Transnational education involves the movement of students and educational institutions across national boundaries, particularly setting up branch campuses or accreditation arrangements. It’s a significant part of the evolving environment for higher education, as universities compete for students, research money, and prestige, while states seek to position themselves to compete better in a global economy. Transnational education may also be shaping the production and transmission of knowledge. This book is already 7 years old, and there is a large body of literature citing it (see examples listed below). But it is still relevant for the broad themes identified, and its authors’ predictions seem to be borne out by developments that are clearly visible now.
The authors are Australian researchers in education with backgrounds in sociology and academic administration, including work in Europe and South East Asia. They are interested in both the commercial and educational impact of offshore education. They have watched the changes of the 1990s in Southeast Asia in particular and don't present the same forecast of unrelenting growth in transnational and offshore education that were common when the book was being written in the early 2000’s.
The book stands back from the details and presents broad and helpful descriptions of how western universities have penetrated emerging markets, the costs and benefits of investing in off-shore campuses, and the cultural politics of education (avoiding accusations of cultural imperialism). The second part of the book considers the response to offshore education, including regulation of foreign providers, quality assurance, and trade agreements.
The authors identify four main themes in the development of transnational education. First, government policies are increasingly important in managing the supply of higher education by regulating foreign institutions; second, quality assurance regimes are increasingly used to regulate market access; third, prestige is more important than income-generation as a determinant of institutional behavior; and finally, the physical campus is once again a key factor in the competitiveness of institutions of higher learning (Introduction).
McBurnie and Ziguras foresee a common pattern in the evolution of the higher education industry: (1) faced with a shortage of good tertiary study options, students go abroad; (2) national efforts increase capacity through public and private investment and international partnerships; (3) as local capacity grows, quality assurance measures eliminate the bottom-end foreign providers, and there is a shift to prestige partners; (4) with growing domestic quality and supply, government may develop plans to export or become a hub provider.
"If the key themes play out the way we expect, we foresee a world with less transnational education, but the available offerings will be better quality and more expensive. There will be fewer providers, more financially committed and concerned to maintain reputation through effective quality assurance ... The world will be better than now for the affluent and worse than now for the disadvantaged and marginalized…” (conclusion).
I’m interested in what this means for security education, including senior leader certification for military and police leaders. Malaysia, one of the case studies for McBurnie and Ziguras, has recently become the first country, I believe, to seek academic certification of its police leadership training from a foreign university. The trend towards higher education for officers at entry and mid-career level has at least as much to do with social prestige as with technical competence, and so the patterns of off-shore education and certification deserve some consideration.
David Last, 31 December 2013
Examples of recent work citing McBurnie and Ziguras (2007):
Altbach, P. G. (2009). One-third of the globe: The future of higher education in China and India. Prospects, 39(1), 11-31.
Altbach, P. G. (2009). The giants awake: higher education systems in China and India. Economic and Political Weekly, 39-51.
Eldridge, K., & Cranston, N. (2009). Managing transnational education: does national culture really matter?. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 31(1), 67-79.
Lane, J. E. (2011). Importing private higher education: International branch campuses. Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis: Research and Practice, 13(4), 367-381.
Smith, L. (2009). Sinking in the sand? Academic work in an offshore campus of an Australian university. Higher Education Research & Development, 28(5), 467-479.
Thiem, C. H. (2009). Thinking through education: the geographies of contemporary educational restructuring. Progress in Human Geography, 33(2), 154-173.
Wilkins, S., & Huisman, J. (2011). Student recruitment at international branch campuses: can they compete in the global market?. Journal of Studies in International Education, 15(3), 299-316.
Wilkins, S., & Huisman, J. (2012). The international branch campus as transnational strategy in higher education. Higher Education, 64(5), 627-645.
Yang, R. (2008). Transnational higher education in China: Contexts, characteristics and concerns. Australian Journal of Education, 52(3), 272-286.