After Brexit, UK HEIs should partner to thrive worldwide
“At the end of last week, from one day to the next, the international landscape changed shape for British universities”
By Simon Butt-Bethlendy of @GlobalHE and Chair of CIPR Education & Skills Group, writes about what the UK’s momentous Brexit decision might mean for UK universities and TNE.
At the end of last week, from one day to the next, the international landscape changed shape for British universities.
At 9am on the morning after the EU Referendum vote I chaired a teleconference with some of my CIPR (Chartered Institute of Public Relations) Education & Skills Group committee. Fellow education communicators registered shock, bafflement and despair.
We noted above all how differences in average educational attainment seemed to divide people who chose Leave from those who voted Remain. With educators, we share responsibility for helping bridge such chasms in understanding.
The PIE News and other specialist media and social media, including my own @GlobalHE Twitter feed, tracked reaction and analysis of how leaving the EU might affect prospects for international student recruitment and the reputation of UK HE. Meanwhile, mainstream media grappled with the socioeconomic and political contexts and reactions.
The situation evolved fast. In Britain, protests and petitions proliferated and instances of hate crime shamed parts of the British population calling into question whether or not values of fairness and respect were in fact commonly shared.
“An American lecturer from Manchester Metropolitan University was a filmed target of racial abuse on a city tram. Some international students are contacting teachers to check they’re still safe here”
An American lecturer from Manchester Metropolitan University was a filmed target of racial abuse on a city tram. Some international students are contacting teachers to check they’re still safe here. Academics report messages from intended European partners cancelling planned joint events and requesting they take their names off joint EU funding bids. ELT and EAP staff worry about jobs. Some of the 15% of academic staff at UK universities who come from other EU countries are no longer certain of their residency status and career paths.
One week on, British pragmatism is gaining ground. What now? What will change? How should we respond? Aside from financial shocks and business fallout, we learned that not much may change during the next two years.
Alongside reassurances from universities that for EU students currently enrolled and due to begin studying here in 2016/17 fees and funding arrangements will stand, the devaluation of Sterling and its immediate effect on cost of living and foreign exchange rates might actually boost inbound international education in the short-term.
Transnational education (TNE) – delivered in a country other than where the awarding institution is based, via partnerships, franchises, branch campuses, etc – looks like a potential beacon for UK university internationalisation.
I asked Dr William Lawton, international higher education consultant, a founding director of the UK HE International Unit and former director of the OBHE, about prospects. International (non-EU) student mobility will not be directly affected by Brexit, he notes, but UK universities may again be perceived as less welcoming.
“In Scotland, EU undergraduates (except the English) currently study fee-free, so if the eventual result of Brexit meant they were liable for full international fees rather than domestic fees, a decline in arrivals there would seem likely.”
If Brexit impeded recruitment of both EU and international students to the UK, TNE via partnerships would be the best prospect for the future; although “any shift from partnership TNE models to a one-way export model would be a worst-case scenario”.
“Any shift from partnership TNE models to a one-way export model would be a worst-case scenario”
A new TNE report published this week by UK International Unit programme HEGlobal provides evidence to back this view. The Scale and Scope of UK Higher Education Transnational Education shows that in two years (2012/13 to 2014/15), higher education TNE delivered by UK institutions grew by 13%. By contrast, international student recruitment into the UK grew by just 2.7%. Four in five universities surveyed intend to expand transnational education provision in the next three years.
For the UK to move forward, sector-wide cooperation is needed. On 10 June we launched the TNE-Hub, a new open community of research and practice based at Nottingham Trent University. Its organisers, Dr Vangelis Tsiligiris, Professor Nigel Healey, Nottingham Trent’s PVC International and VC Designate at Fiji National University, and William Lawton want it to share research evidence and knowledge to improve decision-making and good practice. The team encourages TNE professionals and researchers to register to join.
If students aren’t attracted to study in the UK in high numbers, TNE could become the best way to sustain, grown and improve UK universities and their reputations overseas.