Many English universities are becoming increasingly reliant on recruiting international students through transnational education, or TNE, programmes delivered overseas by UK higher education providers, according to a new report from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, or HEFCE.

The report says around over a third (16,500 entrants) of all international first-degree entrants in England transferred directly from UK transnational programmes delivered overseas in 2012-13.

Two countries fuel growth

Most of this growth is being fuelled by students from China and Malaysia – with more than half of all first degree students from both countries starting their first degrees directly from UK higher education delivered outside England. Most Chinese students want UK-based courses of between two and three years while a majority of students from Malaysia are looking for courses lasting one year or less.

The new HEFCE report called Directions of travel: Transnational pathways into English higher education highlights great variability across the sector in the proportion of transnational students being enrolled on undergraduate programmes as a percentage of total international enrolments.

More TNE students at low tariff universities

The strongest reliance on recruiting international students via the TNE route is at English higher education institutions with low average UCAS tariff scores. Many of these have seen a fall in direct international recruitment in recent years.

Janet Ilieva from HEFCE

Janet Ilieva from HEFCE

‘Universities with high average UCAS tariff scores had a lower proportion of transnational students: 16 per cent (3,200 entrants) in 2012-13, compared with 55 per cent (5,900 entrants) for HEIs with low-average tariff scores,’ says the report.

Janet Ilieva, HEFCE’s head of economic and qualitative analysis, and one of the report’s authors, said: “The significant increase in the proportion of transnational entrants to low-average-tariff HEIs, from 48 per cent in 2009-10 to 55 per cent in 2012-13, can be attributed in a large part to a decline in international students starting first degree programmes through other pathways.”

Among those universities experiencing a drop in their overall international entrants to first degree programmes, 22 per cent of the decline can be attributed to a few HEIs which were unable, in some cases temporarily, to sponsor new international students through a tightening up of the rules for international students coming to study in the UK.

Important for postgraduate programmes

The HEFCE report highlights the growing importance of transnational pathways to first-degree courses for subsequent postgraduate enrolments.

About a third of all transnational students who started first-degree programmes through transnational programmes continued their studies at postgraduate level in the UK.

Transnational education worth £496 million

The HEFCE report came out the same week as the the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said the annual value of transnational education programmes to UK universities was around £496 million.

The estimate, which is contained in research published on 27 November by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, is significantly higher than those given in previous assessments and represents 11 per cent of UK higher education institutions’ total international fee income.

* This is an abridged version of my University World News feature about the new HEFCE study published on November 28 under the headline Transnational recruitment vital for many universities.

The full HEFCE report on TNE recruitment can be found in full, via