International Strategy for Higher Education Institutions

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Posted on by Vicky Lewis

'Very supportive, if confused...'

This blog is the final one in a series, outlining the findings of a small survey 'Supportive if confused'conducted in June 2018.

It expands on some of the top level findings presented 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.

The survey investigated:

  • 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.

My first blog covered the first topic of how institutional TNE strategies and drivers have changed in the UK HE sector over the last few years. You can read it here.

The second blog explored which TNE delivery modes (and levels of study) are most prominent in UK HEI’s future strategies – available here.

This final blog in the series highlights key findings from my survey question about the nature of governing body engagement - and draws together key insights from the survey exercise as a whole.

Governing body engagement

Respondents were asked how their Board / Council views their future plans for developing TNE. What reassurances does it seek from the institution?

The dominant message was that 43% of respondents spontaneously commented that their governing body was supportive. However, observations were also made that they were not necessarily aware of key issues (one respondent described them as ‘very supportive, if confused….’); or that TNE went ‘under the radar’ as most TNE ventures did not play a prominent role within institutional strategy. Some governing bodies were seen as cautious or passive.

Unsurprisingly, the key reassurances sought by governing bodies were around financial viability and sustainability; academic quality; and institutional reputation.

Typical responses included: ‘They are supportive of the growth of TNE, but don't (yet) have full awareness of the best approach to growing TNE’ and ‘this is seen as a positive step, but requires very careful risk management’.

Some governing bodies were active in the management of risk and had insight into due diligence exercises, partner performance, exit strategies etc. Others were provided with a more general overview as part of a broader ‘international report’.

In one case, the respondent mentioned that the governing body took an interest in the health and safety of staff and students involved in TNE.

One respondent whose governing body appeared particularly engaged wrote that:

‘They see this [TNE] as part of being an international university which values partnership and collaboration. Taking a broader view than 'TNE', international collaboration is critical to recognition of high quality research and its impact. Diversification and strengthening income sources is important, as is attracting talent from around the world in terms of staff and students. We also aim to increase the reputation and reach of the institution through international partners and campuses. All significant projects or activities are expected to be financially sustainable, once established, and also to be reputationally sound, helping to raise our profile as a high quality institution.’

Key insights from the survey as a whole

It is worth reiterating one of the caveats noted in the first blog of this series – namely that the relatively small number of responses means that the findings represent a snapshot of diverse insights rather than claiming to be a comprehensive overview.

That said, some themes emerge which resonate with what I’m hearing across the sector.

UK HEI strategies for TNE seem to have become more purposeful. The supporting infrastructure has also become better coordinated. However, some HEIs are still at a very early stage of TNE development and some respondents feel that strategic direction is lacking.

Financial returns are still a key driver for TNE activities, but there is also much focus on enhancing the institution’s global footprint. In some cases TNE explicitly contributes to wider strategic goals, including those around research and the student experience.

Looking ahead, collaborative modes of delivery are favoured over independent modes in institutional TNE strategies. Validation / franchise / twinning is the most popular mode (especially among post-92 HEIs) – and no respondent ruled out the development of joint / dual / multiple degrees.

Enrolment growth is planned at all levels of study (especially undergraduate and postgraduate taught).

The degree and nature of engagement by governing bodies varies hugely. It depends to some extent on the importance of TNE within wider institutional strategy. However, this is an area where sharing good practice would surely be beneficial.

Wider questions that emerge

Some questions arise when you look at these survey findings in light of global TNE developments (such as those highlighted by Janet Ilieva in our joint presentation).

For example:

  • How can UK HEIs become more responsive to the changes in TNE demand and regulatory frameworks around the world?
  • Are our institutions too focused on serving their own needs rather than using TNE as a vehicle for mutual benefit, requiring a deeper understanding of host country and host institution priorities?
  • Where will innovation in TNE come from?
  • Will the long-term, holistic view be the preserve of wealthier institutions which can afford to invest in longer-term initiatives?

It would be interesting to hear your responses to these. Or to discuss any other issues or questions that have struck you.

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