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Executive summary


1. This paper studies key transnational pathways that international students use when they embark on first degree study in England. It aims to understand better the contribution of transnational education, as delivered by British higher education providers, to international student enrolments in English higher education.  This study also tracks the progression to postgraduate programmes of students who had used the transnational pathway to first degree programmes.

Key points

2. Over a third of all international first degree entrants are recruited from transnational courses delivered overseas by UK 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 (55 per cent of the Chinese entrants, 8,300 students, and 63 per cent of the Malaysian entrants, about 3,200 students) commence their first degree directly from UK transnational education delivered overseas.

3. This research also aims to provide more detail about the slowdown in international entrants to undergraduate programmes experienced in 2012-13. Transnational students have provided a cushion in areas where decline was experienced in the direct entry of international students to first degree programmes in 2012-13. This is particularly evident at higher education institutions with low average tariff scores.

4. Higher education institutions with medium and low average tariff scores are most reliant on transnational students. They constitute more than half of the international entrants to first degree programmes at these institutions.

5. Courses with an expected length of one year or less were the main driver of growth in transnational pathways in the period 2009- 12. This shift towards shorter courses relies heavily on constantly high numbers of international entrants to first degree programmes. Institutions therefore need to allocate further resources if they wish to keep up a stable level of recruitment.

6. A high proportion of transnational students on first degree programmes progress to postgraduate studies in English higher education. In particular, more than half of the Chinese transnational students continue their studies at postgraduate level. Chinese students were also the main overall contributor to the growth in international postgraduate taught masters. This forms part of a pattern where taught masters provision in England is heavily reliant on international recruitment.

Action required

7. No action is required in response to this document.

Date: November 2014

Ref: 2014/29

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions

Of interest to those
responsible for:

International development; International offices; Internationalisation of higher education; International recruitment; International partnerships

Enquiries should be directed to:

Analysis for Policy Team, e-mail, or Janet Ilieva, tel 0117 931 7492, e-mail