New research finds boom in UK higher education delivered internationally

29 June 2016
Middlesex University Dubai

The UK's delivery of higher education transnational education grows at five times the rate of international student recruitment to the UK.

  • In just two years (2012–13 to 2014–15), transnational higher education (HE) delivered by UK institutions grew by 13%. At the same time international student recruitment into the UK grew by just 2.7%. Four in five universities surveyed intend to expand their transnational education (TNE) provision in the next three years. 

  • Twenty-eight percent of UK HE TNE programmes are delivered for students in Asia, whilst the European Union accounts for 23%, Africa for 14% and the Middle East for 13%.

  • Partnership approaches with host country partners are becoming more equitable with an increased focus on joint responsibility for programme development and delivery.

These are three of the key findings of new report The Scale and Scope of UK Higher Education Transnational Education published by HEGlobal. Providing evidence for higher education providers and policy makers working in this area, The Scale and Scope of UK HE TNE showcases the great breadth and variety of models and partnerships in the UK's outgoing transnational higher education.

Twelve case studies accompany the data and give a face to UK HE TNE. They include international campuses, joint schools, online programmes and degree-validating partnerships.

The research demonstrates:

  • the five countries where the most UK HE TNE is delivered (Malaysia, Hong Kong, Oman, Singapore and Sri Lanka) have remained constant since 2012–13, however the next five countries on the list have changed (Egypt, China, Greece, Germany, India), showing that this is an evolving landscape;

  • there are only 15 countries in the world where the UK does not offer any TNE;

  • since 2012–13 there has been an increase in the flexibility of offer in mode of delivery, with more programmes being offered as full-time, part-time or both;

  • four in five universities  who commented on their future plans intend to expand their TNE provision in the next three years;

  • partnership approaches with host country partners are becoming more equitable. While the UK partner is usually the lead on those areas of its global calling card of excellence - curriculum, quality assurance and assessment - there is either an equal distribution of responsibility or a strong focus on joint delivery and ownership in other areas of programme delivery.

Vivienne Stern, Director of the UK HE International Unit, comments:

"It's remarkable to see both the scale and variety of UK higher education delivered outside of the UK and also how fast it is growing. This research will be valuable to both policy-makers and the wider higher education sector as it grapples with both the opportunities and challenges of different forms of transnational education.  We expect to see this fast growth continuing over the next few years and will continue to engage with our members so we can give them the support they need through the Global HE programme."

Gordon Slaven, Director of Higher Education at the British Council, comments:

"This report supports our experience that the reach of the UK's HE is growing ever wider, with more territories and regions hosting UK TNE programmes. Through the British Council's work, we have seen a clear shift in the nature of TNE, with host countries looking to develop partnerships rather than simply hosting overseas universities. This move is clearly evidenced in the report's finding that there is increasing equitability in TNE relationships. The British Council continues to support UK universities in their international activity including TNE and as a partner in the HEGlobal initiative."

For more information or to speak to International Unit Director Vivienne Stern or Head of HE Global Programme Raegan Hiles, please contact or 020 7419 5615


  1. HEGlobal is a joint initiative between the IU and the British Council to empower UK HEIs in their TNE activity.

  2. The study was commissioned as part of the HEGlobal programme, and with additional support from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills.

  3. The report is based on a survey with UK HE TNE providers covering their TNE provision in the academic year 2014–15, followed by survey analysis. The survey received 62 responses from UK HEIs, 55 of which have active transnational education programmes, including two thirds of the 22 higher education institutions with the largest enrolments (i.e. more than 5,000), providing coverage of around 68% of all active transnational education students in 2014–15.

  4. The research was conducted by Warwick Economics & Development (WECD).

  5. Business and Management is the UK HE TNE subject delivered in most countries. Following that, Medicine and related studies programmes are delivered across a high number of countries, and then Arts & Humanities Since 2012–13, the flexibility of offer in mode of delivery has increased. More programmes are now being offered as full time, part time, or both.

  6. TNE provides opportunities for external expansion but also internal review. This can strengthen the core capacity and capability of an institution and support further growth in the areas of curriculum development, material delivery and partnership activity.​

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