International Education Strategy and Marketing

RSS FeedChanging institutional TNE strategies and their drivers

Posted on 26 Jul 2018 at 15:54 by Vicky Lewis

The UK picture

As I’ve mentioned here, here and elsewhere, there seems to be increasing UK HEI sector talk about developing long-term, deep, multi-faceted institutional partnerships and collaborative delivery models with international partners.


TNE-HubIn the area of transnational education (TNE), partnership approaches with host country partners are becoming more equitable, less ‘one-way-traffic’ (see pdf of this UUKi / British Council report from 2016). And fears about the implications of the Brexit referendum are resulting in UK HEIs going out of their way to demonstrate commitment to current and future institutional partners. The sector is keen to show that it is not retreating into nationalism and insularity – quite the opposite.


However, financial imperatives are still strong. Thanks to various recent government policy decisions, institutions feel under pressure to find ‘replacement’ income streams for what is perceived to be ‘at risk’ international student fee income.


Against this background, I thought it would be interesting to run a small survey to investigate:

  • how TNE drivers and approaches have changed for UK HEIs over the last few years;
  • the priority that UK HEIs give to different modes of delivery and levels of study in their future TNE strategies;


  • the kind of engagement that governing bodies have with TNE strategy.


The survey took place in June 2018 and I presented some of the top level findings at the TNE-Hub Symposium on ‘Transnational Education: Innovations in Practice’ on 11 July 2018. Presentations (in my case a joint one with Dr Janet Ilieva, entitled: Evolving TNE approaches: from short-termism to sustainability?’) are downloadable from here.


Based on the survey, this blog makes some observations about recent changes to institutional approaches and drivers for TNE.

Methodology and caveats

First, a little bit about methodology – and some caveats.


I reached out directly to known, named individuals at 56 UK HEIs via emails and LinkedIn messages with an embedded link to an online survey. Wider reach was then achieved via promotion of the survey on social media.


29 completed responses were received, resulting in a snapshot of diverse insights rather than a comprehensive overview.


I targeted those in roles which provide them with a clear understanding of institutional TNE strategy and its drivers. Completion was anonymous. 72% of respondents stated that they occupied top management or senior management roles.


Responses were received from Russell Group, other pre-92 and post-92 HEIs (no alternative providers) in England, Scotland and Wales (not Northern Ireland). The number of responses was broadly reflective of the overall category size, but numbers were too low to be able to make generalisations.

Changes in institutional approach to TNE over the last few years

Respondents were asked to outline the biggest changes in their own institution’s approach to TNE over the last few (maximum five) years.


The three themes which came through most strongly were: expansion; better coordination; and reduction.


‘Expansion’ sometimes meant developing a larger network of partners; sometimes extending the range of programmes available with existing partners.


However, this was often linked to ‘better coordination’. In some cases, this was about improved integration between TNE delivery modes and across different institutional priorities. In one case, it was about alignment with student recruitment markets. Several respondents said their institution had developed more suitable functions, roles, governance and processes to support expanded operations.


‘Reduction’ was often about consolidating or rationalising provision (following rapid market entry). Sometimes, it was about reducing the number of partners and developing a more professional approach. Sometimes it was about closing programmes in selected countries. One respondent said their institution had moved away from TNE. And another potential respondent contacted me to say their institution was not involved in TNE and had no plans to be (obviously one of the 15% of UK HEIs not involved according to the UUKi/British Council 2016 ‘Scale and Scope’ report).

Key drivers for TNE

Respondents were asked what were the key drivers for these recent changes and which broader institutional goals they supported.


The dominant themes were: financial returns; internationalisation strategy; student number growth; and global reach.


‘Financial returns’ was sometimes simply about generating surplus. In many cases, it was more about diversification of income streams. One of the related themes that emerged was institutions having become more savvy about resources. So, for example, more aware of the levels of income generated vs. costs related to each partnership; the degree of investment needed; and the importance of using resources efficiently by focusing on those channels that bring maximum benefit.


A number of respondents cited their ‘internationalisation strategy’ as a driver for recent changes. In some cases, it was clear from responses that internationalisation / global engagement was a key aspect of institutional strategy across a number of thematic strands (learning and teaching, research, student experience etc.). In other cases, the links to broader institutional strategies and goals were not articulated.


‘Student number growth’ was another theme. Sometimes this seemed to be associated with building a global footprint; sometimes with income generation; sometimes with diversification of the student body (including reaching out to those who might not otherwise be able to access a UK award); and sometimes explicitly with growing international student numbers offshore (as opposed to on the home campus).


The theme of ‘global reach’ was often linked to building reputation and developing global networks. Sometimes this related to research collaboration or industrial links; in other cases it seemed to be more about growing student numbers in particular parts of the world.


Other less commonly-cited drivers included changes to institutional vision and / or culture; external market context / greater competition; a desire to innovate; a focus on quality; a desire to strengthen particular partnerships; building staff capacity; and creating opportunities for domestic students to study abroad.

More analysis to come

Future blogs will highlight key findings from other survey questions about preferred modes of / levels of study within institutions’ future TNE strategies; and about the nature of governing body engagement.


If you have any observations or questions, I’d be pleased to hear from you.

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