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East Asia: small Covid-19 impact on UK TNE trends

Enrolment in UK TNE is stagnating in three key East Asian markets, but Chinese enrolment growth is continuing, analysis from British Council has suggested.
June 13 2023
2 Min Read

Enrolment in UK transnational education programs is stagnating in three key East Asian markets, but Chinese enrolment growth is continuing, analysis from British Council has suggested.

Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia have seen a levelling off in student numbers after enrolment across East Asia surged during the pandemic, the organisation’s TNE in East Asia report indicated.

It also noted that overall demand for UK TNE “continued to surge in 2021/21 even as mobility to the UK rebounded”.

TNE is a central pillar to the UK’s international education strategy. The 2023 update noted that the departments for education and international trade is continuing to work with higher education and the British Council to identify the overall value of TNE to the UK economy “more accurately”.

A London School of Economics report, commissioned by the UK government, evaluated the scope of TNE and identified lags in the availability of HE data, as well as challenges in collecting reliable data for the FE, ELT, schools and early years sectors.

DIT is also working to resolve regulatory barriers through international agreements and ensure they include the recognition of UK degrees, including online and blended learning programs, the update noted.

It pointed to the mutual recognition of academic qualifications agreement with India as one success.

The British Council report concluded that “far from remaking TNE in East Asia, the pandemic turbocharged many of the pre-existing trends in the region”. It named the region as one that is “ripe for new partnership opportunities for UK HEIs that are willing to make continued investments in the region, especially institutions looking at deeper partnerships beyond merely teaching transactions”.

It added that the pandemic “may have permanently altered attitudes” toward the UK offer in smaller markets with high-growth potential.

Vietnam, the Philippines and Myanmar have all recorded growth, but coming from a very small base, British Council said.

The analysis found that most students in East Asia continued to prefer in-person instruction even during the pandemic.

“In 2021/22, for example, students in East Asia enrolled in distance-learning TNE programmes at half the rate of the rest of the world, with only 15.9% of UK TNE delivered remotely in the region, compared with 30.6% in all other locations,” it said. “In other words, far from changing the enrolment behaviour of TNE students in East Asia, the pandemic accentuated [the higher demand for in-person instruction].”

Offering in-person programs remains a requirement for most UK HEIs to achieve scale in the region, the paper concluded.

The “lion’s share” of UK enrolments in the region are still recorded by a few institutions, it continued.

The University of Liverpool, accounting for 10.5% of all UK TNE enrolments in the region in 2021/22, saw 99% of enrolments at its China campus, while the University of Nottingham saw 63% of its students at its China campus and a further 34% at its location in Malaysia.

“The region holds great promise for UK HEIs”

Among enrolments at the University of London, which delivers TNE programs remotely, 41% were in Singapore, 23% in Malaysia and close to 15% in Hong Kong. Only 6.1% were in China.

The region is still the top provider of UK TNE globally and remains home to four of the seven largest TNE locations in the world, British Council added.

“Overall, enrolments in the region are up nearly 18% from before the pandemic struck, after having risen only 4% over the five years before the arrival of Covid-19 (2014-19),” it said.

“Despite East Asia’s declining share of global TNE enrolments, the region holds great promise for UK HEIs.

“No other region can rival East Asia’s combination of size and high-quality local higher education provision.

“Improving local HEIs mean there are stronger partners to deliver UK TNE and maintain world-class standards.”



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