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The Future of Universities: Trends in transnational education

Anthony McLaren, Chief Executive, QAA

Published in June 2013

What’s next for universities? With the sector diversifying into online learning, not to mention the many varied opportunities offered by further and higher education colleges, it’s become harder to say what a university will look like in the future. In March 2013, leading academics and experts, organisations, and international student leaders at Warwick Universities Summit 2013 tackled the issue of universities in 2025. Speakers from across the sector discussed topics such as funding and widening access, and what the value of the global public university should be in a rapidly developing world. Here, Anthony McLaren, Chief Executive of the QAA, shares his views.

Venice

Following a number of years of rapid expansion, transnational education (TNE) today is a larger, more diverse area of higher education than ever in terms of numbers and types of students, global locations and models of provision. This growth has been fuelled by the internationalisation strategies of higher education providers, alongside the ambitions of host countries to improve their own education, skills and ultimately, economic competitiveness.

This period of expansion, however, is now being followed by growing international focus on how to ensure the quality of TNE provision. There seems to be broad consensus that the quality assurance of TNE globally needs to be strengthened, although there is less agreement on how that will be achieved.

In the UK, transnational education has expanded rapidly. Current data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) shows more than 120 UK higher education providers are now delivering TNE in diverse forms, which bring an accompanying increase in reputational risk and attention from government, policy makers, sector agencies and the sector itself.

Partnership

From a quality assurance perspective, agencies internationally and their governments are now looking at how they can pool resources and increasingly work in partnership in order to cover TNE; this is a trend which is likely to continue. As an example, QAA now has memoranda of understanding and agreement with a number of international agencies in China, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa and, most recently, Australia and Dubai. This is critical, as the fast-growing number of TNE students seek information and assurances, not only about the quality of the education they are receiving but also, increasingly, about issues around recognition of awards.

At QAA, we have been conducting reviews of UK TNE since 1997, to assure the quality and reputation of UK higher education internationally and to support, secure and maintain the academic standards of UK provision. Additionally, UK institutions today are subject not only to the UK’s quality assurance frameworks and required processes for transnational education, but also increasingly to the regulatory frameworks in the country of delivery, especially where provision involves partnership with local institutions.

Over time, the review methods used by QAA for transnational education have evolved. QAA’s most recent review of TNE took place in November and December 2012, when the Agency reviewed the delivery of UK higher education in China. The reports on this review are published in May 2013. The review in China was also used to test review elements for a new QAA method and accompanying handbook for TNE review – a significant step forward in the formalisation of a UK quality assurance framework for TNE which should be in place for the 2014-15 academic year.

Challenges

However, we need to go further. As we look to assure the future quality of global transnational education, there are significant challenges to overcome, not least how quality assurance will be funded on a secure footing going forward. Also, who is ultimately responsible for the quality of TNE – the provider? The home country quality assurance agency? Or the agency in the host country? And how do we resolve the logistical challenges presented as TNE continues to grow at a rapid rate, to ensure we can continue to assure it robustly and protect the interests of students around the world? QAA will be working with the sector and funding bodies over the next few months to explore, consult and agree on how the quality assurance of TNE provision can be strengthened.


For more from the Knowledge Centre's Global Universities Summit blog, which focussed on the issues in higher education ahead of the 2013 Global University Summit, please click here.

The Global University Summit 2013 was hosted by the University of Warwick in Whitehall, London.

Image: The Palazzo Pesaro Papafava. University of Warwick in Venice.


Anthony McLaranAnthony was Chief Executive of QAA from 2009 to 2013 and was previously Chief Executive of UCAS, based in Cheltenham.

A graduate in English and American Literature from the University of Kent, his career has included senior academic administration and management posts at the Universities of Warwick and Hull.


Anthony has held numerous governance positions across the school and university sectors, and was a member of the Council of the University of Gloucestershire (and its Chair from 2007-09) and a governor of the National Star College. He was appointed chair of the new All Saints' Academy in Cheltenham in 2011. From 2009-2011 he chaired the Employment and Skills Advisory Committee of Gloucestershire First (now GFirst) and served on its board. He is a freeman of the Company of Educators, a member and trustee of the Honourable Company of Gloucestershire, and a trustee of the Summerfield Trust.