Transnational Education Webinar

June 1, 2016, by Blog Administrator

Transnational education – growth at the expense of quality? A @uniworldnews webinar, 24 May 2016

On 24 May, I had the opportunity to participate in a highly interactive webinar session hosted by University World News in partnership with DrEducation, LLC. The successful webinar attracted 950 higher education professionals globally.

The aim of the webinar is to accomplish three things, which I felt the hosts did. They are to create an interactive online-based platform to welcome everyone from different parts of the world (and time zones). Most importantly, the webinar aims to bring experts to facilitate a discourse rather than conducting the traditional presentation style format type of debate on the topic.

Dr Rahul Choudaha, principal researcher and CEO of DrEducation convened a panel of global experts and moderated the discussion on TNE growth together with DrEducation cofounder Di Hu. The TNE panel comprised of the following:

  • Dr Nigel Healey, PhD, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (International) and Head of College, Nottingham Trent University
  • Dr Jason E. Lane, PhD, Vice Provost for Academic Planning and Strategic Leadership and Senior Associate Vice Chancellor, State University of New York
  • Dr Elizabeth J. Stroble, PhD, President, Webster University
  • Dr Stéphan Vincent-Lancrin, PhD, Deputy Head of Division and Senior Analyst, OECD

Talks were organised in a few themes, referred from the panel’s most recent works related to TNE. The examples are tied to the main research question for the webinar, “Transnational Education – Growth at the expense of quality”.

Here in a nutshell, is the 60-minute webinar session summary. A recorded version is made available to registered participants. Interested readers are welcomed to contact the organisers directly for the password to access the recorded version of the webinar.

Preliminary questions on growth and quality in transnational education (TNE)

For the purpose of the debate, TNE is defined according to the current ‘working definition’ of UNESCO’s Code of Good Practice in the Provision of TNE (2001) as where the learner is located in a country different from the one where the awarding institution is based in all types of higher education programmes. The webinar looks into whether TNE growth will occur at the expense of quality because there are different types of global engagement in TNE – from validation to international branch campus. Each model of global engagement is differentiated by resources required to achieve quality control in the growth process.

Therefore, to kick-start the session, Choudaha posed the following questions to the panel, to engage their viewpoints.

  • What are your challenges in balancing growth and quality (within the sector/your institution)?
  • Do you see a tension related to growth and quality equation in TNE?
  • The country perspective of tension between quality and growth, does it exist?
  • How do you think of the equation of growth and quality is shaping up (today)?

Views from the experts on the preliminary questions

Dr Stéphan Vincent-Lancrin asserts that TNE definitely raises new questions on academic quality. Due to the cross-border nature of the TNE programme, transparency of information in terms of the delivered programme, work provision is definitely required. Most OECD countries will follow the guidelines aimed at TNE governments, and other accreditation organisation types to ensure sustainability of quality in accreditation and awarding of degrees. New Zealand and South Korea definitely stood out for complying with the OECD requirements. Clear information dissemination from institution to the country level to students is essential for the institutions to achieve a comprehensive quality assurance system in the TNE model the country adopts.

Dr Nigel Healey, on the other hand, focuses on the reputational risks in the TNE models. Since there are so many different forms of TNE models out there – distance learning, IBC, franchise, validation, the varying forms definitely highlight one of the biggest challenges in sustaining TNE quality assurance. With reference from a risk-based typology from one of his recent work, there will definitely be reputational risks with TNE franchising and validation. Being a member of a British government funded research team on TNE in the UK, he shared valuable insights with the participants from his institution’s perspective and experience in TNE.

Dr Elizabeth Stroble views that quality is necessary if one wants to achieve growth. It is a dynamic arrangement where you cannot achieve one without the other. Therefore, establishing credibility and providing value propositions is important to prove that the institution credibility in what was said and communicated to the audience. Cases in point are the ability to adapt to local surroundings that the Webster University adopted when they launched the both Ghana and Austrian campuses respectively. In order to make Webster U a stronger institution, the institution does not call them branch campuses but think of them as additional centres in a different location.

Shifting regulations on quality assurance in TNE

Choudaha asked the panel of experts to respond to the corresponding shift in regulations from governments on higher education, where he shared examples of the changing regulations in countries like UAE and China.  In the UAE, the education ministry warns students of unaccredited online foreign degree, where only a 100+ approved university degrees will only be recognised. Meanwhile in China, there is a strengthening of quality assurance systems of Sino-foreign cooperation in running joint programs and institute through improving the management of penalties and mechanism. Changes like these could also cause the exit of institutions running TNE programmes in the said countries.  From the scenarios, it is clear that the role of regulations can differ in both host and sending country. This can create a list of challenges for all parties, especially for the students and other stakeholders.

Vincent-Lancrin stressed that a shared responsibility is a key to defining what the requirements are and setting of guidelines between host and sending countries. Governments have to work together to develop and define the regulations and ensure that growth and quality provision is balanced. Clear criteria setting is crucial because too many added or unsystematic procedures on accreditation can hinder growth of institutions. From an institutional perspective, Dr Jason Lane shared that there’s no straightforward ability to respond, because once you leave your home country, a lot of regulations can change. A lot of examples on the closure of branch campuses, due to the changes occurring. What’s notable is more governments are making serious academic decisions based on findings of rankings in to decide in the perception of quality of institutions within the host country.

Healey reminded the participants that the discourse of TNE higher education is often conducted in the language of business. In addition, it is easy to forget that higher education is also a highly regulated and politicised sector because national governments have very legitimate higher education policy interests, especially on subjects taught. In the UK, QAA works very hard in liaising with foreign ministries in other countries to ensure policy guidelines are implemented seamlessly as it is very easy to be caught off guard on the changes that happen.

The future of TNE

On the future of TNE, Choudaha state that there are multiple views to it where education will be unbundled and degrees will be disaggregated into smaller credential units, with the possibility that the credentialing entity may be different from the institution that offers the course. Healey predicted that a big game change in the future of TNE is students will start their course overseas before moving to the UK.  Stroble further predicted that the future direction in TNE will be a mixture of joint degrees and online education, and based on Webster University’s experience, it is interesting to note that people who are doing online courses are the ones that are located close to the campus. “Seeing you on the ground builds confidence and trust on the value of the online course”, she said.

Lane said it is hard to predict how TNE will grow and evolve especially as branch campuses may spin off into something new. He agreed that stackable credits for acquiring skills as opposed to credit hour content, and institutions will definitely look into digital badging with the emergence of MOOCs as alternative providers in offering education. Students will still value a hybrid education (online and physical presence) as we move forward. This is also agreed by fellow panels on the webinar.

Useful links:

Webinar on Transnational Education: Recording of the Online Discussion with Global Experts (24 May 2016)

Ensuring Quality in Cross-Border Higher Education Implementing the UNESCO/OECD Guideline (2015)

Towards a risk-based typology for transnational education (2015)

Regulating Cross-border Higher Education: A case study of the United States (2013)

Know your international student – global or glocal? (2013)

Code of Good Practice in the Provision of Transnational Education (2001)

Yeong Woon Chin is currently the Research & Executive Administrator for Knowledge Without Borders Networkand a Ph.D. candidate in the Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences at The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus.

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