What next for TNE: global challenges and technology’s impact


Straws in the wind – for those scanning the TNE horizon and reflecting on how to get there, the UK government’s revamp of its International Higher Education Strategy has provided not so much a roadmap as a weather vane – indications of which way the wind is blowing – or maybe a trail of breadcrumbs to lead us to the promised land?

Although situated in the context of the UK’s competitive position, and seeking to build on the Covid-19 response, the themes are globally relevant: importance of national strategies; role of government-to-government dialogues, developing national and institutional brands, and synergies between TNE and other activities and in that vein, similar to the first version, it picks up some of the elements we have previously seen in the Australian approach.

It has been a long and winding road to get TNE to be recognised and valued, and we have tried to facilitate this. Our particular focus is on sustainable partnerships, being responsive to host stakeholders, and recognising interconnectedness. You can’t unlock markets and build lasting relationships without the trust that comes from engaging on equal terms, as the strategy echoes.

Whither now then for TNE – with the dialogues emerging we can drive change. The Biden administration has identified education as key for its soft-power agenda to reconnect with allies and others in a post-Trump world, and is seriously engaging with TNE as traditionally practiced in the UK and Australia rather than only opening up “go it alone” branch campuses.

The EU, no longer dominated by the UK, wants to leverage its educational potential, and Australia is looking to increase offshore delivery to address the haemorrhaging of international students.

In parallel, we have increasing provision from traditionally receiving countries.

Malaysia is one country where this is developing rapidly but it tends to fly below the radar – for example, Lincoln University College has a network of 12 partner colleges in Nepal alone and Limkokwing University has long had four full campuses in Africa.

This simultaneous importing and exporting of TNE provides a potentially rich source of innovation and is likely to be more broadly replicated in the West where we can again see a stirring of overseas players looking particularly to enter the UK and US markets following on from the early movers including Limkokwing and a number of Chinese public and private sector players in the UK.

We are also seeing some movement – willingly or not – in countries that have resisted transactional TNE – India has again launched legislation to promote dual degree – and Indonesia as a result of the Australian focus on TNE development as part of its national interest and policy, agreed after many years to two branch campus being approved as part of Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement.

An interesting new context then, and it will be challenging to sustain the public good, civic society position of global higher education as the economic effects of the pandemic bite, especially as the predicted post-pandemic boom may not find its way into HE other than through feverish activity in the edtech markets.

It’s difficult to manage innovation and growth, and maintain quality in unfamiliar or challenging markets, with limited resources. Redrawing the boundaries between universities and our partners will be key.

We are already seeing significant new public/private sector models. The University of Arizona’s partnership with INTO leverages its recruitment infrastructure to help the university reach students in new markets, and to serve students through new delivery models and price structures. The coworking partnership allows students to network and find work post-graduation, in addition to giving them study sites without a campus so students are not condemned to a remote and isolating online experience outside urban centres.

Building on Covid measures that assisted students stuck in country will also persist. The Study Away program allowed students to dual enrol for credit from both Cornell University and its ‘host’ partners. Similarly CIEE pivoted from hosting American students abroad to hosting international students stuck at home, whilst Coventry linked with Oxford International when unable to offer F-2-F PSE and developed a hybrid blended, program that can be flexed by mode of delivery and location of study to best meet their needs (students start in-country and can then change to any global location of delivery).

Pathways are undoubtedly the future. NCUK and New Zealand universities have partnered to enable students to learn at home while borders are closed, and progress to their global network of 80+ recognised study centres.

MSM is also innovating network pathways with their “many to many” concept with (initially) colleges in six locations offering programs for entry to institutions in (initially) six destination countries to create a global consortium linked not through MSM, but also through research ties and student and staff mobility. Conversely, some innovations focus on place.

EduCity Iskandar, Asia’s first multicampus education city, has established a ‘transit hub’, where students unable to travel long-haul can use the unique learning environment it offers.

Innovative quality assurance approaches will also be required and include Ecctis, which manages the UK ENIC national recognition function (previously UK NARIC), developing its TNE Quality Benchmark offering a platform for cross-border cooperation across the quality assurance and qualification recognition communities to support the implementation of Global Recognition Convention and improve the recognition climate for TNE qualifications.

Public-private partnerships will be the defining feature of the next 10 years and the engine driving TNE along with all other areas. If executed intelligently, it will sustain, not diminish service, and exploit tech not as a simple delivery platform but an enabler of people.

The shift to online has allowed a better appreciation of different learning approaches with positive implications for TNE. It is impossible, and undesirable, to try and replicate the home campus, TNE should be contextualised to the local environment that is the reality for students.

Innovative new platforms and programs can assist in this, also leaner analytics applied to TNE, and the re-envisioning of traditional activities like mobility and work-experiences. We are already seeing massive changes made through the leveraging of innovation and technology in recruitment operations with the rise of the aggregators such as ApplyBoard and increasing use of machine learning and AI across a range of providers including IDP, EduCo. Times Higher Education and the more sophisticated agents.

Partnerships are forming that will establish a number of competing recruitment ecosystems that run from providing eye-catching content, through tailored application processes promising better matching and pushing individuals down the conversion funnel with customised interventions until individuals drop out into the epi-graduation employability and alumni services market place currently materialising.

There are few people that understand the significance of this change. One of the few advisory firms focusing on supporting new TNE and edtech strategies is Wells Advisory, a sponsor of The PIE TNE and Tech event and they are clear that there is much more of this to come through public/private partnerships.

When we see this level of innovation applied to TNE, with better LMS, informed by learner analytics, and value added services like employability, language etc, then we will have a TNE universe that can finally, and truly, realise its potential.

To borrow from our good friends at Emirates Airlines, one of the few corporates to sustain commitment to global education – “Welcome to tomorrow”.