There has been much talk about "globalisation" in education, but what will
it mean in practice?
By Sean Coughlan
BBC News education reporter, in Edinburgh
The campus will have a capacity of 8,000 students
This autumn, Nottingham University put the theory into
practice, as the first students enrolled at its "branch campus" in Ningbo in
There are only 250 of these pioneering students in the initial intake, but
the purpose-built campus will have the capacity for 8,000, who will
be studying for degrees, with everything from
libraries to lectures using the English language.
For these Chinese students, the fees at Nottingham's Ningbo campus are about
half the cost of international student fees at a university in the United
Kingdom. And that's without the extra costs for travel, accommodation and
living facing overseas students who come to the UK.
Nottingham University already has a branch in Malaysia and next year intends
to open a campus there.
Douglas Tallack, the university's pro-vice-chancellor, says there is much
interest in the Ningbo project, including commendations from the Education
Secretary Charles Clarke, and that a number of other UK universities are
considering setting up their own off-shore institutions.
But he urges that if there is a rush to set up overseas branches, then
academic quality and sensitivity to local needs must not be sacrificed.
Creating the campus in Ningbo has been the product of much painstaking work
with their Chinese partners, he says. And that it builds upon existing
relations with China, including a thousand Chinese students at Nottingham
But Prof Tallack, who is set to address the first UK International
Education Conference, being held this week in Edinburgh, says that
globalisation - or so-called "transnational" education - is going to become
part of the landscape.
This could also mean United States universities setting up in the United
Kingdom - and recruiting both overseas and British students. With e-mail and
videoconferencing, this type of internationalisation becomes increasingly
Prof Tallack sayst it is also likely that individual university departments and
subject areas will have international bases and partnerships with other
Fees will be cheaper than for studying in the UK
He is less keen on this globalisation being seen as an educational
gold-rush, with universities, colleges and private operators setting up
franchise chains, with less control over quality. There has to be a sense of
the integrity of the degree system, he argues, with effective tutorial
advice and proper academic rigour.
But there will undoubtedly be a growing number of institutions and
businesses looking for a more flexible approach, and they might be likely to
take a more direct route to serving an international market hungry for
This might see a greater fragmentation of the traditional three-year degree
course at a single institution.
There are private providers who offer
courses where students can study in their own country for one or two years
and then spend a single year as an overseas student, where they will
complete their degree.
Universities from the UK have an advantage in using English. But
increasing numbers of universities around the world use English as a teaching medium, with the specific intention of recruiting overseas students.
The expansion of cross-border education is also going to raise questions
about how degrees are validated. If there are numerous international
providers offering "degree" courses to students, how are these going to be
measured against each other, when they will be based on very different
systems? Will there have to be a process of international regulation?
There have already been international university league tables produced, and
all the signs seem to suggest that universities are moving towards becoming