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Promoting cross-border education – Provider mobility

10 December 2014

In this four-part series, Sarah Richardson and Ali Radloff highlight the key considerations for strengthening collaboration around cross-border education. Here they address the establishment of international university campuses and joint-degree programs.

Universities have long played a significant role in educating the next generation of professionals, driving innovations in research and shaping national debates. But gone are the days when universities have been able to focus solely on their national contexts.

Cross-border education is a topic of considerable importance to Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) economies, contributing directly to APEC's goal of supporting sustainable economic growth and prosperity in the region.

Two key goals of cross-border education are to enhance the quality of education available to students and to stimulate innovation in research to solve global dilemmas. Both of these call for a high degree of integration between universities in different countries across four key areas:

Provider mobility patterns

There are multiple models of provider mobility. The movement of universities from one country to another can occur through branch campuses, joint-degree or double-degree programs or other forms.

As of November 2014, the Global Higher Education Branch Campus Listing reported there are 216 branch campuses globally, 50 of which involve a university from one APEC economy hosted in another APEC economy. Many branch campuses are located in ‘education hubs’; sites established by governments to attract foreign providers, such as Iskandar’s ‘Educity’ and Kuala Lumpur’s ‘Education City’ in Malaysia, and the ‘Global Schoolhouse’ in Singapore.

While branch campuses are the most easily identifiable form of provider mobility, they are not the most numerous. Instead, they are vastly outnumbered by joint- or double-degree programs, which involve two or more institutions collaborating to offer a degree. These tend to be most common at the Master’s level and the desire to enhance language skills is a key motivating factor for their development. The total number of such arrangements is unknown but is in the thousands and is constantly growing.

Other models of provider mobility include programs offered through an institution from a third country, former branch campuses with independent accreditation and independent institutions established by foreign organisations.

Provider mobility has the potential to generate a number of academic, economic and political benefits for both the home countries of universities that establish themselves overseas and the host countries that allow foreign institutions to become part of their university sectors.

For providers, the benefits include: enhanced prestige from raising international profiles; outward mobility opportunities for home students; the opportunity for staff to gain international experience ; and strengthened relationships with foreign institutions and governments. Host countries benefit through the reduction of ‘brain drain’ by minimising the loss of skilled human capital, enhanced opportunities for research collaboration, increased capacity of the university sector to absorb students and enhancement of the quality of university education through knowledge transfer.

Barriers to provider mobility

Regulation of foreign providers
Many APEC economies welcome foreign providers but in doing so they need to guard against substandard education provision and to protect their domestic institutions. A wide range of regulatory policies are in place, impacting the delivery and exchange of higher education services.

The wide range of regulations and their variation from country to country (and even within countries) can make provider mobility seem complex. This means it is important for institutions to thoroughly research local conditions and build strong connections with local providers.

Quality assurance
While each country providing higher education has one or more quality assurance agencies, not all of these include foreign providers in their remit, particularly if delivery is virtual rather than physical. Enhanced collaboration around quality assurance, at a bilateral or regional level, is a major means to facilitate greater cross-border education and is something which demands greater attention in the near future.

Recognition of qualifications
Lack of recognition of qualifications is a key issue in facilitating cross-border education, affecting both student mobility and provider mobility. Currently there is no global system of qualifications recognition; however, there are regional initiatives such as UNESCO’s Regional Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications in Higher Education.

The development of a shared and transparent system of qualifications recognition would be assisted by a common approach to national and regional qualifications frameworks that provide consistent and informative descriptions of learning outcomes. Another approach, which has been investigated by APEC, is the development of a diploma supplement for higher education students to accompany their degree certificate.

Strengthening collaboration

Cross-border education requires cooperation across a range of economies of great diversity. Each economy has a unique history, range of cultures, political structures, population and place in the world. Yet all are interdependent, relying on their neighbours to help them achieve their social and economic objectives.

Carefully thought out collaboration around provider mobility will flow on to enhancing other forms of mobility, including student and researcher mobility, facilitating the expansion of cross border education in a way which maximises benefit to all APEC economies. ■

Further information:
This article is based on the discussion paper ‘Promoting Regional Education Services Integration’, prepared by ACER Principal Research Fellow Dr Sarah Richardson and ACER Research Fellow Ali Radloff to inform the APEC University Associations Cross-Border Education Cooperation workshop held in Kuala Lumpur in May 2014, and the subsequent workshop report, published by APEC in September 2014.

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About the author

Ali Radloff is a Research Fellow in ACER’s Tertiary Education research program.

More [rd] articles by Ali Radloff

View selected works of Ali Radloff

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About the author

Dr Sarah Richardson is the Research Director of ACER India and leads educational research projects in a number of countries that focus on primary, secondary and tertiary levels of education.

More [rd] articles by Sarah Richardson

View selected works of Sarah Richardson

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