Offshore partnerships help drive international student enrolments in the UK

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The FINANCIAL — UK universities’ offshore delivery and partnerships played a significant role in bringing international undergraduate students onshore before the pandemic, says new research.

Nearly 17 per cent of all non-UK first degree entrants from abroad in 2018/19 came through UK university programmes delivered abroad, and credit recognition agreements, according to new research by the British Council and Universities UK International (UUKi).

Student mobility to UK campuses is often a key part of the rationale for building university academic partnerships and programmes abroad, but the actual payoffs are often poorly understood due to a lack of data.

The new British Council – UUKi report, Transnational Routes To Onshore UK Higher Education, confirms that these kinds of offshore programmes helped bring around 17,000 new international students to the UK each year for the past four years.

Available data, however, precedes Covid-19 and does not reflect the disruptions to mobility caused by the pandemic. 

Anecdotal evidence collected in interviews suggests that mobility through these pathways may drop sharply in the 2020/21 academic year, especially among students from China where transnational education courses typically give students the option to either go abroad for the final part of the course or complete their degree in China.

Over the longer-term, the aftermath of the pandemic may push universities to increase their offshore activity. Indeed, some universities reported increased interest in transnational education from students who would otherwise have gone overseas for their whole degree course.

Matt Durnin, British Council report author said: “As disruptions to student mobility persist, we will likely see greater demand for UK programmes delivered offshore.  At the same time, the pandemic will force universities to turn a more critical eye towards the financial sustainability of their global activities.  All we can say for sure now is that overseas partnerships will continue to be important after the pandemic, and yet they will also likely look somewhat different than they did before.”

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The data also shows that student mobility through partnerships varies widely by region, with China and Malaysia accounting for the largest numbers: more than a third of Chinese entrants to UK first degree programmes and 40 per cent of Malaysians come through these pathways.

In contrast, partnerships have so far played a much smaller role in mobility from EU countries, with only around 10 per cent of new undergraduates entering the UK through these pathways. This may present an area for future growth as universities rethink their strategies on the continent after Brexit.

Eduardo Ramos, Head of TNE at Universities UK International, a key contributor to the report, said: “The report shows the diversity of ways through which UK universities recruit international students. Transnational routes to onshore recruitment have the benefits of offering greater flexibility, the ability to earn both UK and local qualifications, and the chance for those who could not afford to study an entire overseas degree to experience university education in the UK. We may see expansion of this type of route in countries where these benefits become more relevant.”

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