Global recognition of TNE qualifications needed to combat “mistrust and resistance”

“Covid-19 is a sad reminder that global challenges need global solutions, and global cooperation” 

In order to underpin the growth of quality and needed transnational education, it is important to build trust across borders, and work together with the international community to develop shared solutions that meet the quality assurance needs of different stakeholders, writes Fabrizio Trifirò, head of quality benchmark services at UK NARIC.

Covid-19 is a sad reminder that global challenges need global solutions, and global cooperation. The internationalisation of education has been raising challenges that require the international education community to come together to explore and develop shared solutions. This need has only been strengthen by the current world health crisis.

UK NARIC, as part of its mission to support quality internationalisation and the global mobility of students, works to facilitate the recognition of international qualifications of demonstrated quality and standards.

To this aim it has developed an international service which aims to catalyse international cooperation between key stakeholders to improve the global recognition ecosystem for a type of qualification that has traditionally encountered international mistrust and resistance: transnational education (TNE) qualifications.

TNE has been growing steadily over the past 20 years or so, and we can expect it to continue to grow even more post-Covid in terms of quantity of students and providers involved, geographical spread, modes of deliveries, and sending and receiving locations.

TNE can be expected to be recognised as a more flexible, inclusive, and sustainable form of international education capable to mitigate the risks of limits to international travel.

At the same time there has traditionally been a widespread lack of trust towards TNE qualifications or specific types of TNE provision, such as collaborative partnerships and online learning, with consequent lack of recognition for resulting qualifications.

This is due in part to a lack of understanding of the increasingly complex TNE landscape, as well as by a lack of reassurance, a lack of external, independent, internationally understood reassurance about the quality and standards of TNE provision.

Only few host locations have developed robust systems to monitor and regulate in-bound TNE. And possibly even fewer sending locations have developed systems which can be regarded as meeting the reassurance needs of host countries with regards to inbound TNE.

UK NARIC’s new service, the TNE Quality Benchmark (TNE QB), aims to contribute to addressing this predicament which is impairing the development of innovative, inclusive, sustainable and flexible paths to learning.

The TNE QB aims to achieve this through an independent international peer-review service aimed at benchmarking TNE operations, regardless of their location of origin or delivery, against a set of international standards aligned with existing international reference points.

As an international service aimed at offering solutions to support the international education community the TNE QB scheme is underpinned by international cooperation with key stakeholders, such as international regulators and credential evaluators, and their networks.

It is about going beyond national solutions for national needs, and fosters international dialogue and cooperation to reach shared solutions to the global accountability challenges posed by the growing TNE landscape.

In this spirit UK NARIC has recently signed three strategic Memoranda of Understanding with the Arab Network for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ANQAHE), the Asia-Pacific Quality Network (APQN) and the China Education Association for International Exchange (CEAIE).

These agreements aim to provide cooperative platforms to support the growth of quality transnational education (TNE) in the Arab region, the Asia-Pacific region, and China. This will include where possible cooperation in the implementation of the TNE QB scheme, such as through observing TNE QB reviews, sharing expert reviewers, or undertaking joint-review activity.

These agreements are about developing a shared cross-border understanding of today’s challenges and explore shared solutions with a focus on TNE provision, improving the global portability of TNE qualifications, and, importantly, developing more effective and efficient international systems to quality assure and recognise TNE provision capable to address existing regulatory gaps and regular overlaps across borders.

The complexity of the TNE landscape and challenges and opportunities related to TNE will be explored further in a forthcoming series of articles hosted by The PIE entitled ‘All you wanted to know about TNE but were afraid to ask’, co-authored with David Pilsbury of Coventry University, and Hilary Vence and Jenny Lee of University of Arizona.

About the author: Fabrizio Trifirò is the head of quality benchmark services at UK NARIC.