China took over from Malaysia as the top host country for British transnational higher education (TNE), while Vietnam saw the largest proportional increase in United Kingdom TNE students, a conference for university leaders on 6 December 2022 heard.
The conference, sponsored by Navitas – the international university pathway provider – was held in London for Universities UK International members only and discussed the findings from the latest report on The Scale of UK Higher Education Transnational Education 2020-21.
Produced in partnership with the British Council, the new report is the sixth annual review of the state of UK TNE and provides a snapshot analysis of where, at what level and through what type of provision TNE students studied during the 2020-21 academic year, and longitudinal trends in TNE from 2016-17.
It revealed that despite efforts to diversify transnational education to a wider range of countries, the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on travel contributed to a 23.5% increase in UK TNE students in China which, at 61,495 students in 2020-21, overtook Malaysia as the top host country for UK transnational higher education students.
Malaysia saw a slight fall of 1.9% in UK TNE students, from 49,160 in 2019-20 to 48,460 in 2020-21.
Talking to University World News after the event, Kevin Van-Cauter, senior higher education adviser for internationalisation at the British Council and a specialist on TNE and education partnerships, said: “China is indeed still growing and the opportunities there remain strong.”
Influence of the pandemic
Van-Cauter said: “The increase in 2020-21 was due, in part, to the pandemic, with travel difficulties and lockdowns raising the attractiveness of receiving an in-person UK education, all while staying closer to home.
“There are also advantages for students as courses are cheaper and can be studied from China.
“Another reason for the sharp increase in 2020-21 was that Chinese authorities temporarily raised the recruitment quotas for some joint programmes and institutes, allowing them to enrol students who had originally planned to study abroad but who changed their minds due to the pandemic situation.”
Van-Cauter told University World News that most of the other target countries for British transnational education were also growing and the 162 higher education providers reported 510,835 students studying through TNE – a 12.7% increase from 2019-20.
Asia remains the region with the highest UK TNE numbers, with 252,845 students, which represents 49.5% of the total, followed by the European Union with 80,710 (15.8% of the total) and the Middle East with 70,400 (13.8%) and Africa with 56,475 (11.1% of the total).
Vietnam: One to watch
Van-Cauter said among the countries to watch is Vietnam which, while reporting a relatively small number of 5,165 UK TNE students in 2020-21, was the fastest growing in percentage terms with a growth rate of 36.6%.
“While the government [in Vietnam] is keen to expand TNE, its success has been limited to partner-supported programmes with significant regulatory barriers preventing the growth of online provision and international branch campuses.
“However, qualifications awarded by legally approved TNE programmes are automatically recognised by the government, and the labour market readily accepts and values TNE degrees and the Vietnamese government sees TNE as a way to respond to unmet student demand and to build international linkages in the higher education sector.”
Van-Cauter also highlighted Egypt – which hosted 42.2% of UK TNE students in Africa at 23,805 in 2020-21, an increase of 21.5% over the previous year – as having great potential for further growth thanks to the Education Ministry’s “strong support for international branch campuses with universities worldwide”, particularly in developing dual awards, student exchanges, research cooperation and joint projects.
Nigeria had the second highest number of UK TNE students in Africa, at 5,840, which represented a 31.7% increase on the previous year, followed by South Africa with 5,455 students, which was a 10.2% increase on 2019-20.