Clear evidence is emerging that UK universities are succeeding in increasing their engagement with countries in the European Union in preparation for Brexit.


A recent report The scale of UK HE TNE 2017-18 from Universities UK International (UUKi) shows that efforts by a number of British higher education institutions to rebalance their transnational education, or TNE, activities towards Europe are starting to reap rewards.

The analysis by Dan Wake, policy analyst at Universities UK and Eduardo Ramos, head of TNE, at UUKi, shows the strongest growth for British transnational education is within the European Union, with the number of EU students increasing by 11.1% between 2016-17 and 2017-18.

That’s an increase of 4,885, to 49,010 students and means the EU is now the third biggest region overall for UK TNE after Asia and Africa.

TNE covers everything from overseas standalone or joint campuses to dual degrees and franchised provision, to programmes delivered online and the validation of courses where teaching is delivered in-country for a university from another country.

Renewed engagement with Europe

International higher education consultant Dr Vicky Lewis is an expert in TNE developments and says: “The rising number of transnational education students recorded in EU countries reflects renewed engagement by British universities anxious to maintain a foothold in the EU post-Brexit.

Independent education consultant Vicky Lewis

“Some are strengthening existing partnerships and networks and some, like Lancaster University’s campus in Leipzig in Germany are doing so through a physical campus presence.

“If there is one silver lining to Brexit, it is that it has stopped UK universities taking their European relationships for granted.”

Greece has long been the biggest European country for UK TNE, with student numbers rising 41% between 2013-14 and 2017-18.

Growing in Cyprus

But the fastest growing EU market is Cyprus, where numbers rose from 4,605 in 2016-17 to 7,260 in 2017-18. Germany and Ireland have also seen numbers rise sharply in recent years.

Some experts believe central and eastern European countries offer the biggest potential for growing British transnational education after the UK leaves the European Union.

Janet Ilieva, founder of Education Insight

Among them is Dr Janet Ilieva, founder and director of Education Insight, a research company specializing in international higher education.

She says: “I believe the higher education environment in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Croatia and Polandis conducive to TNE expansion.

“And while it is early to gauge the UK’s future relationship with the EU,any changes in the fee status of the EU students, post-Brexit – and their access to financial support – would have a huge impact among those students considering coming to the UK to study. This will be especially true in countries with comparatively lower incomes. TNE offers the means to cushion these effects.”

Dr Vangelis Tsiligiris, founder of the TNE Hub and principal lecturer at Nottingham Trent University, said the latest report from Universities UK International showed that UK TNE was falling overall, but growing rapidly in EU countries since the referendum.

Vangelis Tsiligiris, founder of the TNE-Hub

Positive from Brexit

He says this confirms other data and adds: “One of the positives of Brexit has been a shift of focus, from South East Asia to Europe and growing interest by UK higher education institutions to establish an EU base for their teaching and research.

“Several are looking at TNE in the context of their internationalisation strategy to enrich the experience of their home campus students through dual or joint degrees and mutual student exchanges.”

The UUKi report The scale of UK HE TNE 2017-18 showed 693,695 TNE students enrolled with 139 British higher education providers in 225 countries and territories around the world. This is a drop of 2%, or 14,220 students, on the previous year.  However, the total is largely influenced by declines in numbers studying with several of the biggest providers of distance, flexible and blended TNE – Oxford Brookes University, the Open University and University of London – where small changes can distort the overall picture.

If these three ‘big beasts’ of TNE – which account for over half of UK transnational education – are excluded, the offshore student records, known as the AOR from the UK’s Higher Education Statistics Agency HESA, paint a more promising picture. Compared with 2016-17, numbers are up 2%, or 6,360 students, at these other TNE providers.

  • This blog is an adapted and edited version of a feature which appeared in University World News on 23 November, 2019, under the title ‘British TNE up in EU – but down in older markets. 

* Main photo from University of Liverpool