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Law researchers say TNE holds same human rights responsibility as home campuses

Transnational education activities are bound by the same human rights standards as operations on home campuses, international law researchers have argued.

The paper uses the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland's partnership in Bahrain as a case study. The institution accredited hospitals where staff were tortured and detained during Arab spring protests. Photo: Al Jazeera English

Hundred of thousands of students across the globe are enrolled in TNE courses

Public oversight mechanisms of sending countries which apply to transnational exports require a scrutiny of human rights obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, they said.

In a paper published in the International Journal of Human Rights, researchers Gearóid Ó Cuinn and Sigrun Skogly, have called for more due diligence and accountability mechanisms to ensure human rights obligations are upheld in TNE host countries.

“This is an area of activity that is expanding and as it expands it’s going to interface more and more with various human rights challenges,” Ó Cuinn told The PIE News. “To meet those challenges head on and in a responsible manner human rights obligations need to be proactively factored into oversight mechanisms.”

“Human rights obligations need to be proactively factored into oversight mechanisms”

In the paper, Ó Cuinn and Skogly use the case study of Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland’s campus in Bahrain to show that accreditation standards requiring appropriate supervision during their medical studies overlap with human rights standards.

The government of Bahrain enacted a military response to mass protests during the Arab spring, targeting hospitals according to human rights organisations. Medical staff and patients were detained and tortured at facilities accredited by RCIS for students to carry out clinical practices.

“We showed how dry, technocratic accreditation language can interact with human rights content,” Ó Cuinn argued.

“You have to factor in that some of the people who are running the clinical sites are accused or alleged torturers and this raises questions that you shouldn’t ignore because you’re a public body with an obligation to address these issues, especially of serious human rights concerns.”

Other universities have been criticised for human rights violations that have occurred on location overseas including NYU’s Abu Dhabi campus and University College London’s campus in Qatar.

Ó Cuinn said that previous human rights violations have provoked defensive responses from universities. “These seem to be seen more as a business risk rather than being seen as part and parcel of the fabric of education”.

Still, a growing number of universities are turning to TNE to expand their global influence, but also to establish new revenue streams.

“Academic freedom and the ability to express oneself or the ability to voice criticism or critique can be curtailed in these environments”

There are more than 200 branch campuses worldwide and, according to the British Council, hundreds of thousands of students across the globe are enrolled in TNE courses.

TNE can be delivered in through many models including twinning programmes, joint degrees, and international branch campuses, but the researchers say all types of transnational provisions should be judged by home-campus standards.

“If you think about the nature of academic freedom and the ability to express oneself or the ability to voice criticism or critique, that can be curtailed in these environments,” Ó Cuinn said.

This isn’t the first study to question the quality standards in TNE. Last year, TNE stakeholders from the British Council, DAAD, Vietnam’s Ministry of Education and the OECD called for a universal framework to monitor TNE activity.

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