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More students study for UK degrees on branch campuses

Hesa shows growing popularity of branch campus and partnership degrees. John Morgan writes

Hundreds of thousands of students are now studying for UK degrees without setting foot on British soil, according to the first official figures on the trend.

Data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency's new "aggregate offshore record" reveal the scale of study at UK universities' international branch campuses and via foreign partnerships. There are now more students on UK programmes offered outside the European Union than non-EU students studying in the UK - 340,235 against 280,760.

A total of 408,685 students were studying overseas with UK universities in 2009-10, against 2,493,420 enrolments at institutions in the UK.

Pat Killingley, the British Council's director of higher education, said the figures reflected "a growing global trend that provides greater flexibility and choice for international students and which has transformed the global educational landscape".

UK universities' overseas enrolment outside the EU rose 5 per cent on the previous year, outstripping the 4 per cent increase in total enrolment at domestic institutions, the Hesa figures show.

Universities in the UK, the US and Australia increasingly are looking to gain footholds overseas to recruit students who cannot afford to travel to their domestic campuses.

The number of branch campuses in world higher education soared from 24 in 2002 to 164 in 2009, according to the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education.

One major UK player in the market is the University of Nottingham. It has campuses in Malaysia and the Chinese city of Ningbo, and plans to open a third outpost in Shanghai.

Middlesex University has campuses in Dubai and Mauritius, and plans to launch a branch in India.

Big business

The Hesa figure for overseas enrolment covers students registered at UK universities (200,800) and those studying for UK university awards (207,885).

A Hesa spokesman said this could be understood as indicating the respective numbers enrolled at branches and those studying for UK degrees via partnerships with foreign institutions.

Ms Killingley said that private firms, which were involved in most overseas campuses and partnerships, were playing an increasingly important role in the delivery of teaching across the world.

"Partnership with private providers is opening up significant opportunities for UK universities to develop new and innovative models of teaching and learning," she said.

Some observers warned that the branch campus trend could stall after Dubai's economic woes prompted Michigan State University to pull out of the emirate last year.

Jason Lane, senior researcher at the Institute for Global Education Policy Studies at the State University of New York, Albany, said: "While the number of institutions looking to develop an international branch campus will be much more limited than in the past decade, I think we will now see those that have been successful looking to grow their institutions in terms of the number of students and programmes and the breadth of research produced."

Last week's Hesa statistics also show that the proportion of students gaining good degrees in the UK is continuing to climb. In 2009-10, 63 per cent of students who obtained a first degree at a UK university achieved a first or an upper second. More than 14 per cent, or 46,825 students, gained a first.

john.morgan@tsleducation.com.

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