‘Chaos and Confusion’

Countries with campuses from other nations lack agreement on how to define such arrangements, track data from institutions and assure quality control, report says.

June 1, 2015

LONDON -- Hundreds of thousands of students internationally are enrolled in institutions that were created and are led by colleges and universities or academics from other countries. While this form of education has become increasingly important to students and both host countries and exporting nations, a lack of common terminology, data collection and regulation creates problems both for students and countries, according to a new report.

The report was released here today at Going Global, the international education conference of the British Council. The report -- by the British Council and the German Academic Exchange Service -- is based on an in-depth study of 10 countries where international campuses operate.

The report calls such campuses part of “transnational education” (TNE) and includes in that category both freestanding institutions and those that are branch campuses of universities elsewhere.

There is “confusion within and among countries about what the different types or modes of TNE actually mean and involve,” the report states. In some countries “the overall concept of TNE is not clearly understood at the national policy level, leading to confusion from the top down.”

The report studied TNE in Botswana, Egypt, Hong Kong, Jordan, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Turkey, United Arab Emirates (Dubai) and Vietnam.

The findings on basic data collection (enrollment, programs offered, facilities and so forth) illustrate the inconsistency that troubles the report’s authors.

In three countries or regions studied -- Dubai, Hong Kong and Vietnam -- an agency is charged with maintaining “robust” data on TNE institutions. Three other countries studied -- Botswana, Mauritius and Malaysia -- collect information but mix it in with data obtained about public and private institutions founded and managed in the countries. While this information could theoretically be pulled out, that hasn’t happened.

Finally, the report found a lack of data collection in Jordan, Turkey, Egypt and Mexico.

Where data are collected or policies are developed, the report says, there is inconsistency on what various terms mean. For example “joint degrees” (theoretically those co-managed by a university in the host country and one outside) appear to mean many different things, with varying levels of involvement by the host institution.

“The popular 
adage, ‘what you can’t measure, 
you can’t improve,' applies here,” the report says. “Examples of policy areas influenced
 by the existence of TNE data include: internationalization strategies, accreditation and quality assurance, recognition of foreign qualifications, visa and immigration policies, promoting access to higher education, and knowledge and research development.”

Terms very basic to effective quality control -- such as “registration,” “accreditation” and “quality assurance” -- also appear to mean very different things in different countries, the report says. As a result, in many countries there is “chaos and confusion” over the institutions that have arrived and grown in recent years.

In addition, the report says that the lack of data or a common language hinders good policy.

“Being aware of the extent and nature of TNE activity also allows host countries to become more informed about setting realistic goals for TNE provision,” the report says. “In Dubai, for example, the regulatory body uses the data to assess the extent to which particular skills requirements are being met. Botswana has also started to become more concerned with how well TNE programs are suited to the local context and labor market.”

The report urges the countries exporting and hosting programs to work together to develop common terminology and data collection systems.


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