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21 April 2020

TNE in Malaysia and the challenge ahead for UK TNE providers


Piers Wall
Accreditation and International Services Delivery Officer, QAA

Today we’ve published our review of UK transnational education in Malaysia, the second largest host country for UK TNE. In a sense, it’s a report from another world. Since the reviews took place, transnational education across the globe faces challenges of quite a different shape and colour.


But there’s a truly positive and relevant story to be told here. The new report demonstrates that there is high-quality TNE provision on offer in Malaysia. The headline is that UK degrees in Malaysia meet both local employment needs and UK standards. We reviewed 12 different examples of provision for the report, and what’s clear is that there’s a great balance between ensuring quality and standards equivalent to the UK on the one hand, and recognising the context and relationship of the partnership on the other.


There are many ingredients that have gone into this success story, which is delivering great value for students in Malaysia. There’s been investment in a variety of staff development – to support teaching and learning and to gain understanding of processes and requirements that make provision work.


At the heart of UK TNE in Malaysia is partnership working. The provision balances institutional autonomy and collaboration, communication and collegiality. Providers are adept at embedding both the local context and the identity of the UK partner in the student experience.


To me, the report is a great example of how well QAA works internationally, creating a consistent language of quality and working collaboratively to improve UK higher education wherever it is delivered. The review was a great opportunity to cooperate with our local partner agency, the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA). We have a well-established strategic partnership, committed to developing cross-border cooperation in the quality assurance of TNE, lessening any unnecessary regulatory burden and enhancing the efficiency of quality assurance processes.


We cooperated closely with MQA throughout the TNE review process, sharing data, information and intelligence; and MQA representatives joined a number of TNE review visits in the capacity of observers. Such close cooperation allowed us both to deepen reciprocal understanding and to strengthen reciprocal trust in each other's quality assurance systems.


All of this will be important in the context of COVID-19, and we have already seen impacts for UK TNE provision. On the level of resourcing, there may be continued staff availability issues. There has already been a move to online delivery, and that comes with the practical challenges of adapting materials and approaches to virtual delivery, support and assessment, building staff and student technical expertise, and ensuring the availability and reliability of online tools. The key question is to what extent these new approaches will be embedded through exclusively online provision or a blended approach, and indeed how will UK institutions manage the quality in this whatever new format it takes.


Beyond these practical challenges, there are some more existential questions: How do you emphasise the value of TNE provision without learning in a classroom location, and manage too the student experience and student expectation of a UK degree? How do you develop a sense of ‘UK-ness’ online for those considering TNE? There are national and international regulatory requirements to navigate too, particularly in countries where online provision isn’t recognised, or where site visits are a requirement of accreditation.


Part of QAA’s role will be in exploring solutions for these situations, working with our international partner bodies. We’re also developing new advice across all the themes outlined above. Later in the year, alongside UUK and GuildHE, we’ll be publishing the results of our joint consultation to help inform the future of UK TNE: Future Approaches to the External Quality Enhancement of UK Higher Education Transnational Education. Following publication of the results and analysis, there will be further consultation with the sector on the proposals for a new method and approach to TNE. The COVID-19 challenge will, of course, be a key part of this.  


We may also see changes in the pattern of demand for UK TNE in the new world. The appetite for UK degrees abroad is already substantial: four out of five universities offer overseas higher education programmes in 225 locations worldwide, delivering UK higher education to over 690,000 students and contributing more than £600 million to the UK economy. If international student mobility is indeed affected, we may see more students choose UK degrees in-country. However the situation unfolds, the strength of UK higher education’s commitment to quality, as evidenced through this review in Malaysia, will put our sector in a strong position to respond.