Transnational Higher Education in China: Contexts, Characteristics and Concerns

Article excerpt

Transnational higher education is a rapidly growing phenomenon that is under-researched and often even misunderstood. As the world's most promising market, China has the potential to dwarf all traditional offshore markets. Little research has been done to seriously analyse the fast growth in China. A sound understanding of the Chinese situation facilitates improvement of future provision of higher education by Australian universities, presently the most dominant force in China. This article incorporates Chinese and English literature, reviews the latest Chinese government documents, and delineates a comprehensive picture of transnational education provision in China. It locates the development in a wider social and policy context in China, examines the basic features of Chinese-foreign partnerships, and reveals some major issues of concern. It argues that China needs to form effective regulatory frameworks to govern this new development in higher education, especially in terms of quality assurance to ensure cultural appropriateness of the joint programs.

Keywords

transnational education

education markets

China

joint programs

higher education

international university cooperation

Introduction

The phrase 'transnational higher education', is increasingly used to describe exported education as an approach to international university cooperation but there remains a remarkable terminological and conceptual confusion over what transnational education means. According to the UNESCO and the Council of Europe (2001), it refers to education in which the learners are located in a country different from the one where the awarding institution is based: that is, any education delivered by an institution based in one country to students located in another (McBurnie & Ziguras, 2007).While the international mobility of students is a well-established and growing feature of higher education, the transnational mobility of institutions and courses on a large scale is a novel phenomenon. During the past decade, the transnational provision of education has increased so dramatically that it is at the leading edge of the most fundamental change taking place in higher education today, evidencing the invisible hand of the market at work in allocating educational resources across borders efficiently. This is a new evolutionary phase within the global development of higher education in a context of the emerging international trade agreements for services, the opening of new education markets with insufficient capacity to meet the anticipated demands of citizens for advanced degrees, and the ever-present demand for college and universities to establish additional revenue streams.

Asia is the region with most active participation in transnational higher education (Huang, 2007).Within Asia, China and India are identified as the world's two most promising markets. China has been well documented as one of the world's largest education-importing countries, sending hundreds of thousands of students to study abroad. The Australian International Development Program estimates that total demand for tertiary education in China will rise from 8 million students in 2000 to 45 million in 2015 (Bohm, 2003; Marginson, 2004). China has, most recently, caught people's attention as a fast-growing receiver of students from overseas (Lasanowski & Verbik, 2007). Relatively few people have noticed the facts that transnational higher education is growing rapidly in China, and that China is increasingly significant and, given its size, has the potential to dwarf all traditional offshore markets. The fact that the development of for-profit and not-for-profit transnational institutions operating in an international education market is more akin to international business than traditional academic expansion is a phenomenon that has not always been well understood within the Chinese education circle. …

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