[lg policy] Fruit from the branch campuses

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Fri May 29 15:00:04 UTC 2015

 Fruit from the branch campuses

Transnational education helps people who want a high-quality university
education to get it, argues Rebecca Hughes
 May 28 2015


   By Rebecca Hughes

     [image: Fruit hanging from branches]

Throughout my career in transnational education and English language
policy, the charges of cultural imperialism have never been far away. The
term “transnational education”, or TNE, is regarded by some as a euphemism
for money-grabbing foreign universities setting up overseas campuses that
crush local provision and impose alien values on their host countries’
educational systems.

The dominance of English in global academic circles – both at scholarly
conferences and, increasingly, in lecture theatres – is also seen as
problematic. So for critics, that the biggest purveyors of TNE are from
anglophone countries creates a culturally lethal cocktail.

TNE and English as a medium of instruction (EMI) are not culturally neutral
phenomena, and yet debates around them miss the point. TNE is additive and
necessary; it affects providers as much as recipients. The imperialism, to
my mind, lies in thinking that we Brits still control English, and that it
is a big deal whether people speak it or not.

British Council research has found
that TNE is credited in host countries with increasing access to higher
education and improving its overall quality. Host countries also expect it
to assist in the development of local knowledge economies and to prompt
more internationally collaborative research output.

The world needs far more high-quality tertiary-level provision than
developing systems can generate from local provision, and TNE is one part
of the solution. Furthermore, critics’ allegations of a one-size-fits-all
approach are not accurate. I will chair a panel
on the cultural challenges of TNE next week at the British Council’s
annual Going
Global conference <http://www.britishcouncil.org/going-global> for leaders
of international higher education. The examples under discussion will
reflect the realities of modern, diverse TNE: from a Russell Group business
school in Dubai to a collaboration of 16 South Asian universities, to a
UK/Australian/Pakistani partnership on curriculum development.

Transnational programmes cost more than other degree courses in the host
country, but they are generally cheaper than they would be if the student
travelled overseas to take them. TNE students can gain an internationally
recognised qualification while avoiding the typically higher costs of
living and the visa complexities of the institutions’ home countries. They
can also combine work and study more easily, and remain close to their
local jobs markets.

There is no reason why TNE has to be delivered in English. The domination
of EMI is a symptom of a much bigger trend: English standards are rising
globally through choices that governments are making. English is taught as
a subject in many education systems and allowed as a medium of instruction
in 53 per cent of public and 87 per cent of private primary schools, a
2015 British
Council survey
of 55 countries reveals. Young people also access English language material
electronically on their own.

I know from experience that putting English language in the hands of young
people, along with excellent study skills and critical perspectives on
knowledge, gives them a powerful tool to build connections and a voice to
decide their own future. If anything, the problem now lies with the UK’s
system, which does not actively promote language learning from an early
age, and therefore produces students who cannot compete with similarly
educated young people from abroad with the cultural agility acquired by
speaking two, three or often four languages.

I am not saying that the globalisation of higher education does not have
any downsides, and everyone involved in TNE must be open about the risks
and responsibilities that exploring this new frontier involves. One
problem, for instance, is the unidimensional measures of excellence that
drive the behaviour and resources of young institutions towards the “global
research university” model.

We should also remain critically aware that TNE inevitably involves the
export of cultural values. But this is not a unidirectional or a simple
binary process. Those values are also being reshaped by exposure to the
myriad local contexts in which universities are operating. This is why
I believe TNE is making a so far modest but certainly positive contribution
to global development.

*Rebecca Hughes is director of education at the British Council.*


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