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Where the rubber hits the road – and how not to hit a brick wall

There is no TNE Playbook – each instance is by its very nature unique – different places, partners, programs, people etc. TNE is as different as one can get to the highly regulated, close at hand business of home campus delivery.

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"There is no magical solution, no teaching “holy grail” that addresses your TNE challenges"

Add to this the tensions around its colonial past, institutional motivations, reputational concerns and embattled regulatory landscapes and it is clear that the starting point is not prescription but principles:

  1. Develop a flexible mode of delivery, capable of widening access to quality international education, and offer a more sustainable alternative than international student mobility.
  2. Recognise its increasing strategic importance for providers as well as sending and receiving countries’ agendas in supporting internationalization and growth.
  3. Focus on quality not quantity as risks are amplified when providers merely pay lip service to the training, skills, and quality assurance needs of host countries and stakeholders

We are determined to avoid a “How to TNE” Handbook, rather we expand on the good practice in core functions we detailed in Article 3. We distill out the generalisable, but it is up to you to determine the specifics – this is art as much as science.

Purposeful partner selection and clarity on market need

Diving into a market because its large (such as India or China) is a recipe for disaster – appreciate the importance of market segmentation and that students who travel abroad for their degree have different motivations to those preferring TNE, and decision criteria vary across the multiplicity of dimensions below this top level choice.

“You must understand the education system you seek to operate in”

You must understand the education system you seek to operate in – along with local needs and requirements. In some markets students may be most concerned about institutional prestige (of host and/or overseas partner); in others it is total program cost or time to completion, professional accreditation, the teaching and learning approach, or links to employers.

Models that work well in one part of a region or country may not work elsewhere. These characteristics must align with institutional strategies of the partners. Pick a partner who is strong operationally and financially, is well regarded by regulators and embedded in local social and economic communities and so knows the marketplace, as well as being prepared to jointly undertake market research to properly define addressable markets.

Effective communication and managing the partnership

Care is needed to ensure that partners deliver on their promises to each other, and that effective and regular communication is established from the onset to bridge cultural differences and address geographical remoteness.

Success requires building a common understanding of the nature and strategic direction of the TNE operation, and regularly re-evaluating whether the programs’ goals and commitments are aligned. You must take time to get to know one another, and each others cultural and regulatory context – be open about “red-lines” but accommodating when there is room for discretion – the high of a signing ceremony may quickly give way to the low of chaotic implementation if you do not.

Appropriate governance – academic and operational – arrangements are crucial and should clearly set out the locus of responsibility at different levels and ensure clear lines to ultimate oversight by the delegated and competent decision making bodies of partner institutions.

Investment in institutional expertise

Lets be clear – the “E” in TNE does not stand for Easy; developing and managing successful TNE operations requires a wide range of specialist skills and deep understanding of complex issues including legal, financial, and regulatory, as well as of different academic, technological, and cultural contexts.

“The “E” in TNE does not stand for Easy”

Institutions who are serious about developing TNE must be ready to invest their best and most valuable resources and create a risk-management framework that provides meaningful tools to respond to challenges.

Dedicated partnership managers who understand the nature of the academic process are essential, and it is preferable if they can speak local languages, and they should be having regular check-ins with students, faculty and administrative staff.

Investing in on-site staff will secure continuous engagement with the local delivery partner and establish deep connections providing real-time intelligence – sadly, by the time you get a problem flagged in a periodic review it is likely too late to easily fix.      

Demonstrable Delivery

Spoiler alert – there is no magical solution, no teaching “holy grail” that addresses your TNE challenges; there is growing acceptance of the role of edtech, but online is not the silver bullet to slay your TNE demons.

Teaching needs to reflect the local ecosystem – and will come in different forms depending on the model of delivery: fully-online, supported by local partners, fly-in/fly-out, local partner delivery, locally appointed staff, and the various combinations.

The reliance on academic support from the TNE awarding provider will also vary. What is never up for debate is that teaching staff must be committed and competent and properly supported to deliver a program that is equivalent in standard to that at home.

Likewise, students must be treated the same – with access to all the learning support they rightly expect – library, IT, registry, tutoring, advising, etc. It is essential students can access course materials, engage in discourse with others, and submit assignments and exams without stressful delays or unfair penalties!

Whilst equivalence of standards can never be compromised, the TNE learning experience is rarely directly comparable to home campuses and shapes the way students understand their learning and frame their expectations.

We must take responsibility for all students regardless of the mode or location of delivery. This means providing ways for TNE students to clearly voice their needs and to provide feedback on their experience, through surveys, student representations, or student-staff and alumni councils.

Partners should be keenly aware of the potential for dissatisfaction from alternative modes of delivery – each has its value, relevant to the circumstances, and the partners must together address perceived deficiencies and develop enhancements – it is good for students, and it is therefore good for us – and will over time allow TNE fee levels to be increased creating additional monies for further development.

Quality Assurance

We blithely talk about “quality assurance” as if it were a monolithic activity and we are usually focused on not getting caught out by the “quality police”.

We need to recognise the multiplicity of quality assurance dimensions and internalise a commitment to quality. External quality assurance is of course part of the mix and undergoing regular independent review reassures key stakeholders – these are increasingly overseas regulators and credential evaluators.

“Few, if any, sending countries have comprehensive systems to systematically monitor and review out-bound TNE provision”

However, few, if any, sending countries have comprehensive systems to systematically monitor and review out-bound TNE provision, and few host countries have systems to regularly monitor all in-bound TNE.

We need global solutions capable of bridging existing national solutions, minimizing the risk for students on TNE programs falling into the quality assurance gaps.

Ok – so this more a roadmap or compass – and we have not quite finished the journey. Our next piece will look at what comes next for TNE: its global challenges and technology’s impact on scale and access and how innovative new approaches to global quality assurance can drive us forward.

Read parts onetwo and three.

About the authors:

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








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








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

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