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TNE worth £469m to UK HE, buoys international student numbers

Transnational education (TNE) was worth £469m to UK universities in 2012-13, according to a report from BIS, as new research by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) shows TNE students are helping to make up England’s shortfall in incoming international student numbers.

A student at University of Nottingham's Malaysia campus - those transferring on to a UK campus are shoring up a decline in intake

There were 323,730 students enrolled on UK-led TNE courses in the 2012-13 academic year on 2,785 programmes

The estimated revenue, which has been calculated using data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), is “significantly higher than annual estimates in previous studies”, said BIS in its report, titled The Value of Transnational Education to the UK, and accounts for 11% of international fee revenues to UK higher education institutions.

“In the light of this research we can see the importance of long-term commitment and a strategic approach to transnational education”

There were 323,730 students enrolled on UK-led TNE courses in the 2012-13 academic year on 2,785 programmes, the report shows.

Just under half of all TNE programmes but nearly three quarters of enrolments at the 63 institutions which took part in HESA’s TNE ‘census’ were at undergraduate level, with 41% of programmes and 26% of enrolments at taught postgraduate and the remainder at postgraduate research level.

Distance learning accounted for 40% of all TNE courses, and proved more lucrative than partnerships with overseas institutions, with fees averaging upwards of £4,000 – significantly more than the overall average of £1,530. Postgraduate distance courses alone accounted for £184.2m, or more than a third of total TNE revenue.

An additional £711m was brought in through articulation agreements, where students transfer from overseas to domestic institutions.

HEFCE’s report, Directions of Travel: Transnational Pathways into English Higher Education, demonstrates how important transnational students were to English institutions in 2012-13, when more than a third of international entrants to first degree studies were recruited from UK courses delivered overseas as numbers fell elsewhere.

Research published by the council earlier this year showed that international student numbers in England fell in 2012-13 for the first time in 29 years, but this most recent research shows that the decline would have been greater had it not been for incoming transnational students.

“In the light of this research we can see the importance of long-term commitment and a strategic approach to transnational education,” Madeleine Atkins, HEFCE’s Chief Executive, commented.

“Some institutions have been particularly successful in this arena, and dedicated partnerships built on mutuality and reciprocity emerge as the foundations of their achievements.”

China and Malaysia were the biggest source countries for transnational students

China and Malaysia were the biggest source countries for these students, with more than half coming from UK higher education delivered overseas, and a smaller proportion coming from local education partners working on their behalf.

Students coming from China were often motivated by the potential for progression to postgraduate study, the report reveals.

A high proportion of TNE students entering first degrees stay in England for postgraduate study, driven largely by Chinese students: around 45% of growth in taught Masters entrants from China in 2012-13 can be attributed to original TNE entrants.

English HE institutions with lower or mid-range entry requirements depend most heavily on TNE, the HEFCE report also reveals; TNE intake can account for over half of the international students coming onto first degree programmes.

The HEFCE report was produced in response to significant growth in recent years in the number of UK providers delivering higher education overseas, Atkins said.

“We know relatively little about the impact of these initiatives on international student recruitment patterns and pathways,” she said. “This report fills that gap.”

BIS also alluded to this knowledge gap, saying the relatively high total revenue figure that has emerged compared to previous lower estimates reflects both an increase in TNE provision and “the value of this more detailed research approach”.

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