All entries for Thursday 16 May 2013

May 16, 2013

Filling The TNE Black Hole

Writing about web page

Illustration: black hole on white background

A blog post by Michael Peak, Research Manager, Education and Society
the British Council

Transnational education (TNE) is increasingly seen as a growth area in international higher education (HE). ‘The shape of things to come’ forecast that international student mobility would slow over the years to 2020 but that overseas delivery of HE programmes (either through teaching partnerships with local providers or through international branch campuses) would grow in terms of the number of institutions participating, the variety of programmes on offer and the volume of students enrolling.

But little has been done to assess the impact of this form of education delivery on the host countries.

At Going Global, we presented our assessment of the evolution of TNE and the elements necessary to form an environment conducive to creating TNE opportunities. The main objectives and rationales for embracing TNE appear to have been met in the countries studied, and it is crucial that the ‘foreign’ institution is aware of the local cultural context and priorities for partnerships to have truly mutual and sustainable benefits.

Conducting this research was exploring ‘the TNE black hole’. For many host countries there is a lack of a clear strategic TNE policy, and related to this, there is a distinct lack of data at a national level on the institutions involved, and individuals enrolled, on TNE programmes.

Furthermore, it is incredible to consider that for an industry which is embraced by many nations, which reaches hundreds of thousands of students (in excess of 500,000 are enrolled on UK courses alone) there is very little in the way of an impact assessment.

TNE in its various forms can impact on individuals, institutions and nations in many areas:

  • Skills impact: TNE can help to fill skills gaps in host countries. The opportunities for skill development offered by TNE programmes making courses attractive to individual students and make TNE graduates attractive to potential employers and increase capacity.

    A possible flip side of this is that TNE could be seen to exacerbate brain drain, although through hosting TNEprogrammes some countries are positioning themselves as HE Hubs and indeed attract international students, and faculty, and retain local students.
  • Economic impact: TNE allows students to study (and gain international qualifications) whilst remaining in employment – having positive consequences for labour market efficiency and economic output.
  • Academic impact: Host country institutions can benefit from TNE partnerships with foreign providers through capacity building but TNE partnerships are most successful when structured for mutual benefit. By working in partnership they (could) effectively become more efficient, achieve more with the resources they have and provide opportunities to more students.
  • Socio-cultural impact: TNE can provide students and staff from both the host and the partner country with opportunities to gain an increased understanding of other cultures. A risk also has to be considered that the TNE activity could conflict with other host country higher education institutions (HEIs) and communities; and that ‘Western-centric’ approaches could be seen to be imposed on local HE systems.

The British Council is in a position to conduct some research into gauging the impact that TNE can have on the host nations, host institutions and individual students. But agencies and stakeholders must work together to increase the systematic collection of data and to improve the evidence base in this area.

This blog is part of a regular series on the Knowledge Centre looking at issues in higher education ahead of the Global University Summit (May 28-30 2013), hosted by the University of Warwick in Whitehall, London. As part of the Summit, a declaration of commitment and policy recommendations will be drawn up for the G8 summit of world leaders, taking place in Northern Ireland in June.

Image: Illustration of a black hole. Source (Flickr).


Michael Peak British CouncilMichael Peak is Research Manager, Education and Society, at the British Council. Since 2005, he has been researching international higher education for the Council and has developed and and managed research projects covering different aspects of international education including investigating student motivations, forecasting international student mobility patterns and researching global higher education policy.

Growth Through Technology

Writing about web page

Illustration: The village blogger: an edited version of Albert Anker

A blog post by Simon Nelson, CEO, FutureLearn

A transformation is under way. Across the world, evidence grows of the power of technology to help bring education to the previously unreachable, the unconfident and the socially and economically excluded. The advent of MOOCs, especially since 2012, has brought the university experience into the homes of thousands of new students worldwide. Their ability to create whole new communities of educators and learners, on a scale incomparable with the physical university environment, marks this as more than just the gradual next stage of the digital evolution. In less than a year, edX alone has attracted 800,000 students from 192 countries. And here in the UK, we expect that FutureLearn, which has more than twenty of the UK’s top universities on board, will soon be attracting tens of thousands of students.

Yet it would be wrong to define this growth simply in technological terms. Rather, it is engineers’ appetites to work with visionary academics that ensures this technology delivers the thing great educators have always known to be important – captivating the audience.

But as this transformation takes its grip, challenges are emerging which anyone working in this space needs to consider. Amongst these is the role of the traditional university experience; is that in jeopardy as more and more people use technology to access education anywhere and at anytime? If, as I believe, this change serves to complement rather than replace the conventional, physical, and selective teaching experience by enthusing the next generation of university undergraduates, does it have the necessary staying power to achieve this? The wider digital landscape is blighted with examples of new ventures whose light shone all too briefly. In our world, providers have a lot to deliver if they are to avoid the same fate. Reproducing “lectures online” is unlikely to be enough for increasingly sophisticated online learners.

In light of these challenges, two things must be considered. Firstly, perhaps it is time to change our view of what does, and does not, pass muster in online learning. High quality online environments offer the opportunity for students to accumulate learning that potentially starts them on the road to the achievement of higher qualifications. In my view, this means creating courses and modules that are not only pedagogically sound but engaging and fun. With FutureLearn, learning will come in bite-sized chunks, where every step completed becomes a milestone to be celebrated. It will also be a truly social experience, where learners can gather in small, intimate groups to discuss their studies and find mutual interests and support.

Secondly, in order to make this happen, free online education needs to be something that brings learning in to peoples’ lives, not demands that they step out of their lives to take part. Study must be relevant as well as informative. Only then, will people feel inspired to come back again and again.

These are two of the ideas which are informing our development of FutureLearn and helping us to see the challenges facing our world differently.

The transformative power of technology when applied to education can be in no doubt. It is something that non-academic professions have been harnessing for years. In business, e-learning tools are now commonplace in staff training and assessment programmes. Advances in video production and broadcast software are allowing more organisations to use that format to share knowledge via live and on-demand webinars. And the exponential growth of social media platforms and digital communication vehicles continue to impact on our ability, and willingness, to search for and share knowledge.

Growth is here to stay; the next battle is to ensure that quantity comes with quality.

This blog is part of a regular series on the Knowledge Centre looking at issues in higher education ahead of the Global University Summit (May 28-30 2013), hosted by the University of Warwick in Whitehall, London. As part of the Summit, a declaration of commitment and policy recommendations will be drawn up for the G8 summit of world leaders, taking place in Northern Ireland in June.

Image: Photoillustration based on Albert Anker's 1894 oil on canvas Der Dorfschneider (The Village Tailor). The original is currently displayed at the Kunstmuseum Solothurn, Switzerland. Source: Flickr.


Photograph: Simon Nelson CEO of Future LearnSimon Nelson was an early pioneer in taking media brands and content online. Joining the BBC in 1997, he became Head of Strategy for BBC Radio in 1998. He went on to set up and manage all digital activities for BBC Radio & Music, where he launched its world-leading podcast service in 2005 as well as the Radio Player. He then moved to head up all digital activities for the BBC’s television divisions where he helped launch the iPlayer and built an award winning portfolio of online and cross platform services.

Since leaving the BBC, he has led a number of projects in TV, radio and publishing sectors for companies including Random House, UKTV, Specific Media and New York Public Radio. He currently oversees digital activities for Phaidon Press, a role he will retain whilst joining Futurelearn Ltd as CEO.

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