Presentation of definitions and Code of Good practice
based upon the results of
Council of Europe/UNESCO Working group on Transnational Education


presentation by Dr. Andrejs Rauhvargers
at Malmö seminar on Transnational education


1. Introduction
2. Some cartoons on definitions in transnational education

2. Illustrated presentation of the Code of Good Practice           



Some concepts that should be taken into account
when analysing the phenomenon of transnational education

Transnational education is:  
all types of higher education study programmes, or sets of courses of study, or educational services (including those of distance education) in which the learners are located in a country different from the one where the awarding institution is based.

Such programmes may belong to the education system of a State different from the State in which it operates, or may operate independently of any national education system.

The institution or programme in question
          may belong to the national education system of another country,
          or it may be independent of any national system.
While this distinction
           should not have a bearing on the demands for transparency and quality,
           it does have consequences on the legal aspects of the recognition of qualifications granted
           under such programmes, as well as for the arrangements for quality assurance.

Transnational education is closely linked to

  • development of and new possibilities offered by information and communication technologies,
  • growth of corporate educational provision by multi-national companies,
  • developing ‘global market’ of borderless higher education

 Transnational education results from the process of merging the interests of both sending and receiving institutions. It is often a response to a demand for higher education to which the national system is not able (or willing) to respond, e.g.:

  • national system  does not offer a kind of programmes)
  • national system is elite higher education and lots of qualified applicants remain outside
  • national system does not provide opportunities for learning in parallel to work
  • national system does not provide HE in minority languages
  • national system restricts womens access in some way
  • national system is too expensive
  • transnational programmes are more attractive

 By all accounts, transnational education is here to stay, and cannot be disregarded in the name of past national glories, or considered as a mere temporary phenomenon.
A refusal to find ways of dealing with this new phenomenon, for example by means of attempts at national level to simply outlaw transnational programmes qualifications as such, would in the short or medium term, lead to problems which will not disappear, and would be even more difficult to solve at a later date.

 Recognition problems of transnational qualifications can not be solved through direct application of Lisbon recognition convention.  Convention is an agreement between States, it covers qualifications issued by national higher education systems.
Convention uses wording  foreign qualifications , it is about recognition of education completed in another country, see below:

 Article V.1. Each Party shall recognize periods of study completed within the framework of a higher education programme in another Party.
Article VI.1
each Party shall recognize the higher education qualifications conferred in another Party

If a foreign institution operates in territory of a Party:

Article IV.9 (admission), Article VI.5 (HE credentials): each Party may make the recognition of qualifications issued by foreign educational institutions operating in its territory contingent upon

  • specific requirements of national legislation or
  • specific agreements concluded with the Party of origin of such institutions.

Mission of the Council of Europe/UNESCO working group was 

  • reflection and analysis of the new developments in transnational education;
  • sharing information;
  • making recommendations for recognition of qualifications awarded through transnational education
  • promoting cooperation with quality assurance and accreditation bodies

Definitions in transnational education

1. Student mobility and transnational education


Transnational education is something different from student mobility. 

Mobility. When students move to study in another country (crossing the green borderline with watchtowers), they return with their credentials that are obtained in another country. This case is clearly under the Lisbon convention and the principles for evaluation and recognition of truly foreign credentials are clear to credential evaluators. 

Transnational education. In the case of transnational education the students dont move they study inn their home country or even at home, but the credentials are awarded in the name of a foreign institution. So the diplomas fly to the student from aboard. In other words, it is not the student but the diploma that crosses the borderline.


2. Programme articulations

Programme articulations are result of co-operation among higher education institutions in different countries. They can lead to e.g. programme twinning, joint or double degrees.

Provided that both higher education institutions are recognised in their own countries (we found that the symbol above the university icon in clipart pictures was regarded to as accreditation), this kind of transnational education should not lead to too many problems.


3.Branch campus

Quite often higher education institutions establish branch campuses in other countries. In many cases the mother institution is a recognised institution in its own country.

However, the credential evaluator will want to know answers to a number of questions, like:

·         can the recognition/accreditation of the mother institution be transferred also to the branch? In other words, are the same quality assurance bodies who check the quality of mother institution, really responsible also for the branch? And if not, in what way is it ensured that quality is the same as in mother institution?

·         are the programmes in the branch campus really identical to the ones in mother institution? If they are do they fit the needs of receiving country?

·         if the programmes are adapted to the needs of host country, are they still the same degrees/qualifications as in the sending country?

·         finally, there is the question about the teaching staff quality (see next picture).

4. Teaching staff

So, who is teaching in the branch campus (and same will go for the franchised institutions/programmes)?

·         is it a professor of mother institution (left side and right side upper character) visiting branch campus? And if the professor is just visiting, what consequences does it have to the quality?

·         is it a well trained local (right side character in the middle position) who teaches the branch campus or a franchised programme. And if it is a well-trained local, do the students feel the full flavour of the education  provided by (and culture of) the foreign institution in whose name the qualification will be awarded?

·         and what quality of education is ensured if the person teaching looks like the character in the lower right position? Unfortunately the Council of Europe/UNESCO working group received  signals from some receiving countries that this could be the case, especially regarding  franchised programmes of foreign institutions, but also in the case of branches.

5. Franchising

Franchising means that a foreign institution does not establish its branch in the receiving country but, instead, allows some institution in the receiving country to deliver its programmes. The qualifications awarded however are those of the foreign sending institution.

Franchising quite often leads to recognition problems. In the case of franchising the franchisee can be a recognised or a non-recognized higher education institution of the host country, or it can be anything non-higher education institutions, companies running courses, or companies established with the only purpose to run franchised programmes. Especially the case of franchising involves agents third parties who recruit students, organise tuition, provide information to students and to sending institution, etc. It has been indicated in many cases that if there is a trouble with transnational education, agent will most probably be the troublemaker.

All the same questions asked about a branch of a foreign institution are also valid for franchising. But recognition of qualifications awarded upon completion of franchised programmes needs answers to some more questions:

  • are the franchised programmes provided in compliance with the laws of receiving country (and also the sending country)?
  • is there any quality check at all from the side of sending country?
  • do the authorities of the receiving country have enough reliable information to judge about the quality of the franchised programmes?
  • do the students studying in a “foreign” programme get any impression about the culture and education system of the sending country at all?
  • and, since in the case of franchised programmes they are quite often provided in the language of receiving country, do they still resemble the equally named programmes in the sending country?


6. Offshore institutions

Offshore institutions claim that they belong to the education system of another country, but they actually don’t have a mother institution in that country.

In the case of offshore institutions it is rather difficult to judge if the institution has the features of the education system it claims to belong to.


7. "International" institutions

Some of transnational education providers claim they are “international” institutions. The names of such institutions may include words like “Trans-Atlantic”, “European”, “Global” or just “International”. Quite often these institutions function in several countries.

The problem with recognition of the qualifications awarded is the following – if  an institution is international, it does not belong to the education system of any particular country. And no particular country is responsible for the quality of education provided… As a result, qualifications awarded by “international” institutions are not recognised within the framework of Lisbon recognition convention, which is an agreement between States.

8. Distance education

Recognition of a credential awarded  through distance education by a foreign institution may sometimes be tricky even if it is a case of "classical' distance education where the student learns individually and sometimes visits the university for examinations or presentation of thesis.
However, in today's reality the distance education almost always involves a component of tutoring, consultations, guidance, quite often the examinations and defence of thesis are organis3d in the country of students;' residence. And then recognition of the qualifications awarded again requires answers to  the same questions as in the case of branch campus or offshore institution:

- who are  the tutors?
- are the students at the end  familiar enough with the traditions of awarding institution (and the country whose qualification they are receiving)?
- if the programme is adapted to the receiving country's needs,  does it  still resemble the  same programme provided in the sending country?
- is there an evidence that the awarding institution fully controls the quality of provision?

 Illustrated  presentation of the principles of Code of Good Practice in the Provision of Transnational Education