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All you ever wanted to know about TNE, but were afraid to ask

No question – it’s going to be the biggest higher education activity around the world. But its foundations are built on sand.

"We need flexible, scalable, relevant, non-colonial models of engagement"

Its intellectual and operational footings were constructed for a different, simpler, era. At a pivotal moment, when we decide which roads lead to sustainable academic, operational and financial returns and which take us down cul de sacs of diminishing returns, one crucial, obvious tool is severely constrained from delivering its progressive potential.

“The landscape is huge and diverse, and whatever your TNE footprint, it is but a tiny dot on a map of the future”

We need flexible, scalable, relevant, non-colonial models of engagement and to address the inequity and lack of access to quality higher education globally.

TNE must be a major part of the answer, but its operation and structures need fundamentally reviewing to make it fit for purpose – it is only our western hubris that leads us to talk about the massification of higher education – there is little evidence of it for most of the world’s population.

This is the background to this first of a series articles providing the means for you to establish the TNE that is right for you and your institution – the landscape is huge and diverse, and whatever your TNE footprint, it is but a tiny dot on a map of the future.

Bear in mind also that TNE is a political act undertaken in a world of increasingly aggressive application of hard and soft power – in a progressively more risky and turbulent world where neoliberalism and globalisation continue apace but are also continuously challenged.

As we write, we don’t yet know how many international students will arrive on campus – a bellwether of how important the traditional residential and international experience is for some and likely to determine the scale and scope of the short term change trajectory.

Many rightly note the success of physical mobility and that it has “withstood the test of time”, that what works in response to a crisis may not right for future operations and that HE is replete with “next big things”.

Overseas student mobility generates significant financial returns but has only ever been available to a small minority – so who serves the rest – especially given that with growing friction for cross border education – and indeed for physical transactions of many sorts – it can be argued that we are moving into a “post mobility world”.

As White and Lee (2020) have written there have been growing challenges to our traditional physical mobility models, including concerns about the climate effects of mass traditional student mobility, leading to internationalisation at home, branch campuses and microcampuses and scaled global online education alongside “conventional” TNE.

We know that HE will grow, demand has not been impacted by anything the world has thrown at it, it is only the traditional models of supply that are in question.

TNE 101

How many activities have more variants than letters in their description –  nine distinct modes with countless permutations have been identified; and different national perspectives, motivations, traditions, and regulations add to complexity (Trifiro 2019).

For the UK and Australia, TNE was initially shorthand for collaborative delivery with institutions lacking degree-awarding, in the US TNE is primarily international branch campuses and study abroad centres, as well as American universities overseas.

” TNE is a political act undertaken in a world of increasingly aggressive application of hard and soft power”

This is also the predominant form of German TNE, even if technically it sits apart, as it is not so much issuing degrees overseas, but delivering national style-education – one form of soft-power.

Differences also exist in host country perspectives with China focussing on collaborative partnership and the UAE preferring branch campuses.

Further, traditional host countries such as India, Malaysia, and China are becoming exporters of TNE, including to more traditional sending countries.

Richmond International University is an interesting mix of many dimensions offering dual UK and US degrees in the UK with opportunities for progression through the China Education Group.

Given the different behaviours of progressing students, we would do well to remember that they are a major part of the TNE landscape in East and South-East Asia and also in the Russian Language Sphere.

In subsequent articles we will navigate the history and complexities of TNE, explore different models, rationales, national strategies, challenges and opportunities; consider what works and what doesn’t in what circumstances, what is essential to succeed anywhere and what is necessary to succeed somewhere, in order to signpost ways forward.

Eager to embrace the new, we need to remember history has much to tell us – such was the concern of the Australian quality assurance agency following a number of high profile TNE disasters in SE Asia that if effectively banned Australian universities from doing it (and it is interesting that the problems of the University of Wales did not create similar reflections in the UK).

Following this bitter experience, Australian universities have focussed on offshore preparation of students who progress to home campuses in Australia – and progression is the Cinderella of UK TNE overshadowed by her ugly sisters – but she is going to go to the Ball big time, as we will explore in subsequent articles.

More recently Australian universities have again been looking – carefully – at collaborative delivery and so reflection is therefore very timely.

A whiff of WIFM

I don’t get it, it’s big (potentially), messy(possibly) and risky (probably) so why do I need “TNE” – if you score 1-3 its been nice knowing you, 3 to 6 please come again; 6-10 hello friend; 10+ welcome to our world:

  1. Neither internationalisation “at home” nor “from home” is sufficient – we need to be academically embedded overseas to be “global”
  2. Co-creation is a crucial driver of “internationalisation” initiatives, particularly around curriculum
  3. Global platforms for outbound mobility – physical and virtual – are essential to delivering the transformative effect we have long recognised
  4. TNE partners offer important opportunities for staff development
  5. TNE remains a hedge against challenges to recruiting to home campuses
  6. Covid has shown Progressing students are “different” – they are invested in us and significantly  more likely to turn up
  7. TNE delivered at scale can bring significant and sustainable financial and other returns
  8. TNE enhances market insight and builds relationships with overseas policymakers
  9. High-quality partners build local and global profiles and feed into rankings
  10. It opens up access to corporates and overseas work experience for employability and CPD
  11. Research with TNE partners brings the capacity, capability and the platform essential to addressing global issues
  12. TNE supports online delivery – much of our offer overseas will be blended
  13. TNE partners should be core to the alumni ecosystem

Birth of a nation

Okay, you got this far so you know why you want to do it, but why do students want to do TNE rather than come and see us in the good old USA/UK/Oz etc – its not rocket science:

  1. They are unable or unwilling to travel internationally
  2. Access globally recognised international qualifications on a lower cost basis
  3. Restricted access of specific social, cultural or ethnic groups to the host country
  4. Shortage of places in the local HEIs (government and private)
  5. Flexible routes to a degree: such as top-up, part-time or block-study arrangements
  6. Many private providers will not have degree-awarding powers
  7. students seek options that facilitate international work opportunities
  8. Shortage of specific study programmes in the home country

Where in the world

TNE globally has been growing rapidly and is a particular feature of some systems driven by the dimensions above and enrolment rates in secondary education; in the case of the UK, historic links (Singapore and HK particularly).  We address this issue comprehensively in a future article.

Feel the quality not the width

Fabrizio has written extensively on quality issues when at QAA and now at UK NARIC. Regulators have a key role to play in developing environments capable of tapping into the potential of TNE, reassuring stakeholders about standards and quality and enabling global portability – as well as looking after students.

“The golden rule is that learning outcomes should be comparable to those at the home campus”

The golden rule is that learning outcomes should be comparable to those at the home campus. The global response to covid has begun to unpick what it is best/essential to deliver through what modality and we increasingly understand that TNE should not be a pale imitation of what we deliver on our home campus but that it offers opportunities to re-articulate learning that is appropriate for these different setting taking full advantage of the possible.

The End

Actually, it’s just the beginning. This series does not advocate for a shiny technological future, or for the abandonment of traditional experiences.

Rather, we call for a realistic reassessment of how we respond to new challenges and opportunities and that we use the evidence and insight to review options. Stay with us on our journey, it will have many of the features that you expect because you will have seen some of them a thousand times before, but without a map to a destination, features are meaningless.

Read part two here

About the authors:

David Pilsbury is deputy vice-chancellor (International Development) at Coventry University, UK

Jenny J. Lee is a professor at the Center for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Arizona, US

Hillary Vance is assistant vice president – Southeast & South Asian Affairs at the University of Arizona, US

Fabrizio Trifiro is the head of Quality Benchmarking Services at UK NARIC

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2 Responses to All you ever wanted to know about TNE, but were afraid to ask

  1. As the Asian universities rise in ranking and reputation, the attraction of TNE will wane. This was a point in a British Council study many years ago. Will reputational parity between UK, US and Australian and Asian universities slowly constrict the TNE market?

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