Analytic Quality Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2004-21, Analytic Quality Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 18 June, 2021 , © Lee Harvey 2004–2021.


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Transnational education

core definition

Transnational education is higher education provision that is available in more than one country.

explanatory context

Transnational education is associated with but not identical to internationalisation.

Transnational education is a more general term than off-shore provision.

analytical review

British Council (undated) state:

Transnational education (TNE), in brief, means delivering education where the learners are located in a different country from the one where the awarding institution is based.

Global Alliance for Transnational Education (GATE, 1997) defined transnational education as an export product:

Transnational Education denotes any teaching or learning activity in which the students are in a different country (the host country) to that in which the institution providing the education is based (the home country). This situation requires that national boundaries be crossed by information about the education, and by staff and/or educational materials. (GATE, 1997, p. 1)

The UNESCO/Council of Europe define transnational education as:

all types of higher education study programmes, sets of study courses, or educational services (including those of distance education) in which the learners are located in a country different from the one where the awarding institution is based. (Council of Europe, 2002)

Healey (2013, p. 10) sums up the The World Trade Organization categorisation as follows:

The World Trade Organization, through the General Agreement on Trade in Services, defines four categories of cross-border trade in services, depending on the location of the supplier and the consumer at the time the service is traded…. Mode 2 represents traditional ‘export education’, in which universities recruit foreign students to study on their home campuses. In the higher education context, mode 1 embraces virtual forms of cross-border supply where the university has no physical presence in the country of the consumer; for example, offering distance or on-line education. Mode 3 refers to the delivery of educational services through a third party, the ‘service supplier’, so that the supplying university does not have its own staff teaching at the foreign location; such arrangements typically entail a private college offering degrees awarded by a foreign university, which is responsible for quality assuring the qualification. Mode 3 therefore relates to franchising, where the degree delivered by the private college may be wholly or closely based on the same degree taught on the home campus of the foreign university. Alternatively, the private college may have been ‘validated’ to offer a degree of its own design, which is awarded by the foreign university….. Finally, mode 4 involves the presence of ‘natural persons’ from the university being based in the foreign country to deliver the teaching; this physical presence stretches from the ‘fly-in’ model, in which university staff travel to the foreign market to deliver short periods of intensive teaching, possibly in rented conference accommodation, to full-blown international branch campuses, in which the university has a ‘bricks and mortar’ operation.

associated issues

As McBurnie and Pollock (1998) note, there are a variety of ways in which education is conducted transnationally, including via: distance education (with or without local support); twinning programmes; articulation programmes; branch campuses; and franchising arrangements. Transnational education is attractive to students seeking to gain a foreign qualification without moving from their country of residence. It can also be attractive to employers and governments looking at options for human resource development (including multinational or global corporations with a geographically dispersed workforce). Education providers seeking ways to expand their export markets are also attracted to the possibilities opened up by transnational education.


There are issues related to transnational education, including cultural sensitivity, impacting on local higher education systems, and consumer protection, which have led to codes of practice being drawn up.


There is a need for review systems to address the quality of the education available. The operation of bogus or substandard providers is an important “consumer protection” concern. However, even where a qualification is provided transnationally by a reputable university, recognised or accredited by its home country, it is still necessary to see whether the course content is the same as that provided at the home institution, whether there is appropriate cultural sensitivity to the local requirements; whether the methods of teaching are appropriate for achieving the objectives of the course and taking account of local cultures; whether the physical, administrative, communication and other resources are adequate to support successful learning?

In the review of the contributions in the first 15 years of the international journal Quality in Higher Education, Harvey and Williams (2010) write the following about the contributions that addressed the Bologna Process:

The quality of transnational provision is a growing concern. Quality in Higher Education has published several items on this issue; the first in 1999.

Walker (1999), in the wake of expressed fears about the quality of UK offshore collaborative arrangements, pointed out that there are many kinds of arrangements that have grown up over the years, which posed potential threats to quality that have not been addressed in the literature. Using, as an example, a project that was commercially successful but educationally and professionally hazardous, she concluded that international partnerships require constant vigilance. Problems include: culturally determined operational practices; partner eligibility; commercial and educational conflict; roles, responsibilities and accountability; quality of promotional information; and university autonomy. Craft (2004) offered a risk assessment tool, developed at the University of Greenwich, UK, to provide greater consistency and rigour in the evaluation of new proposals for the collaborative provision of higher education awards. Eleven factors combine to offer a preliminary assessment of risk levels, without prejudice to more detailed risk/benefit analyses.

Dixon and Scott (2003) also flagged up issues with offshore provision encountered by a Western Australian University. A professional development workshop series was established to enhance the teaching and learning skills of, mainly Singaporean, lecturers working in partner institutions. Evaluation of the programme suggested that it was welcomed and had enhanced participants’ presentation, planning and organisational skills and had encouraged the establishment of optimal learning environments and appropriate teacher characteristics. In short, offshore staff need the same development opportunities as those provided onshore.

Dunworth (2008), on the basis of a study of Australian overseas provision of transnational English-language teaching programmes, recommended full consultation with representatives of all stakeholder groups prior to the development of a new programme. Further, good practice demands that both the home and overseas partners familiarise themselves with the cultural and educational milieu in which the programme takes place. Finally, if a programme is to be successful it needs to be adequately resourced.

Castle and Kelly (2004) also argued that the burgeoning offshore education presented quality assurance challenges and the University of Wollongong’s response is a clear policy to only provide degrees offshore that are also offered on campus. Given the centrality of quality assurance to higher education in Australia, the paralleling of courses on campus and offshore expedites and eases the transfer of transparent and accountable quality assurance processes to offshore delivery. Similarly, from the side of an importer, Gift, Leo-Rhynie and Moniquette (2006) noted that the presence of transnational education providers in the West Indies highlighted the importance of a regional accreditation system that will not only monitor the quality assurance programmes of foreign providers and ensure the equivalence of programme but facilitate the seamless movement of students and academics, the transferability of credits and the preservation of intellectual property rights. Additionally, they argued, the English-speaking Caribbean must not just import transnational education but also export it. In this respect, quality assurance procedures will prove to be the key to success.

Stella and Gnanam (2005) tried to balance the enthusiastic views of trade promoters and the sceptical reflections of traditional academics about cross-border education. They argued that the strong criticisms of the academics are sometimes based on false understandings and the views of trade promoters are sometimes based on optimistic overestimations. They argued, in the case of India, that a quality assurance system will ensure that low quality cross-border education provision is kept out, which may make the market in India less appealing. The national quality assurance agencies have to address the situation that India is both a provider and a recipient of cross-border education. Government policy is to facilitate cross-border education operators without compromising the interests of the nation, national culture and stakeholder interests.

The INQAAHE meeting at The Hague in May 2006 addressed the issue of transnational education and Woodhouse (2006) reported that the Australian Universities Quality Agency (AUQA), in auditing a university’s academic activities, would review overseas activities, and operations through partners, both at home and abroad. However, as institutions proliferate campuses and other operations, the number of sites increases beyond what it is reasonable for an external review panel to visit. Therefore, AUQA adopted a risk-assessment approach, to determine the nature of a university’s overseas operations and whether the AUQA audit panel should visit. Overall, he argued that, provided there is goodwill, collaboration and the right structures are in place, transnational education is of benefit to both the exporting and importing countries. This view was also echoed by Cheung (2006) who argued that there is intrinsic value in transnational education and that there are ways to identify the possible pitfalls and overcome them. Quality assurance provides a platform for mutual trust and mutual co-operation. Further, international cooperation and INQAAHE are indispensable parts of collective effort to ensure quality.

Stella (2006) provided the background and outcome of discussions of a workshop, during The Hague meeting, on the joint UNESCO-OECD Guidelines for Quality Provision in Cross-border Higher Education. There was strong support for equivalence of programmes, albeit adapted to local cultural contexts. Further, the quality assurance agency of the provider country should be prepared to assure that the institution’s international offerings fit within the total mission of the institution; are provided legally; include any necessary support for effective learning; and result in a credential that is valid both in the home and host countries. Blackmur (2007) provided a critique of the UNESCO-OECD Guidelines arguing that the guidelines have been defined without any consideration of the potential net benefits, which could be negative, associated with their implementation. Blackmur objects, inter alia, to the leeway that regulators have under the Guidelines to decide whether cross-border provision meets ‘cultural needs’. This opens a Pandora’s Box of possibilities for those who seek to exercise control over all aspects of higher education for whatever reasons including their own ideological preferences.

related areas

See also



off-shore provision


Blackmur, D., 2007, ‘A critical analysis of the UNESCO/OECD Guidelines for Quality Provision of Cross-Border Higher Education’, Quality in Higher Education, 13(2), pp. 117–130.

British Council, undated, Transnational Education available at, accessed 28 January 2012, no longer available 10 September 2012.

Castle, R. and Kelly, D., 2004, ‘International education: quality assurance and standards in offshore teaching: exemplars and problems’, Quality in Higher Education, 10(1), pp. 51–57.

Cheung, P.P.T., 2006, ‘Filleting the transnational education steak’, Quality in Higher Education, 12(3), pp. 283–285.

Council of Europe, 2002, Code of Good Practice in the Provision of Transnational Education. Strasbourg: Council of Europe, available at, accessed 12 February 2013, still available 11 January 2017.

Craft, A., 2004, ‘The assessment of quality risks in collaborative provision’, Quality in Higher Education, 10(1), pp. 25–29.

Dixon, K. and Scott, S., 2003, ‘The evaluation of an offshore professional-development programme as part of a university’s strategic plan: a case study approach’, Quality in Higher Education, 9(3), pp. 287–294.

Dunworth, K., 2008, ‘Ideas and realities: investigating good practice in the management of transnational English language programmes for the higher education sector’, Quality in Higher Education, 14(2), pp. 95–107.

Gift, S., Leo-Rhynie, E. and Moniquette, J., 2006, ‘Quality assurance of transnational education in the English-speaking Caribbean’, Quality in Higher Education, 12(2), pp. 125–133.

Global Alliance for Transnational Education (GATE) 1997, Certification Manual. GATE.

Harvey, L. and Williams, J. 2010, 'Fifteen Years of Quality in Higher Education', Quality in Higher Education, 16(1), pp. 4–36.

Healey, N., 2013, ‘Why do English universities really franchise degrees to overseas providers?’, Higher Education Quarterly, 67(2), pp.180–200.  

McBurnie, G. & Pollock, A, 1998, ‘Transnational Education: An Australian Example’ International Higher Education, Winter,, not at this address 28 January 2012.

Stella, A., 2006, ‘Quality assurance of cross-border higher education’, Quality in Higher Education, 12(3), pp. 257–276.

Stella, A. and Gnanam, A., 2005, ‘Cross-border higher education in India: false understandings and true overestimates’, Quality in Higher Education, 11(3), pp. 227–237.

Walker, P., 1999, ‘Buying in and selling out: quality issues in international student contracting arrangements’, Quality in Higher Education, 5(3), pp. 233–243.

Woodhouse, D., 2006, ‘The quality of transnational education: A provider view’, Quality in Higher Education, 12(3), pp. 277–281.

copyright Lee Harvey 2004–2021

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