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The post-pandemic mainstreaming of transnational education

The pandemic has firmly propelled transnational education from the periphery into the mainstream.

NYU Shanghai received a record high number of applications for the Fall 2021 semester. Photo: Unsplash

"It would be surprising if application records are not set across the board with well-branded overseas branch campuses"

Whilst international student mobility has of course been severely impacted by the global pandemic, other segments of the education sector such as Online Programme Management, edtech and TNE have found their growth trajectory significantly increased.

“Due to the nature of TNE, it isn’t as vulnerable to travel restrictions and closed borders”

Due to the nature of TNE, it isn’t as vulnerable to travel restrictions and closed borders. Therefore, when mobility is as severely curtailed as it has been during the global health crisis, TNE can accommodate the demand for international qualifications within those narrowed parameters, either as a short term ‘holding pattern’ or as a rapidly-growing business model for the post-pandemic world.

With universities unable to go about their normal recruitment activities, those with existing TNE programs could dedicate manpower and resources to those initiatives, whether it involved providing accommodation in local student villages to those students stuck in their home countries or recommending other programs like 2+2 or 1+3 alternatives. These institutions could leverage their presence in key recruitment markets and see their outreach and influence grow.

We are already seeing the fruits of those efforts across all types of TNE. NYU Shanghai received a record high number of applications for the Fall 2021 semester.

It would be surprising if application records are not set across the board with similarly well-branded overseas branch campuses, such as University of Nottingham Ningbo China, University of Nottingham Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur and British University Vietnam. Of course those blue-chip, full campus models are only the tip of the iceberg in the wider TNE world.

Until now, TNE has often been regarded as secondary to, or at least separate from, a recruitment strategy. Some institutions worried that a TNE operation in a country where they were recruiting could actually cannibalise students that would otherwise physically come to their home campus.

In reality, the opposite is often true. TNE programs raise the profile of the university and students become more familiar with the brand in-country, which results in more inquiring about going to the main campus.

However, before you decide to embark on a new TNE strategy, as positive as this delivery mode can be, there are considerations to be weighed.

Firstly, TNE takes a long time. After developing a strategy, you have to find the correct partners. You then need to negotiate commercial and academic agreements, launch your program offering, then recruit students. There is often a very long lead time from strategy to actual results.

In addition, there are many partnerships that fail. They either never get past the MOU stage, or they manage to launch but do not recruit enough students and eventually the program gets shut down. The reasons behind these failures are numerous, but it can be boiled down to clarity about what the partners want to achieve.

“The reasons behind failures are numerous”

Who is driving the partnership? Who is waking up every day and making the program a success? Is the commercial model as well thought out as the academic one? Do the partners want higher enrolments or greater student diversity? Perhaps the curriculums map beautifully, but no one has thought about the recruitment spend, the digital marketing campaign or the recruitment strategy. All of these elements need careful consideration as they collectively contribute to the strength of both the TNE program offering and the wider partnership.

From my perspective based in Singapore, there has been a significant spike in TNE interest, from both Asian and Western institutions, all wanting new programs and new partnerships.

We at Sannam S4 know the importance of supporting a university in creating their international strategy, considering their level of interest in TNE as well as their motivations for implementing such a model. We know how to scan the horizon for suitable institutions with the right quality and the right standing, ensuring that motivations match to create partnerships that last.

Before the pandemic, the outbound student market, the in-country market and distance learning were three distinct market segments. With Covid, they have all collapsed into one, with everyone getting used to digital technology, students enrolled at overseas institutions but unable to travel, and students studying at home.

When the pandemic passes, those three segments may redefine themselves into separate entities, but they will look quite different from before. Within those new iterations, there will be opportunities aplenty.

When that happens, we all need to be ready, open-minded and have the right on-the-ground support and expertise, to know where to look for opportunities and how to capitalise on them.

About the author:

Michael Bartlett is Global Managing Director, Education at Sannam S4, the preferred global partner for strategic and sustainable expansion in international higher education. Based in Singapore, Michael is responsible for leading Sannam S4’s international education sector strategy and helping steer its three-year plan. With 19 years’ of experience operating in Asia, he has deep experience in commercial education, from guiding partners on Asia market entry and distribution strategies, to advising universities, governments and embassies on TNE outreach, recruitment and due diligence.  He will be speaking at the Country spotlight: Malaysia panel discussion during PIE Live March 22-26.

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