How can TNE help the UK’s international education sector in the post-Covid-19 period?

In a UUKi survey of Pro-Vice-Chancellors (International), 1 in 2 declared that they were likely to expand existing Transnational Education (TNE) in response to Covid-19. TNE can be a cornerstone of the rebuilding phase that the international education system is approaching. If done right, TNE will have a key role to play in enhancing institutional resilience and rebuilding our international education sector in perhaps more sustainable ways.  

UK universities have adapted remarkably quickly to the disruption brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, but now planning is underway to secure the medium- and long-term future for the international education sector. What role can transnational education play in the post-Covid-19 environment? 
The UK has the largest and most diversified TNE sector in the world. Over 650,000 students study for UK degrees overseas each year. This is 1.4 times the number of international students coming to the UK. Furthermore, UK TNE has significantly contributed to other strands of international activity in UK universities, from capacity building in quality assurance and enhancement to creating hubs for intra-regional mobility.  
There is clearly appetite overseas for engaging with UK universities in ways that can enhance local education provision and help meet demand for high quality education. 

Here are five tips that can help universities focus their priorities and develop sound strategies for partnership-building to capitalise on the potential of TNE as a fundamental pillar of the reconstruction phase:

Look at it holistically 
It has been argued that TNE ventures result in low margins and unsustainable surpluses. Often though, direct income alone does not capture the multiple benefits of TNE. Sound TNE ventures are not only self-sustaining, they support other areas of international activity such as recruitment, research and mobility.  Universities should look at TNE holistically, using it as a facilitator of student and staff mobility, and a way to develop industry and research links in different territories. 

Take it online 

The Covid-19 crisis has forced the move of most face-to-face courses online in a matter of weeks, sometimes days. Suddenly, thousands of international students have become ‘de facto’ transnational, continuing their education from their home countries.  
Universities should use the expertise developed by TNE practitioners over years of managing programmes remotely. Partnerships teams within universities are experts at creating communities of students and scholars through digital means, adapting VLEs, asyinchronous learning and meetings to accommodate students who study in a wide variety of places and ways.

Balance it out 

Sustainable partnerships must be beneficial and profitable for both sides. This crisis presents an opportunity to engage in dialogue with TNE partners overseas and understand their own reconstruction priorities and needs. Universities can use this opportunity to creatively explore the place of partnerships in tackling local challenges through sharing intelligence and approaches in alternative admissions, assessments, and careers support arrangements.    

Look far ahead 

Even before coronavirus hit, TNE’s potential to contribute to the effort to address some of the world’s most urgent problems as identified in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals was being explored. Access to quality education, reduction of our carbon footprint or gender equality are some of the issues TNE can help tackle. Even in the midst of a sanitary and financial emergency, university strategists should keep in mind the long-term benefits of engaging in TNE. 

It’s all about them 

UK universities have developed flexible TNE models that adapt recruitment, admissions, fees, pedagogy, student support and industry engagement to the local environment where they operate. A strategy combining a global and local focus is likely to become much more relevant. Universities should only enter into new partnerships or expand provision where this meets the needs and aspirations of local students and their families.  

UK universities have shown remarkable resilience under pressure since the start of the coronavirus crisis. Staff and students have adapted to remote methods of teaching, support for international students has continued, and some face-to-face teaching is ready to resume in the next term, where safe and possible. 

On top of this, transnational partnerships that have been built through many years of collaboration are playing a key role in mitigating the risks linked to the pandemic. For instance, private colleges in Greece delivering UK quality-assured degrees are expanding their provision to accommodate larger cohorts in 2020, and branch campuses in China are in advanced preparations to welcome thousands of students this autumn for unique blends of Sino-British education. 
These transnational partnerships will contribute to the resilience of the UK’s flourishing international education industry during the pandemic and will be one of the key building blocks of the reconstruction period that will follow. 

Griff Ryan and Eduardo Ramos are our TNE team at UUKi. You can contact them at: Sign up here to receive TNE updates. 
To support UK universities in building TNE partnerships, Universities UK International has launched a ‘The Scale of TNE’ webpage, with updated data on TNE provision by country, level of studies, provider and TNE model. 

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