BM86: Resolution on developments in transnational  education

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Recent years have seen an increasing intensity of transnational higher education (‘TNE’) provision, infuenced by several factors such as the use of digital technologies, opening of national higher education systems across the globe, commodifcation trends motivated by proft-seeking or increased regional cooperation. 

In turn, this reignited the attention of global and regional institutions and stakeholders, especially addressing how public and student interest is ensured through the regulation of TNE and the protection against fraudulent or low-quality providers.

Transnational education can take different forms, which imply or not cooperation with local higher education institutions or even having a physical presence in the country where the study programme is delivered. These include online degrees, joint programmes, franchise programmes or branch campuses. In any case, every type of transnational education provision includes a ‘providing’ country (where the provider is based) and ‘receiving’ country (where the provision is delivered).

ESU believes that transnational education, if delivered properly, can bring several benefts to students and the higher education community of the providing and receiving countries, promoting international collaboration and transfers of 

knowledge. However, in order to do so, it must always put in centre the interests of students and the value of the degree in relation to students’ needs and interests, and must not be allowed to establish itself as a commercial-oriented industry that seeks proft by taking advantage of lesser regulation, lesser scrutiny or weaker protection for students.  

For students, transnational education can open up opportunities for learning from higher education institutions across the world for those unable or unwilling to travel to and settle in another country. While not being able to replace the 

advantages of physical mobility, it offers the experience of a study programme that can expose them to novel approaches, high-quality curriculum and diverse teaching methods, while boosting an international mindset. It can increase language 

profciency and access to international networks and resources. For the domestic higher education institutions, such collaboration, where it exists, can increase their participation in global chains of knowledge and research, offer opportunities for peer exchange and for improving their own education delivery.  

However, several problems can be encountered by students when choosing TNE, such as fraudulent, bogus providers or providers that offer a degree of lesser quality than what is marketed in relation to the quality of the corresponding home-based degree. Furthermore, such programmes may lack adequate resources or student support services to ensure student-centered learning, even more so for distance learning education. They may not have dedicated governance bodies for the transnational education provision or, where they have, these may not include student representatives, those offering lesser opportunities for student participation and representation. The cooperation with local partners may be missing, resulting in the study programme not adapting to the local context. Without being accredited in the receiving country, recognition issues may create an unexpected barrier for graduates when trying to make use of the degree. In the end, all these issues can be faced while paying excessive amounts of money for the study programme, with limited fnancial assistance.  

A core of the misalignment of expectation is the students’ belief that national regulations apply to the transnational programme to the same extent that they apply for any other study programme in their country, which is in many situations not the case. While the regulations of the providing country should apply to the programme delivered abroad, the fexibility required to deliver the programme abroad may either dilute the regulations to the extent to which it does not offer protections for students or, despite in place, the regulations are lightly enforced. In this case, students seeking redress have little avenue of success, not knowing the mechanisms or the mechanisms not even applying to them. On the other hand, as long as the degree is not issued in the framework of the receiving country, few of them impose regulations to such study programmes.  

ESU highlights that student rights must be protected in any setting of higher education delivery, and as such quality assurance mechanisms should be strengthened. The Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in EHEA (‘ESG’) should apply for any higher education delivery in Europe, including transnational education, and transnational education should be explicitly and distinctively covered in external quality assurance procedures. These external quality assurance activities should be undergone by trustworthy bodies, recognised as such through rigorous assessment of their practices in accordance with agreed standards. While the legislation of the providing country should apply, the receiving country should also ensure that minimum standards are met. In Europe, this implies that when quality is assured, the transnational education takes into account the ESG. In order to promote transparency, providing and receiving countries should collect data on transnational education and include the quality assured programmes delivered transnationally in existing databases. 

As the OECD-UNESCO Guidelines for quality provision in cross-border higher education outline, student unions also play an important role in transnational education at global, regional, national and institutional levels. The local student bodies should inform students about their rights and guide them in their defence, as well as advocating for the rights of international students in transnational education programmes. ESU calls on student unions to create a welcoming environment for students in transnational education that ensures their particular needs are taken into account. This is even more important as students in transnational education have less avenues for student participation and access to information. 

Within the EHEA, as common frameworks have been built and trust has been established, the risk of inappropriate transnational education is lower. Nevertheless, there is still the need to fully comply with the commitment included in the Rome Communique to apply equal quality assurance standards to transnational higher education as those used for domestic provision. For joint programmes, while national legislations apply, the European Approach is a useful tool to balance flexibility and normativity.  

The ESG should apply for institutions in Europe delivering transnational education outside Europe. In global settings, the usual practice of Western-based providers offering transnational education in countries of the Global South should be careful in creating valuable and accessible programs, preferably through partnerships with local institutions, that avoid being seen as a new form of colonialistic approaches.

ESU calls for stronger global cooperation in creating an enabling environment for transnational education, that also ensures its quality and puts the student in the center. We see the Global Recognition Convention as an important step in this sense, which should be accompanied by enhanced models of cooperation in quality assurance, in order to protect students, enhance trust and eliminate fraud. We also support the update of the OECD-UNESCO Guidelines for quality provision in cross-border higher education, to consider new trends and challenges in transnational education, as well as evolving issues students face, as exemplified above.  


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