Slower growth in China TNE as focus shifts to “quality over quantity”

The number of students in China taking transnational education courses – usually involving foreign universities offering full degree programs through local partner institutions, although there are several joint venture campuses – has been increasing over the last few years, particularly among undergraduates.  In the 2018/19 academic year, 78,175 students were on TNE courses, up from 49,680 in 2013/14.

““People are…really focusing on quality delivery and not on building new partnerships”

“I think one of the attractions is that the way we provide programs and the way we study is very different to China,” explained Vincenzo Raimo, former pro-vice-chancellor (global engagement) at the University of Reading, which has a long-standing relationship with Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology.

“Students and parents believe that this will give them an edge in the job market because not only at the end of these degree programs do students have excellent English, but they will have also developed a different skill set to students following a standard Chinese program,” he added.

According to Raimo, TNE programs are often born out of existing relationships between universities and also benefit staff by giving them the opportunity to learn about different models and ways of working.

TNE partners come from a wide range of countries, from nearby South Korea and Russia to the US, UK, Australia and the Netherlands.

The British Council has noted a “substantially” slower growth in new programs compared to before 2014, which it says is “a result of the Chinese government becoming increasingly selective regarding programme approval, with a shifting focus to quality over quantity”.

“TNE is actually something which the government has an opinion regarding where they want to take things. For them, TNE is actually about boosting local capacity and increasing the quality of teaching in China,” Jazreel Goh, director of education marketing at the British Council, told The PIE News from Malaysia.

“People are… really focusing on quality delivery and not on building new partnerships. If you already have two or three partnerships in China, it’s very difficult for you to then say you want to have more.

“What the government wants to make sure is it’s about quality and that you have the resources to concentrate on your current provision,” Goh added.

At a conference in 2019, the British Council referred to “mismatched marriages” in TNE in China where the foreign partner university ranks significantly higher on the THE ranking than its counterpart.

In 2018, for example, Australian universities in the 1-200 bracket didn’t partner with any universities higher ranked than the 601-800 bracket.

China is the top destination for many universities when it comes to TNE, having overtaken Malaysia several years ago.

However, as fields like student recruitment try to move away from over-dependence on China, Eduardo Ramos, head of TNE at UUKi, said this is less of an issue in the sector in countries like the UK.

“What the government wants to make sure is…[that] you have the resources to concentrate on your current provision”

“Where you have 11-12% [Chinese market share] in TNE, you have double that in international students from China coming to the UK. If you don’t include the EU as well, it comes to over 30%  now,” he said.

“From a systemic perspective, we have a very strong relationship as a sector with China as a TNE partner. But it is not a complete dependency and we actually have a quite diversified landscape.”

Other countries that have expressed interest in developing more TNE partners include Cyprus, Sri Lanka and Myanmar (Burma), who have seen their markets grow by 244%, 87.5% and 55% since 2013/14 respectively.

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