Data compiled by the England’s Office for Students has revealed that one in six students who are enrolled at an English university are taught overseas.
In its latest insight brief, OfS said that in 2021/22, 455,000 students were studying at overseas campuses, doing distance learning or learning with partner organisations, up significantly from 2014/15, and over 40,000 more than 2020/21.
China has become the leading location for UK TNE – taking 61,505 students and upping its numbers by 173% since 2014/5.
Malaysia, which in 2014/15 was a powerhouse for TNE, has seen numbers drop from 54,935 then to just 42,855 (both figures exclude dormant students) in 2021/22.
Sri Lanka has sped up the ranks to become the third country on the list, with just under 34,000 students at its overseas campuses compared to just 9,000 in 2014/15.
However, it isn’t just China and Sri Lanka with growing TNE populations. As of 2021/22, a fifth of TNE students are now in Europe, as Germany and Greece have crept up the rankings with 12,100 and 18,185 students respectively including dormant students.
In Africa and the Middle East, Egypt and Saudi Arabia’s numbers have “doubled” from 2014/15 to 2021/22 – Egypt now has 22,245, and Saudi Arabia has 16,255.
Such encouraging numbers have encouraged the OfS, as its director of quality called the information a “testament to the prestige of the UK sector on the world stage”.
“As transnational education continues to grow, an increasing number of universities and colleges are seeing it as a component of their plans to diversify and grow their income,” said Jean Arnold.
“Our regulatory remit is not limited to students located in England. It is important that students studying outside the UK are confident that their course is of the same high quality as would be the case if they were studying in England,” she continued.
Segmenting the numbers, the OfS said that 27% were being taught by overseas partner organisations. Another 25% were taught by “distance flexible or distributed learning”, and 6% were at English universities’ overseas branch campuses.
“Our regulatory remit is not limited to students located in England”
Some 42% were “covered by other arrangements”, the briefing said.
In terms of income, it was also included in the insight brief that in 2020, the government said TNE contributed £2.3bn as part of the UK’s total education exports revenue of £25.6bn.
However, Arnold also mentioned that provisions should be put in place for better oversight of TNE.
“We are working with sector representative bodies and international regulators to improve understanding of how we regulate transnational education. This helps improve our understanding of TNE activity and its regional and global contexts.
“It also informs our approach to monitoring and intervention for the particular challenges that may arise for courses delivered overseas.
“Transnational education is a vital and thriving part of our higher education sector. By underlining that it is robustly regulated to ensure quality we intend to maintain and enhance the reputation of English higher education at home and across the world,” Arnold stressed.
Despite the encouraging figures for English TNE, the Office for Students published its annual report on financial sustainability on May 18 – which emphasised a risk on “over-reliance on international recruitment”.
“For a small number of institutions the financial picture is of particular concern and we will continue to focus our attention on those cases,” OfS chief executive Susan Lapworth said.
“Universities must know what they would do if international recruitment fails to meet expectations. We have written to a number of institutions today (May 18) to ensure they are alert to this risk, and have credible contingency plans in place to protect them from the consequences of a sudden reduction in their income,” she explained.
Such eventualities may need to be considered, in light of the government’s decision on May 23 to ban UK postgraduate taught students from bringing dependants – which some are predicting may drive numbers down significantly.
A growth figure of 25% compared with 2020/21 showed that 2021/22 fee income from non-EU tuition was £7.8bn – “consistent” with steady growth of overseas fees.
Despite the risks that seem to befall some institutions from this over-reliance, OfS did point out that income and expenditure surplus had markedly improved – with expectations that financial performance for many institutions will “improve in the medium and long term”.
So much so, up from £40bn in 2020/21, OfS predicted growth in income to hit £50bn by 2025/26.