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19 October 2020

UK Transnational Education: Central to the UK’s International Strategy


Stephanie Sandford
Director of International & Professional Services, QAA


The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every part of UK society and economy and, in the continuing absence of a vaccine, the long-term consequences remain uncertain. However, whatever the future holds, we can be confident that higher education will play a significant role in the UK’s recovery. The sector is robust, innovative and has responded at speed to the many challenges presented by the pandemic. 


The importance of higher education to the UK economy cannot be overstated. Every year we welcome international students to UK universities in their hundreds of thousands. The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) estimates that in 2015-16 international students contributed £22.6 billion to the UK economy. Of course, their contribution far exceeds these very obvious economic benefits - in exchange for world-class education, international students bring cultural and intellectual diversity, and a pool of potential future entrepreneurs.  


The sector’s international influence extends far beyond the UK and includes transnational education (TNE). TNE is education delivered in a country other than the one where the awarding institution is based. The benefits are significant. For students, TNE presents an opportunity to receive an internationally recognised qualification in their own jurisdiction. For host countries, TNE enables local partners to award qualifications that can be tailored to local economic and societal needs.  


These educational benefits, however, only represent a part of the picture. TNE allows partnerships between the UK HE sector and international institutions, agencies and governments, creating venues for shared ideas and improved learning. They are also an opportunity to develop the UK’s ‘soft power’. As explained in the Westminster Government’s International Education Strategy 2019, UK TNE fosters international collaboration and supports the generation of innovative ideas to solve global problems. It sets out that, in a globalised economy, working towards collective goals with international partners is not a choice but a necessity. 


To help ensure that UK TNE best serves the interests of UK higher education and those countries where it is delivered, QAA has been commissioned by Universities UK and GuildHE to develop a new approach to the evaluation of UK TNE. Since news of the commission was announced, QAA has received messages from quality bodies and regulators in China, Egypt, Hong Kong, Japan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Oman, Russia, UAE and Ukraine welcoming the development and wishing to engage in the consultation process. 


The method will maintain a UK-wide approach to the quality enhancement of TNE and will see QAA work in partnership with local quality agencies and regulators. A consultation on the proposed new method has been published, seeking views from the UK and overseas on how it can operate to best meet the needs of the sector, host countries and students. The consultation closes on 12 November with the outcomes published in January. 

The UK’s international relations and partnerships will be critical in driving the nation’s recovery from COVID-19. The partnership approach to TNE that will underpin the new method will provide a bedrock for future collaboration.