TNE must deliver portable qualifications that will be recognised internationally

“At times, regulations developed to safeguard students and societies… can hinder the achievement of the very benefits associated with TNE”

Cross-border cooperation and coordination are needed to reap the full benefits of transnational education, writes Fabrizio Trifiro. Fabrizio is the recently-appointed Head of Quality Benchmark Services at UK NARIC and was formerly at the UK QAA where he led on the quality assurance of TNE.

From my experience in the external quality assurance of UK TNE over a number of years, I appreciate the key challenges and opportunities facing TNE providers, students, and sending and receiving countries’ authorities; and also some of the priorities to focus on, to fully achieve the benefits that can come from TNE.

The challenges of TNE are several, but it is with a firm sight to its potential benefits that they need to be looked at. TNE is a way to make available education programmes to people who would not otherwise be able to access them because they are unwilling or unable to move internationally, be it for financial, family, work, or visa-related reasons.

TNE has, therefore, the inherently progressive potential to widen international access to quality and relevant education, in particular in locations where there is unmet demand, contributing to the development of skills needed to support social and economic development.

Education providers themselves can benefit significantly from engaging in TNE provision, not only financially (an often over-estimated benefit and motivation), but also by gaining insights into different cultures, societies and education systems, being exposed to different approaches to common issues, expanding their knowledge base and international networks, and ultimately diversifying and enhancing their academic offer and their capacity to develop innovative solutions to today’s global world.It is about serving the core mission of education providers – that of educating people for the benefit of their communities – in a context of globalisation.

Delivering education programmes at considerable geographical and often cultural distance poses obvious challenges. How can education providers satisfy themselves about the standards of their education programmes and the quality of the student experience when they deliver those programmes in different and distant locations, and through different and often complex delivery arrangements? And how can they do so while also complying with the expectations and needs of the host locations of delivery, which might have very different strategic priorities for their societies, their economies, and their education systems?

“It is about working together to develop a shared understanding about the expectations that should underpin quality cross-border provision”

Different requirements from the sending and receiving countries are to be expected and indeed welcomed, as it is important to reassure stakeholders in the host country about the quality and relevance of education being offered by providers originally based in a different location.

However, I have been able to witness how at times regulations developed to safeguard students and societies from the risks of substandard education, can hinder innovation and the achievement of the very benefits associated with TNE – for example, by restraining the types of programmes, or types of modality of TNE that can be delivered. This often has negative implications for the capacity of TNE provision to address local skills needs through innovative provision, and also for the recognition of TNE qualifications for further study or employment.

This is where the importance of cross-border cooperation between regulatory bodies, qualifications recognition agencies, education providers, and other key stakeholders comes in. It is about working together to develop a shared understanding about the expectations that should underpin quality cross-border provision, improve understanding and build trust in each other’s education systems, and ultimately facilitate the development of education provision capable of meeting the needs of our increasingly interconnected communities and ensuring qualification holders can be truly mobile.

The UK NARIC is the UK agency that can play this all-important role of ensuring that TNE, and internationalisation more generally, remains focused on the delivery of education leading to qualifications that will be fully recognised internationally for their relevance and quality.

The recently signed Global Convention on the Recognition of Higher Education Qualifications clearly indicates that this is a high priority for the entire international higher education community.

I am therefore excited to have recently joined UK NARIC at this critical time to continue to work together with international recognition and accreditation bodies, ministries, providers and employers to develop initiatives that can safeguard standards and secure the relevance of education delivered internationally – while also supporting the global recognition and portability of TNE qualifications.

About the author: Fabrizio Trifiro is the Head of Quality Benchmark Services at UK NARIC.