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Transnational students are those who start their degrees abroad on courses run or recognised by UK universities [Note 1]. The report ‘Transnational pathways to higher education in England’ [Note 2] shows specifically that two-thirds of the Chinese transnational students who commenced their first degree programme in 2011-12 (3,475 entrants) went onto postgraduate programmes.

Transnational pathways are increasingly being used by students seeking postgraduate education.  Transnational students study for less time at first degree level than other international students. The combination of a shorter first degree with a full-time postgraduate degree (the majority of which, except for research degrees, will be up to one academic year), is a cost- and time-effective way of acquiring two degrees.

However, a key feature of transnational students is that they spend fewer years in England than those on traditional undergraduate degrees. Almost equal proportions of transnational students started first degrees in their home countries and came to England to complete courses in the second and third years of their programmes (41 per cent and 40 per cent respectively). This may be exerting financial pressure on higher education institutions (HEIs) continuously to enrol new students who study for shorter periods of time. It also highlights that any analysis of student entrant data should take into account expected course lengths.

Mario Ferelli, HEFCE’s Director Analytical services, said:

'Transnational education is a significant part of the English higher education offer, and equally an integral part of the higher education landscape in many countries building their education capability.

‘This report builds on our previous research and furthers our understanding of the key impact of transnational education on higher education delivered in England. In the light of this research we can see the importance of long-term commitment and a strategic engagement overseas.’

Other key findings in the report include the following:

  • The most popular subject area among transnational students is business, management and administrative studies (9,525, or 56 per cent of all transnational entrants). 
  • Many transnational students change their HEI within the UK when they continue their studies at postgraduate level, with only 38 per cent of transnational students continuing their postgraduate studies at the same university.
  • European Union students paying the higher tuition fees introduced in 2012-13 are expected to graduate in the current 2014-15 academic year. It is less likely they will carry on studying at postgraduate level in England because of the costs.
  • Transnational students appear to have cushioned the slow-down among other international students in 2011‑12, and to have provided HEIs with a year in which to respond to changes in the external recruitment environment. 

Notes

1.  The report uses the term ‘transnational entrants’ to refer to students who are transferring from courses delivered overseas by UK education providers, overseas branch campuses of English higher education institutions, or courses delivered by foreign institutions overseas, onto first degree programmes in England which lead to a bachelors degree. International students who undertake their first degree fully in England are referred to as ‘other international students’.

2.  The report ‘Transnational pathways to higher education in England’ (HEFCE 2015/08) can be found on HEFCE’s website.