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Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
14th Feb 2018

More than 700,000 foreign students now pursuing British degrees outside of the UK

British degrees have long been coveted by international students across the world, and they remain highly popular. But something has changed over the last decade: more international students are pursuing British degrees outside of the UK than within it through transnational education (TNE). A recent report from Universities UK International (UUKi) found that over 700,000 students were pursuing UK degrees outside the UK in 2015/16 – more than 1.6 times the number of international students enrolled in such degrees in the UK that year and a 17% increase in TNE enrolments since 2012/13. Fully 82% of British universities are now delivering transnational education (TNE) programmes. The report defines TNE as “the delivery of degrees in a country other than where the awarding institution is based. It can include but is not limited to overseas campuses, distance learning, online provision, joint and dual degree programmes, ‘fly-in’ faculty, and mixed models, traditionally referred to as blended learning.” The 10 countries hosting the most British TNE students – of 224 countries in total with UK-associated TNE activity – are:

  1. Malaysia: 14.2%
  2. Singapore: 8.2%
  3. China: 7.1%
  4. Hong Kong: 6.4%
  5. Egypt: 5.1%
  6. Sri Lanka: 4.6%
  7. Oman: 4.6%
  8. Greece: 3.8%
  9. UAE: 3.3%
  10. India: 2.8%

In total, Asia hosts more than half of British TNE students, followed by Africa (15%), the European Union (13%), and the Middle East (11%). Notably, British TNE activity in Africa increased by 41% between 2012/13 and 2015/16.

Strong support for TNE

The broader context for the report’s findings is the support of the UK government for British universities to extend education exports into other countries and in so doing, establish greater economic, research-based, and cultural ties. The report summarises the benefits of TNE as follows: “It can be the origin of, or the catalyst for deeper international partnerships, including mobility, research and innovation links. They can be financial: TNE is pursued where it is at least a financially sustainable endeavour. They can be strategic: supporting capacity building in-country can lead to strong relationships with policy makers and industry. They can increase international student recruitment by creating a pathway for students to pursue further study physically in the UK.”

A small proportion of providers responsible for most enrolments

While 82% of British universities deliver TNE, much of the UK’s TNE delivery is concentrated among a small number of providers: three-quarters of British TNE students are studying in programmes delivered by only 11% of British universities. In 2015/16, 23 UK TNE providers enrolled more than 5,000 students, and this is unchanged from 2014/15. However, the 23 universities with more than 5,000 students is up from 18 in 2012.

Distance learning grows in importance

There are several models for the delivery of TNE, and collaborative provision, in which joint degrees are awarded by the British institution as well as the provider in the host country, is the main delivery model for British TNE activity; 44% of British TNE students are obtaining their degrees this way. Some TNE students are studying on campuses and some are studying in distance courses. The report notes that,

“Overseas campuses are more prevalent in Asia (59%) and the Middle East (32%) than other regions. With new campus announcements in 2017 and more pending, the number of students attending these over time is likely to increase ….

Distance, flexible and distributed learning continues to increase in significance for UK HE TNE, particularly in newer or growing TNE markets. Students studying through this type of provision were more evenly spread than others. Africa led (23%) followed by Asia and the EU (20% each) and North America (16%).”

Undergraduate degrees the focus

Two-thirds of students studying for UK TNE degrees were undergrads in 2015/16, with the remaining third in post-graduate programmes – proportions that have more or less remained stable over the past decade. The report notes, however, that the ratio of undergraduate to postgraduate degrees changes depending on where students are:

“In regions with emerging economies and nascent TNE markets, for example in South America, most students were studying at postgraduate level, but where UK HE TNE is more established, in Asia for example, the undergraduate to postgraduate ratio looks similar to the overall undergraduate to postgraduate ratio.”

Where growth is coming from

The Middle East accounted for the most growth in British TNE enrolments from 2014/15 to 2015/16: 4.6% more students in this region were enrolled in UK TNE programmes. Asia (+3.9%) and Africa (+3.4%) also contributed to growth, but there was negative or marginal growth in European countries outside of the EU (-5%) and North America (0.8%) and no growth in South America. While the highest number of British TNE students are from Asia, Africa has been the fastest-growing region since 2012/13 with enrolments up 40.5%. UK TNE programmes are now offered in 55 African nations, notably in Egypt which accounts for 39% of enrolments. More than 160,000 African students are enrolled in UK TNE, split evenly between undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. In Asia, Malaysia continues to host the lion’s share of the region’s students enrolled in British TNE (31%) but significant growth is coming from Burma (now in 11th place in Asia) and the Maldives (in 12th). The report concludes, “TNE expansion seems to have stabilised in traditional markets and is growing more rapidly in newer markets …. Changes across the globe in the relative enthusiasm to host TNE, and the recognition by several countries that they do not currently have capacity to deliver their higher education need, suggest that further new markets for TNE may open up to the UK.” For additional background, please see:

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