Cross-border cooperation is key to improving TNE recognition

“Adopt a strategic approach and long-term commitment to partnership building”

The UK regulatory and quality assurance landscape for transnational education has undergone significant change since 2018, when the contract that the then-Higher Education Funding Council for England had with QAA for conducting in-country TNE reviews ended.

In England, the statutory responsibility for safeguarding the quality and standards of English TNE rests with the Office for Students, which is currently looking into developing better data on TNE to inform its metrics-based approach to quality assessment.

A challenge so far has been a lack of data comparable to UK-based students about graduate outcomes for TNE students that is comparable to data collected for UK-based students. Fabrizio Trifirò of Ecctis (the operators of UK ENIC, formerly UK NARIC) explains.

I remember earlier conversations about the need to put together a working group of experts from across the sector to chart possible ways to provide continued external reassurance about the quality of UK TNE.

This group was put together became the UUKi/GuildHE TNE working group on future approaches to the quality assurance of UK TNE, which led to consultation on the proposal for a QAA TNE Quality Enhancement scheme.

Even if exclusively of an enhancement and voluntary nature, without a statutory function, the newly launched QAA scheme sends a signal that the UK sector takes the continuous improvement of its TNE operations seriously.

Any sector body’s contribution to underpin continued international trust in TNE qualifications is important and welcomed.

To address the specific challenges posed by lack of international understanding of and confidence in TNE qualifications, Ecctis last year developed the only existing international peer-review scheme aimed at providing reassurance about the quality and standards of TNE provision, regardless of country of origin or delivery. The aim is to facilitate qualification recognition and the international portability of TNE qualifications.

The key to achieving this is the provision of independent and regular reassurance that individual TNE operations are well managed, to guarantee comparability of standards, a quality student experience, and provision which meets local needs.

The TNE Quality Benchmark scheme was developed by Ecctis precisely to provide such reassurance, with a link to qualification recognition.

We did this by working together with international stakeholders, experts and with input from an international Advisory Board composed of leading experts and practitioners in TNE and its quality assurance.

The Advisory Board is also key to guaranteeing the independence and robustness of the TNE Quality Benchmark scheme and its review outcomes, as it provides an additional layer of truly independent peer review. Recognition is supported by trust, and trust is built on independent and expert judgement.

Trust is also built through the realisation that we share common ground with others.

Contributing to formulating shared views about the quality assurance requirements for the recognition of TNE qualifications is therefore an important way to enhance cross-border cooperation and support the global portability of TNE qualifications of demonstrated quality and standards.

The TNE Quality Benchmark scheme can play an important role in this context through the development of international standards for TNE which draw from existing internationally accepted reference points.

Not only that, but the TNE Quality Benchmark, as previously covered, is intended as a platform for cross-border cooperation between TNE sending and receiving countries’ stakeholders.

Indeed a key message of a study I undertook for INQAAHE (International Network of Quality Assurance Agencies for Higher Education), and published in Quality in Higher Education, highlighted the importance of fostering cross-border cooperation across the quality assurance and qualification recognition communities.

The study concluded with two key strategic recommendations to quality assurance agencies to help them in their efforts to cooperate across borders, which are still of relevance, and that are applicable to qualification recognition bodies as well.

1) Adopt a strategic approach and long-term commitment to partnership building, exploring a number of activities to progressively build reciprocal trust including:

  • Regularly updating each other of developments in the respective national contexts
  • Sharing information, data, and intelligence about cross-border providers
  • Benchmarking reference points and processes
  • Hosting each other’s staff and observing each other’s review processes
  • Exploring further cooperation in quality assurance activities.

2) Engage with all other key stakeholders in TNE provision, recognising that quality assurance agencies do not operate in isolation, but within broader regulatory systems involving a variety of stakeholders, including credential evaluators, regulators and other sector bodies.

It is crucial for quality assurance agencies to engage with these stakeholders in order to be able to develop more efficient and effective ways to quality assure TNE and support the international recognition of TNE qualifications.

At Ecctis we look forward to continuing to work constructively across the quality assurance and qualification recognition communities in both sending and receiving countries of TNE, as part of our effort to develop a shared understanding of the quality assurance requirements underpinning the recognition and portability of TNE qualifications, and thus play our part in advancing the implementation of the UNESCO Global Recognition Convention.


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