23 November 2023 | EQAF Paper

Protecting the interests of students on transnational education programmes: the role of transparent quality assurance

Douglas Blackstock, Anna Gover

Transnational education (TNE, also cross-border higher education) is huge business globally, and is growing.

The popularity of TNE has many dimensions: ‘receiving’ countries benefit from bringing established foreign institutions into their sector; students can study at prestigious institutions without the cost of travelling abroad; and ‘providing’ universities can extend their global reach and reputation, and yes, generate revenue.

But who guarantees the quality of the experience of students? Who checks that the education in the ‘receiving’ country is delivered to the same standard as that at the ‘home’ campus?

At the 2022 UNESCO World Higher Education Conference, calls were made for tougher regulation and standards to protect the interests of students on TNE programmes. But the sector already has tools: the OECD-UNESCO guidelines on cross-border higher education were adopted in 2005; the ESG (2015) apply to TNE; the European approach to quality assurance of joint programmes was adopted in 2015; and the QACHE toolkit was developed in 2016 through a European, Gulf and Asia-Pacific partnership. The challenge appears to be not a lack of tools but a lack of transparent implementation by most ‘sending’ countries.

The paper will explore issues around barriers to the implementation of current tools, whether new tools or regulation will tackle these issues, and make suggestions regarding the role of quality assurance agencies in protecting interests of students and the role of inter-agency cooperation in building trust in TNE. The paper will also discuss whether strengthened references to TNE (including that delivered outside the EHEA) could be considered in the revision of the ESG.

This paper was presented at EQAF and reflects the views of the named authors only.

ISSN: 1375-3797

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