A new tool to improve international recognition of TNE qualifications

“UK NARIC has been working to develop an enhanced service aimed at improving international understanding and confidence in TNE qualifications”


The TNE Quality Benchmark scheme will be an important tool to inform UK NARIC international engagement aimed at improving the recognition climate for TNE qualifications of demonstrated standards, quality and relevance, writes Dr. Fabrizio Trifiro. Fabrizio Trifiro is head of Quality Benchmark Services at UK NARIC.

As education systems and institutions worldwide are trying to adjust and respond to the restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, transnational education (TNE), and in particular online modes of delivery, can become an increasingly important way to sustain international activity and growth going forward.

Students might not be allowed to return to their university’s campus, and many international students might not be able to travel or might not want to take the risk to travel until the likelihood of further peaks of Covid-19 and further lockdown measures have receded.

Education institutions are preparing themselves for different scenarios, including protracted distance learning delivery, and growing their in-country (TNE) offer. International students themselves might prefer continuing or starting their studies through available TNE provision in their country.

The economic impact on many families might also make TNE a preferable alternative for obtaining an international education to living and studying abroad, at least in the medium term.

These factors add to the attractiveness of TNE as a mode of study which has the inherently progressive potential to widen international access to quality and relevant education (in particular in locations where there is unmet demand) as well as to help education providers fulfilling their core mission (that of educating and training people for the benefit of their/our communities) in a context of globalisation.

However, there are still several challenges and hurdles to the expansion of TNE as an acceptable mode of earning a qualification. In many countries and locations, TNE qualifications, or certain types of TNE qualifications – such as those gained through online learning or collaborative partnerships with partners without local degree-awarding power – are either not accepted or not recognised as entitling graduates entry into public sector employment or further study.

The main rationale is generally lack of trust towards the standards, quality and relevance of TNE qualifications, which is often due to lack of satisfactory external, independent and credible oversight.

“In many countries and locations, TNE qualifications …are either not accepted or not recognised as entitling graduates entry into public sector employment or further study”

UK NARIC’s core mission is to work internationally with all stakeholders – providers, students, government, regulators, quality assurance bodies, credential evaluators, professional bodies, and employers – to improve the understanding and acceptance of international qualifications.

Over the last year – before Covid-19 has brought online learning, and TNE more generally, firmly to the forefront – UK NARIC has been working to develop an enhanced service specifically aimed at improving international understanding and confidence in TNE qualifications.

The ultimate view is that to facilitate the recognition of TNE qualifications of demonstrated standards, quality, and relevance, and thus contribute to tapping into the progressive potential of TNE.  I am therefore pleased to share widely with the international education community that this new service is now available.

Specifically, the TNE Quality Benchmark scheme (TNE QB) will provide external and independent reassurance that an awarding institution’s TNE operation (e.g. a specific collaborative partnership, a branch campus, or a mode of distance delivery) has the capacity to deliver TNE qualifications that:

  • are of comparable standards to those of similar provision it offers in its home country (or across its delivery model for online learning);
  • provide a learning experience that is sufficient to enable students to achieve the expected learning outcomes;
  • and, where applicable, take account of the education, training and skills needs of the location of delivery (this would not normally apply to distance learning provision not aimed at a specific location).

This reassurance will be informed by peer-review assessment of a TNE operation against TNE benchmarks which have been developed in close alignment with key existing international guidelines and reference points, including the UNESCO / OECD Guidelines for Quality Provision in Cross-Border Higher Education, the INQAAHE Guidelines of Good Practice in Quality Assurance, and the UNESCO Global Convention on the Recognition of Higher Education Qualifications.

The TNE QB will be an important tool to inform UK NARIC’s broader strategic engagement aimed at building constructive cross-border cooperation with key TNE stakeholders to develop a shared understanding about the nature of different types of TNE qualifications and the underlying preconditions for their recognition.

We are therefore looking forward at UK NARIC to start engaging and cooperating across borders in the implementation of the TNE QB to the benefit of international education and our globally interconnected communities. More information on the scheme can be obtained here.

In coincidence with the launch of the TNE benchmark scheme, UK NARIC has also made available new resources to assist providers navigating the changing and uncertain global education environment as they come to terms with the Covid-19 crisis. These include a new Guide to Recognition Issues in International Distance Learning outlining national approaches to the recognition of international distance learning, with a focus on China, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Singapore and Sri Lanka.

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