In 2011, 23% of more than 21,000 prospective international students who took part in the Student Insights survey expressed interest in TNE, compared to 17% in 2010. However, 28% of the 11,000 students surveyed so far this year have shown interest.
“Enthusiasm for distance learning has increased across all regions since 2010,” states the report. “By 2012 over 25% of students were indicating an interest in TNE, reflecting a potentially more open outlook on education in light of the global economic downturn.”
The report considers TNE to cover a broad spectrum, from international branch campuses and twinning programmes to online courses and joint degrees. Interest is particularly noticeable among mature students – often considered “better suited” to TNE courses – with some 40% of those over 40 expressing interest compared to 19% of 18–22 year olds.
However, interest among the young is growing, with some 32% of students aged 16 showing interest. “Schools, parents, and communities are educating young learners on their university options beyond traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ education”, says the report.
Factors motivating students to consider TNE included the relevance of a course to career; the lower cost of study; and a desire to study overseas in future (suggesting TNE is viewed as a bridge to other studies). The ‘brand’ or reputation of the awarding institution were not important to most students – intriguing given the perceived brand power of some overseas branch campuses and twinning programmes.
The ‘brand’ or reputation of the awarding institution were not important to most students
“The TNE student community is different in many respects from traditional on-campus students – what they are looking for, how they learn, and the skills they seek are different,” said the report’s author and British Council Education Intelligence research manager, Zainab Malik.
He said that universities had “huge potential” to expand their TNE activities if they could “successfully adapt their offer to local markets”. However, the current high hopes for distance learning may be premature, with students still considering face to face learning vital.
“TNE has always sought to cater for students by making use of the most advanced communications technology. What the research shows, however, is that institutions must now offer as much face to face (in person and synchronous) as possible to satisfy student demand and enhance learning,” states the report.