How is international learning shifting?

“For international education to move effectively to a blended model involving both online and physical campuses, it is not just teaching approaches that need to be considered”

Digital advancements have given universities an innovative way of offering international learning to students who may not be in the position to move abroad. Whether it is due to family commitments or financial reasons, students can gain an internationally recognised degree regardless of their ability to travel.

With Arden University partnering with its first international partner, Roots Ivy International College, to offer students in Pakistan the ability to gain a UK degree earlier this year, Debra Hinds, associate pro-vice-chancellor of Partnerships at Arden University writes about how international learning is shifting, the opportunities at hand and how universities can aim to give a better learning experience for international students.

The shift towards universities embracing tech in their international offering

UK higher education has always been in demand. Its academic and professional relevance is recognised worldwide. Not all students can travel to access this, and partnering with high-quality local universities, schools and colleges has been used to make this accessible and affordable and has enabled a widening of opportunities on a global scale.

Since the widespread spike in online teaching and learning in 2020, the wider use and familiarity of digital advancements, and recognition of quality assured online teaching and learning, we have seen a positive shift and an increase in choice for international students.

Most students that are now seeking university courses are indigenous to digital technology. Go to remote regions of the world and you will find mobile phones, data-enabled devices and the younger generation fixed to these accessing information worldwide.

The transition into implementing more digital technology in education, therefore, should have been a relatively obvious decision for universities to make, especially if the current student is digitally tuned.

Previously, higher education institutions have resisted the advancements that technology preferring traditional teaching and learning methods. When restrictions were applied throughout the world due to the pandemic, and students and fly-in faculty could no longer travel, many students missed out on in-person teaching and the opportunity to travel to gain international qualifications. Universities faced losing revenue that was generated by incoming international students and were forced to change.

They had to adapt quickly to transferring their teaching online and many universities did not have the processes, trained staff and platforms in place to give the student a good online learning experience.

How blended learning works as a solution

Blended learning, a combination of online and classroom-based interventions to instigate and support learning, allows universities to take advantage of digital technology and explore new, innovative methods to deliver their on-campus programs in a more flexible, effective and efficient way.

Despite being on the other side of the globe, students on international blended-learning degrees have access to the same high-quality educational experience students in the respective country does. They have access to industry-led resources and insights, while also opening doors to a professional career inside and outside their current jurisdiction.

For international education to move effectively to a blended model involving both online and physical campuses, it is not just teaching approaches that need to be considered.

The shift towards digital learning has played to universities’ strengths as an increasing number of students internationally seek UK or other international education at home through local institutions, which also have a sound online teaching and learning offering when travel into schools is not possible.

The need to develop partnerships between institutions in different countries, to share content and resources will always remain, but universities will need different approaches and models to reach international students, especially those that do not come from advantageous backgrounds and cannot afford to move countries

How to make sure international blended learning works for students

An international partnership needs to be well thought out and tailored to students with a variety of requirements and needs.

One of the key elements of successful internationalisation is ensuring that students across the globe get the same, high-quality experience that they could expect when studying at the university’s main campus.

Both partners must be well matched and aligned in terms of quality assurance, vision and mission. They must be on the same page and seek to achieve the same goal: a good student experience with students being awarded a qualification to reflect their increased knowledge, skills and employability. This is similar to the way that the Starbucks experience is recognisable whether you buy your latte from a branch in London or in Vietnam – it’s simply tailored for the local audience.

The power of a UK degree in the international jobs market is very real, but so is having the skills to make an impact in the workplace. Universities must consider initiatives to support this. At Arden, for example, we’ve created an English Language Hub that can support students in gaining the language skills they need to not only complete their course, but to thrive after it in the international jobs market.

About the author: Debra Hinds is associate pro-vice-chancellor of Partnerships at Arden University where she works on the expansion and development of the university’s academic partnerships portfolio and international offering. Debra has a legal practice background and extensive experience in the commercial academic partnerships arena gained in prior positions at two other leading UK higher education institutions.