July 13, 2012, by Christopher Hill

The growth of TNE in SE Asia: Challenges and Realities

While attending the recent UK-Vietnam Partnership Workshop, organised by the University of Nottingham in conjunction with the British Council and the Vietnam National University, I was struck by the many similarities between the Vietnamese experience and that of other SE Asian nations. While the event was held in Hanoi, and attended by largely Vietnamese delegates, there was an inherent overlap between the experiences, concerns, perceptions and realities of those present and those of us working throughout the region.

The lure, or necessity, of TNE programme development is one that cannot be ignored but perhaps can be better understood. There are tremendous benefits involved with TNE programmes and yet there are risks too, both in the initial stages of agreement and partnership design; in the delivery and sustainability of the programmes themselves but also in the legacy they leave behind and the perception of quality they create and foster.

British Council figures from 2011 demonstrate the tremendous increase in TNE involvement globally and represent a dramatic shift in the nature of higher education provision, recruitment, delivery and sustainability. There are now more students taking UK degrees in their home country than there are international students studying in the UK itself. http://www.britishcouncil.org/press/new-international-student-trend-presents-fresh-challenges

Despite the increase in tuition fees and the growing complexity of visa regulations, the UK remains the second largest destination for overseas students, behind the US, and yet there are more than 340,000 students studying for UK university courses outside of the UK and as a result of one form of TNE or another. According to the British Council, this type of “transnational” studying has increased by 70% in a decade.

TNE development, particularly in countries like Vietnam and Malaysia is often in response to a governmental drive for an increase in professional skills, English language and knowledge economy growth and as such represents a rational and reasonable response to increased demand. If supply cannot be organically created, then looking further afield is perhaps the next logical step. TNE programmes have obvious financial benefits to students and the attraction of the foreign model is often desirable to those who could otherwise not afford to take advantage of an international degree outside of their home country.


Risks affect both partners in TNE discussions and can broadly be grouped into two categories. The first is process and accreditation and covers pre-agreement, negotiation, recognition and establishment. The critical issue here is that all programmes must be both nationally and internationally recognised and so the choice of partners is a vital one. Foreign providers must be internationally relevant as well as nationally viable and while this is in the best interest of ensuring quality provision, it does at times mean that there is a cost associated with gaining international recognition that the local Asian institute is unwilling or unable to bear.

The second category is attitudinal understanding and covers the approach and involvement by all parties involved. In the Vietnamese case, there was an indication that parties must adapt to the new processes and ensure that the programmes, their relevance and value, must be contextually embedded, relevant and sustainable.

Perception and Reality:

While it is incumbent upon institutional and governmental stakeholders to further develop the practices and policies of TNE, students and parents alike have their role to play. The perception is often that the ‘foreign’ is better; more marketable; of more value; necessary for the future. What is less clear is why, how or indeed, what this ‘foreign’ concept entails. As a result, the people who teach TNE programmes become, rightly or wrongly, associated with and compared to the perceived quality of the originating knowledge; there is often little attempt to embed the learning contextually or to understand the true value of the experience and the student attitude/approach to this new education is at odds with what is required to fully benefit from the process. TNE programmes provide an opportunity by which Vietnam, and other SE Asian nations, can modernise and internationalise their education systems but this must be done in collaboration with willing and dedicated partners who understand the challenges therein.

TNE is a force for change, a necessity for lower income countries and a mechanism for integration, shared learning and cross-cultural awareness but it is also an opportunity for system devaluation, damaged perceptions and abuse. For TNE to flourish, not just from an economic perspective but also from a pedagogical one, it must be locally understood, contextualised and embedded within a sustainable and strategic direction.

Dr Christopher Hill, Director of Graduate School University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus

Posted in Higher EducationInternationalisationPartnershipsTransnational education