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HEFCE closed at the end of March 2018. The information on this website is historical and is no longer maintained.

Many of HEFCE's functions will be continued by the Office for Students, the new regulator of higher education in England, and Research England, the new council within UK Research and Innovation.

The HEFCE domain - - will continue to function until September 2018. At this point we will close the site entirely and all its information will only be available from the National Web Archive.


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Madeleine Atkins, HEFCE’s Chief Executive, said:

‘Higher education has become vastly more mobile in the past decade. The number of UK providers delivering higher education in other countries has grown significantly, but we know relatively little about the impact of these initiatives on international student recruitment patterns and pathways.

‘This report fills that gap. It highlights the key contribution of transnational education to English higher education, and the need for improved understanding of trends and developments in a fast-changing national and global higher education landscape.

‘In the light of this research we can see the importance of long-term commitment and a strategic approach to transnational education. Some institutions have been particularly successful in this arena, and dedicated partnerships built on mutuality and reciprocity emerge as the foundations of their achievements.’

Key findings [Note 1]:

  • Over a third of all international entrants to first degree studies are recruited from transnational courses delivered overseas by UK higher education (HE) providers, or partners working on their behalf. China and Malaysia account for the majority of such students. More than half of all first degree students from these two countries start their first degree directly from UK higher education delivered overseas [Note 2].
  • Transnational students have mitigated the decline experienced by some institutions in the direct entry of international students to first degree programmes in 2012-13 [Note 3]. Without these students, it is likely that the decline would have been greater.
  • Higher education institutions with mid-range and lower entry requirements are most reliant on transnational students, who make up more than half of the international entrants to first degree programmes at these institutions[Note 4].
  • Courses with a duration of one year or less were the main driver of growth in the numbers of international students arriving through transnational pathways from 2009 to 12. This shift towards shorter courses requires harder work from higher education institutions to maintain recruitment levels.
  • A high proportion of transnational students on first degree programmes go on to postgraduate study in England. China emerges as a key driving force behind this trend.
  • More than half of the Chinese transnational students continue their studies at postgraduate level. About 45 per cent of the growth in international students from China starting taught masters courses in 2012-13 (1,100 students) can be attributed to transnational entrants. It appears that potential postgraduate progression is a key motivation for students from China undertaking first degrees.


  1. The study is ‘Directions of travel: Transnational pathways into English higher education’ (HEFCE 2014/29). 
  2. This was true of 55 per cent of the Chinese entrants, 8,300 students, and 63 per cent of the Malaysian entrants, about 3,200 students.
  3. See ‘Global demand for English higher education: An analysis of international student entry to English higher education courses’ (HEFCE 2014/08a).
  4. We group higher education institutions according to the average tariff scores of their young (under 21) UK-domiciled undergraduate entrants. The average tariff score considers all such entrants who hold Level 3 qualifications subject to the UCAS tariff. Institutions in the top third of the ranking by average tariff score are said to have ‘high average tariff scores’, and those in the bottom third have ‘low average tariff scores’.
  5. This report complements a study by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, also published today, on ‘The value of transnational education to the UK’ (Research Paper No 194, November 2014).