International Education Strategy and Marketing

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Posted on 28 Aug 2018 at 11:42 by Vicky Lewis

UK HEI future strategies

Future strategies

This blog is the second in a series, outlining the findings of a small survey 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 (and find out about survey methodology and caveats) here.

This second blog explores which TNE delivery modes (and levels of study) are most prominent in UK HEIs' future strategies.

What respondents were asked

Respondents were asked to rate different modes of TNE delivery on a matrix / rating scale, indicating whether – within their own institution’s future strategy for TNE - each mode was:

  • Our preferred mode
  • Features prominently
  • Features somewhat
  • Doesn’t feature explicitly but would be open to it
  • Do not want to go down this road

Nine different delivery mode options were listed, based loosely on Jane Knight’s 2015 classification, which distinguishes between collaborative and independent TNE modes.

Distinguishing between collaborative and independent TNE

Broadly speaking, collaborative TNE involves academic engagement with a local partner; independent TNE does not.

For the purposes of the survey, the options given to respondents were clustered into collaborative and independent as follows.


  • Validation / franchise / twinning
  • Joint / dual / multiple degrees
  • Co-founded university
  • Locally supported distance / online / blended learning
  • Other collaborative mode


  • Branch campus
  • Franchise university (private provider offering programmes from different foreign HEIs)
  • Independent distance / online / blended learning
  • Other independent mode

There is some debate over where ‘validation / franchise / twinning’ should sit. You will often (for example in this British Council / DAAD classification framework, which builds on Knight’s earlier thinking) see franchise described as an independent mode.

More detailed insights into the modes that HEIs favour in their future plans (and whether they align better with the definition of collaborative or of independent) would require additional research.

It is also worth noting that the term ‘branch campus’ is one that many institutions are moving away from, instead seeking to position each of their campuses as an integral member of a global network.

Validation / franchise / twinning programmes prominent in plans

Over 50% of respondents listed validation / franchise / twinning as either their preferred mode or prominent in future strategy. There were differences here depending on institutional type, with over 75% of post-92 HEIs, but only 37.5% of pre-92s favouring this mode.

Other modes cited as preferred / prominent were:

  • Locally supported distance / online / blended learning
  • Independent distance / online / blended learning
  • Joint / dual / multiple degrees

Post-92 HEIs were, however, less inclined than pre-92s to favour distance / online / blended learning of any sort.

Collaborative modes favoured over independent

About 75% of respondents ruled out a branch campus or co-founded university. No post-92 HEI listed a branch campus as a preferred or prominent mode.

However, no respondent ruled out joint / dual / multiple degrees.

On the whole, collaborative modes (with the exception of validation / franchise / twinning, which was ruled out by some) were less likely to be ruled out than independent modes.

And independent modes (with the exception of independent distance / online / blended learning) were also less likely to be preferred / prominent.

One respondent took the trouble to explain that their TNE strategy deliberately adopted a portfolio approach, embracing multiple modes (‘horses for courses’, rather than ‘one size fits all’).

Growth plans by level of study

Respondents were also asked which levels of TNE provision they planned to grow in the future (in terms of student enrolments).

The levels were divided into:

  • Pre-undergraduate (e.g. Foundation Year)
  • Undergraduate
  • Postgraduate taught
  • Doctorate

No respondent said their institution planned to reduce enrolments in any of these categories.

  • 71% planned to grow (significantly or somewhat) pre-undergraduate numbers.
  • 93% planned to grow undergraduate numbers.
  • 90% planned to grow PGT numbers (slightly lower among post-92s).
  • 54% planned to grow doctoral numbers. However, this was the level where the highest proportion of respondents (29%) said they wished to maintain numbers at the current level (presumably due to issues around supervisory capacity).

Some respondents felt that certain levels of study were not applicable to them, notably pre-undergraduate (25% said not applicable) and doctoral (18% said not applicable).

It is interesting that undergraduate is still such a strong growth area, since the focus for countries with maturing HE systems is expected to shift towards postgraduate provision. Collaborative TNE is seen as making a potentially positive contribution to local capacity building in countries seeking to develop home-grown postgraduate provision (Ilieva, 2018 – TNE-Hub Symposium presentation – slide 7).

More analysis to come

The final blog in this series (out in September 2018) will highlight key findings from my survey question about the nature of governing body engagement - and will draw together key insights from the survey exercise as a whole.

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

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