are juggling demanding work with study and often caring responsibilities. Their levels of dedication and commitment are humbling. We have learned that these students have different support needs and have adapted to that through developing online resources such as the Writing Centre - a set of resources and personal support for students who are returning to learning. Extensive analysis of progression and completion data enable us to spot student who may be in danger of dropping out and provide them with targeted and direct support.
  • innovation, quality processes, risk management, strong governance, strategies to engage staff at different levels at the university have all been essential for making this work. We have been able to grow substantially, at the same time as enhancing our global reputation. We could not have done this without working in partnership.

Looking ahead

One of the key unique assets of Liverpool Online is that students can study completely online, at a distance and don't have to interrupt their professional or personal lives to do so. However, there is an increasing demand for some form of face to face supplement to their studies and many students would especially welcome the opportunity to study at Liverpool for a short time.  One of our challenges over the next few years is how to make the programmes more flexible in terms of optional face to face elements without compromising the wholly online model that has been so successful to date.

In conclusion, Liverpool Online is a key part of our global strategy; and is especially important after the EU referendum vote and continued uncertainty about the Government's policy on international student migration and border controls. We talk about using technology to connect learning and learners. Our online students exemplify that though engaging with ideas and knowledge from around the world as well as leaning from each other. In a truly outward looking University, these students are helping us shape a new definition of internationalism for a post Brexit world.