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British Council calls for end to TNE terminology "chaos and confusion"

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The huge expansion of transnational education (TNE) has created many fresh opportunities but has brought with it a  “terminology chaos” that is creating  “mass confusion and misunderstanding”, said the British Council as it published a new framework to define and standardise the terms used for different models of international education.

Its report proposes a Common TNE classification framework plus data collection guidelines that were drawn up with DAAD, the German Academic Exchange Service and with input from nearly 100 senior policy makers, institutions and organisations from 30 countries.

Launched in London at the British Council's Going Global conference, the framework introduces a new term – international programme and provider mobility (IPPM) – to better describe the provision of educational programmes between countries as opposed to the more traditional movement of individual “international” students.

Lack of clarity about the terminology used makes it hard to classify the different forms that IPPM can take and is hampering the collection of reliable data by which to judge the scale, quality and impact of the different forms it can take, says the report Transnational Education: A classification framework and data collection guidelines for international programme and provider mobility.

“As international academic mobility increases in scope, scale and importance, so does the confusion about what the terms cross-border, transnational, borderless and offshore education actually mean,” it says.

Despite the importance of TNE for large sending countries such as the UK and Australia, there tends to be far fewer national policies for TNE than there are for international student mobility.  A review of 26 countries found 89 per cent had strong policies of student mobility but only 66 per cent of the same countries had strong TNE international programme and provider mobility.

"Mass confusion"

Over 40 different terms are being used to describe international programme and provider mobility,” the report adds.  “Furthermore, the same terms are used to denote very different modes of IPPM while different terms are being used to describe the same mode of IPPM. In short there is mass confusion about what is meant by an international branch campus, franchise programmes, joint/double degree programmes, distance education and joint universities,”

In spite of the fact that TNE is increasing in scope and scale, there is a significant lack of reliable information regarding the nature and extent of TNE provision in terms of enrolments and the characteristics of IPPM modes.  Comparisons of TNE provision, data, policies and research within and across countries are challenging and often inconclusive because of this inconsistent use of terms.

The report identifies two trends that make it even more important that the 120 countries identified as being involved in TNE – either as host or sending countries – use common terms.  The first is the increasing collaborative nature of TNE with host country institutions becoming more involved in awarding the qualification, either as a joint or double award. “As TNE develops, the question about who provides the academic oversight may become as important as who awards the qualification,” it says.

The second trend is “the veritable explosion” of double degrees awarded by both partner institutions that can result in double counting of students. “Double degrees have an obvious appeal for students and institutions, with the former getting two qualifications instead of one and the latter credited with producing more graduates,” says the report.  “Many double degrees are earned on the basis of genuine academic collaboration between partner HEIs, where the student has undertaken additional modules of study.  However, there are undoubtedly cases of double degrees being marketed as “two for one” offers by HEIs and this poses serious reputational risks for TNE,” it says.

The British Council says its report is an international document suggesting classifications and data collection guidelines while leaving scope for individual countries to tailor it to their circumstances:  “It will hopefully become an agent of change and a tool for effective policy development in many countries.”