Almost half of IT staff in HE are not involved in the delivery of transnational education by their own institution overseas, says report

Almost half of IT staff in higher education (HE) are not involved in the delivery of transnational education (TNE) by their own institution overseas, according to a joint report by Jisc and the Observatory of Borderless Higher Education (OBHE).

The research – which was designed to uncover the current state of TNE in UK HE institutions – found that 45% of IT staff were in the dark regarding TNE activities. This finding is despite technology being integral to universities delivering teaching and qualifications to students in other countries.

The finding is reiterated by IT departments’ exclusion from TNE decision making, with only 27% claiming they were involved in institutions’ development plans. When it comes to deciding on future TNE activities, this number falls to a worryingly low 1%, which suggests that where IT infrastructure is being considered at all, it is only as an after-thought.

There is also a lack of awareness regarding system risks and threats. When asked if data-related problems had previously been encountered abroad through their university’s TNE activities, just over half (52%) answered ‘don’t know’, while 57% were unaware if their institutional risk assessments included IT infrastructure.

Esther Wilkinson, business development lead for transnational education, Jisc, said:

“The successful delivery of transnational education is underpinned by efficient, reliable and quality IT infrastructure, so it’s a concern that IT departments are disconnected from this process. For many universities, the boom has meant that they have not always had the time to consider fully their methods of delivery, and as a consequence IT staff have not always been included. This issue will only increase as popularity does, and is almost certain to become a problem unless appropriate steps are taken to bolster connectivity.

“It’s clear that more communication is needed amongst UK higher education IT staff about the important role they can play in supporting TNE online and distance learning, as well as encouragement and involvement in international staff planning activities. One of the key actions that we at Jisc are taking from the report is an engagement campaign which will aim to fill this knowledge gap, increase IT staff involvement in TNE development and delivery, and share best practice.”

TNE is increasingly being recognised for the important role it plays in the UK economy and has been named by the government as one of the key policy strands in the education component of the industrial strategy. A report by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in late 2014 on the value of TNE to the UK estimated that £496m was generated in 2012/13 alone from this activity stream.

In order to better understand the market, Jisc commissioned OBHE to undertake research on current trends in UK institutions’ delivery of TNE, future direction of travel, challenges and opportunities for the HE sector.

Wilkinson continued:

“TNE represents a major growth market for the UK, and there are significant opportunities as it becomes more widely accepted as an effective delivery method for international education, for all learning levels. It’s hugely important, then, that institutions are given the support they need to deliver as demand increases. We at Jisc are committed to taking these findings forward and helping institutions make the most of TNE in the coming years.”

Richard Garrett, director of the Observatory, added:

“TNE is often entrepreneurial in character, and can seem far removed from the parent institution, both geographically and in terms of visibility. As TNE grows in significance, arrangements mature and IT infrastructure defines all aspects of institutional activity, more joined up thinking is required. Service consistency, efficiency and risk management demand that the CIO and other senior IT staff have a seat at the table when decisions are made about current and future TNE. This is critical to student and institutional success. As such, the Observatory was pleased to work with Jisc on this project.”

The research involved two distinct groups: international offices, and IT departments. A total of 84 institutions responded, all of which were either members of Universities UK or GuildHE.

Other findings to emerge include ‘online provision, blended or distance learning’ being the preferred method of delivery, chosen by 54%. Establishing a branch campus abroad was the least popular, named by just 10% of respondents.

For more information on the report or Jisc’s future TNE plans visit the TNE project page or contactEsther Wilkinson. You can also find out more during a plenary session at the Jisc Digital Festival on 10 March.