The dynamics of transnational higher education in Pakistan

Internationalization in education is often referred to as TNE (Transnational Education). Very little has been written in Pakistan on this important topic that can play a vital role in meeting and creating options for learners in an increasingly competitive global marketplace, particularly in higher education. Higher education TNE is defined as an activity which involves Higher Education Institutions delivering their educational services in another country rather than the students travelling to the foreign universities to study.

It can take many shapes and modes to include, but is not limited to branch campuses, distance learning, online provision, joint and dual degree programmes etc. which we will categorize later in this article. The UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) defines TNE as all types of higher educational programmes or a set of courses of study or educational services in which learners are located in a country different from the one where the awarding institution based”.

TNE is fast growing global platform which provides internationally recognized education at the doorstep of the students.

The concept is becoming widely recognized, as new delivery models of education that can cross borders emerge, bearing, political, economic and cultural implication along its practices. The tuition fees generated from international students, either through traditional manners or transnational education practices, have become an important source to compensate for insufficient resources resulted from domestic financial cuts in the west. As a result, TNE has become not only a new form of international collaboration in education, but also a source of income for many universities around the world, especially in the western developed nations. To understand TNE thoroughly let us look at the 5 most popular modes that are widely used accross the world.

1. Branch Campus: under branch campus arrangements an educational institution of higher studies from the source country establishes a full fledge Branch Campus in the host country to deliver courses and programmes to students in their country. This arrangement allows the offering institution to conduct educational activities more effectively than any other modes. It allows appointing qualified local staff as well as academic staff from the offering country on deputation. However, programmes offered through Branch Campuses are often costly and require significant financial commitment on the offering country’s behalf.

2. Franchising or Partnership MoUs: this arrangement of TNE allows a provider in the offering country, to authorize a partner in the host country to deliver its courses and programmes.

The qualification is awarded by the source country’s institutions. All teaching, delivery of courses, management, assessment, profit sharing, awarding of qualifications are arranged in compliance with the host and source country’s regulations/ policies. Despite being cost-effective with degree of quality assurance this mode poses some financial and reputation risks due to local partners’s financial and other shortcomings.

3. Articulation/ Collaborative Agreement: Articulation agreement provides a systematic recognition by an institution from the offering country for specified courses or programs at an institution in the host country. This model of TNE allows partial credit transfers towards a programme at the offering institutions. This form of TNE is based on an institution to institution collaboration between the source country and the host country through and Articulation that allows students to take courses in the host country’s institutions and get credit transfers towards their final degree.

4. Distance Learning/ Virtual Education: The distance learning and education delivering mode offers courses and programmes via televisions, radios, computers, internet, video conferencing, skype, virtual blackboard, corresponds, or any other method within or beyond the national boundaries. Students in this delivery mode can directly enroll in source country’s institution from anywhere in the world. This mode of delivery occasionally provides arrangements of face to face intensive lectures/ workshops while other support is offered to student through regional study or support centres.

5. Dual/ Joint Degrees: Under this delivery mode, education providers from different countries work together to offer joint training programmes and the students receive qualifications from both providers, or a joint award from the collaborating partners.

The main challenge for the key host countries is to make foreign higher education locally available that too at an affordable price with national higher education systems globally competitive. Transnational Education had to follow the trend of international education where the major English speaking countries the UK, USA and Australia attract nearly half of the total foreign students. Exporting education services through all or any of the above modes of cooperation to these countries with excess demand for higher education is the most common strategy adopted.

As a result, certain regional hubs emerged where most of the TNE (foreign universities) started to concentrate these include 1) Singapore and Malaysia 2) China and Hong Kong 3) India, Bangladesh and Pakistan 4) United Arab Emirates and Qatar 5) South Africa. According to an analysis the emergence of these regional hubs is not only changing the demography of the student cohort, but also bringing impact on curriculum design related facility and infrastructure accordingly.

In addition to the rise of regional hubs the entry of countries without neither colonial nor English speaking background in the current move of TNE is not only changing the current landscape but also adding more diversity to this emerging education service sector. In the recent past a huge number of universities from Taiwan, South Korea and China for example, have presented themselves possessing the capability of offering competitive and quality offshore higher education programmes at home and abroad.

Another interesting analysis and research carried out by Rahul Choudah the Director of Research at WES (World Education Services), New York, revealed a new growing consumer class in Asia, which will expand a new segment of students who are willing to pay for global educational experience while staying in their home country or region. He termed this segment of students as “GLOCALS” global aspirations local experience. The study concluded that Glocals are characterized by aspirations that usually outstrip both their ability to afford a full fee paying overseas education and their academic merit to gain admission to an overseas institution with financial aid. A perfect example was the growth of Dubai as a study destination for many South Asian students, including Pakistan through international branch campuses showing the growth of such student population. Similarly, Malaysia has also several foreign university branch campuses and the country plans to expand further in its foreign university branch campus portfolio.

TNE helps to develop local skills, reduce capital outflow, brain drain and pressure on local education system. It offers choice for students, opportunity for competition development among foreign and local institutions, hence quality improvement. It can particularly reduce brain drain from developing countries such as Pakistan.

Based on current trends, economical progress and geopolitical development, the outflow of knowledge seekers from the developing nations will compensate the inflow of students especially between Asia, Europe and North America. It is interesting to note that emerging superpower China now receives more students than it sends abroad. According to a recent report, China’s international enrollment ranked 5th in the world just behind the USA, Britain, France and Germany. Which means, it is making enormous progress in developing its high quality education system to make it a major study destination by 2020. A similar strategy has also been undertaken by Singapore, Malaysia and India.

Introducing TNE in the higher education sector in Asia have clearly suggested that Asian countries are very keen to become more international. There is a view and concern about the over westernization of Asia’s unique cultures, languages, traditions and heritages. There are warnings over challenges and possible dangers posed by transnational education mainly from the receiving countries. These include eroding educational sovereignty, threatening the cultural security, regulatory framework, validation and equivalence issues etc.

Reliable statistics available on the TNE market from two major or biggest service providers in the field the UK and Australia suggest that the market is significant and growing. For example, according to HESA (Higher Education Statisitics Agency UK) the number of students studying for a “wholly overseas” UK Qualification has significantly increased in 2016/17 and the current number of students are approximately 707,915 as compared to 598,485 in 2012/13. This clearly speaks of the potential of TNE for UK providers in the international market, particularly for the top 5 countries, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Pakistan and Nigeria where most growth in TNE was seen.

The Pakistan TNHE Landscape:

The Pakistan higher education landscape has seen a tremendous growth during the past decade, particularly after the establishment of HEC which was formed through a Presidential order in 2002. It is a commission headed by the Chairman which reports directly to the Prime Minister, for all matters relating to the Higher Education Provision in Pakistan. Currently there are 183 recognized universities and degree awarding institutions in Pakistan both Public and Private, enrolling more than 1.2 million students. The private sector is growing rapidly and almost 40% of these HE providers are from the private sector.

Foreign providers also operate in the country mainly through the collaborative mode of delivering programmes with local institutions. All such programmes require the approval of HEC. HEC recognizes the importance of Transnational Education and how this can benefit the quality of teaching and research in Pakistan while helping the country to meet its skill needs.

According to a recent country survey carried out jointly by QAA and HEC reveals that Pakistan has shown a steady growth in TNE as per graph below:

Having said, that International Education in Pakistan is still limited in its scope when compared to other developing countries. The UK Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) further reveals that only 9 partnerships approved by the HEC are operating in Pakistan. Among those providing such collaborations / TNE arrangements 6 are from the UK the other 3 belong to Australia, Malaysia and United States respectively as shown in the chart below:

According to UK Higher Education Statistics Agency the number of students enrolled on a UK award in Pakistan were 46,640 in 2015-2016. The number has grown almost 33% in the last 5 years and now Pakistan is ranked as 4th largest host country for UK TNE after Singapore, China and Malaysia.

It is pertinent here to say that HEC has been working closely with its counterparts in different countries on harnessing the issues of quality assurance for TNE provisions in Pakistan. HEC wants to play a pivotal role in setting up collaborations and providing information for foreign institutions interested in investment, including an overview of university landscape and possible partners. In this context the Chairman HEC and his team has been working closely with BC and QAA in an effort to resolve the issues relating to TNE delivery and had met on several occasions with UK Apex bodies and universities during 2016 and 2017. It was at the behest of HEC that QAA conducted a comprehensive country survey on the Pakistani TNE Landscape to explore and identify various TNE provisions and develop a quality framework acceptable to all stakeholders.

It is important here to mention that the QAA team, which visited Pakistan in 2017, had the opportunity of meeting a number of TNE partners and institutions at different locations. The exercise provided the review team with the opportunity to analyze a range of TNE models delivered by UK based universities/ awarding bodies, which can be described as collaborative provision operating in partnership with a local private delivery center. The review team was particularly impressed by few partnerships among them the most prominent was the millennium university college (TMUC). This group, according to them, has state of the art facilities and offer programmes through purpose built university campuses across major urban cities. TMUC, currently acts as a delivery centre for the provision of a range of university of London international programmes and ACCA qualifications. The other two TNE partnerships that had a considerable volume of TNE programmes included BETS located in Lahore and ACCA which has been operating in Pakistan since 1996 and has a network of 6 offices across the country.

The author had an opportunity of discussing the subject of TNE particularly with reference of its benefits, challenges and future prospects in Pakistan with Chairman HEC Dr Mukhtar Ahmad. At the very outset the chairman was loud and clear that internationalization in higher education is imperative for improving and enhancing the quality of teaching and research in Pakistan. He was of an opinion that if Pakistan is to compete in the rapidly changing and globalized world, it will have to embrace innovative and modern international curricula and teaching methodologies through international education. He, however, cautioned that we cannot allow violation of our regulatory framework neither shall we compromise on quality of education.

He confirmed that a letter of intent with British Council was signed on April 2018 on TNE welcoming British institutions to engage with Pakistani counterparts in delivering international qualifications. “We are opening our doors to international education providers, but on the condition that Pakistani institutions should be allowed to explore equal opportunities in their country”. Quoting examples of highly reputed universities in Pakistan as NUST, IBA, NED, LUMS, should be allowed to deliver their programmes abroad and hence raise their quality of education to international standards to compete. Explaining the next step, he said that the policy and procedures discussed with QAA and taking their input, HEC has developed a TNE delivery framework. This has now been sent to the National Quality Assurance Committee for their review and approval. Once approved, this will serve as a platform and basis for all TNE provisions giving an ownership concept to all stakeholders and entrepreneurs interested to invest in international education in Pakistan.

The issues of international qualifications, dual degrees/joint degrees have been under extensive debate during the past many years in Pakistan. This initiative by HEC and relevant authorities will pave the way for development of TNHE programmes in Pakistan.

Hopefully, now Pakistani students aspiring to study for a recognized international qualification will be able to do so, without having to leave their home country, or spend huge foreign exchange and in the process reduce the risk of brain drain.

While writing this the author has taken reference from the following articles:

1. Transnational Education Benefits, Threats and Challenges by Firoz Alam, Qamrul Alam and others;

2. TNE Trends modes of practices and development, Pi Yun Chen

And the Research of Rahul Chaudha, WES New York

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *