Australian unis warn of transnational education pitfalls

Institutions, each making waves in transnational education, but at varying levels of maturity, came together to discuss the role it plays in their international strategies.

Readiness and alignment with partners were among the priorities shared during the panel at IEAA’s Transnational Education Forum 2023, along with not biting off more than one can chew.

Failures happen when there is “too much focus on making a quick buck”, said Saskia Loer Hansen deputy vice-chancellor, international and engagement and vice-president, RMIT University.

She warned stakeholders of what she saw during her time spent working in the UK, as a result of the sector being under “phenomenal” financial pressure and with a desire to offset loss of revenue.

“That is not a recipe for success. These things take time and it puts an awful lot of pressure on partners if you expect there to be an immediate return,” she said.

Loer Hansen considers RMIT a pioneering university in the TNE space, having worked for 36 years in Singapore with the same partner, with other operations in locations such as Vietnam where they have operated for 23 years.

Of 90,000 RMIT students, 21,000 are offshore, said Hansen. Some 14,000 are based in Vietnam and the rest are distributed across other partnerships.

It puts an awful lot of pressure on partners if you expect there to be an immediate return

“A lesson learned is around understanding that it takes hard work, a lot of senior support, great people on the ground and that time an effort is required to see successful outcomes.”

However, that support and level of resourcing may be lacking, a recent survey suggested.

In a global survey of international education leaders, conducted by Nous Group and Navitas, almost 100% of respondents agreed that internationalisation is of high priority.

However, 10% disagreed that they have senior levels of support and 40% disagreed that they have adequate resourcing to deliver on their internationalisation agenda.

Jon Chew, global head of insights and analytics at Navitas, said that although the survey highlighted gaps in internationalisation agendas more generally, he believes if asked only about TNE, results would show an even bigger gap.

Within transnational education operations, launching a campus is often the hardest, and highest-risk option with the biggest investment, said Andrew MacIntyre, president of Monash University in Indonesia.

“But at least as we read things, also the highest pay off,” he said, adding that such campuses have been central to the the university’s long-established TNE offering.

“We want our TNE educational operations to be self-sustaining and making a good contribution to the university but always at full consideration is how that will play for the university’s research interests.”

Among recent strategic targets set by universities is the goal at University of Queensland of having 15% of its students studying offshore by 2032.

Brett Lovegrove, UQ’s pro vice-chancellor of global partnerships said that he hopes to see both modes of entry utilised – branch campus and partnerships, although the details will depend on a number of undecided factors such as location, features of each market, regulations and availability of well-trained staff in-country.

At the moment, the university’s TNE efforts are primarily based on research – including join PhD arrangements with universities such as Exeter and the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi.

Meanwhile, Melbourne Polytechnic is known for its independent, legal entity campus in Fuzhou, China where more than 3,000 students are enrolled at that campus in Australian diplomas and associate degrees. Timothy Gilbert, the university’s vice president of international development, said the institution is “very keen” to look at locations such as Vietnam.

He highlighted the “political risks and political opportunities” that can arise within TNE operations, even at the risk of putting entire projects on hold.

He also called attention to the importance of learning from mistakes and failures, giving the example of when visa issues complicated the university’s efforts to run civil engineering programs in Bangladesh, which would have given students the opportunity to finish their studies onshore.

“That killed the partnership there and then,” said Gilbert.

Gilbert has worked to move away from the idea that internationalisation is “all about the money”. Instead, he is focusing on ensuring an “excellent student experience” for all international and transnational students, which he said is very closely aligned with the aims of the Victoria government’s international education recovery plan.


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