In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Crossborder and Transnational Higher Education

  • Introduction
  • Context and Overview
  • Rationales and Impact
  • International Branch Campuses
  • International Cofounded and Codesigned Universities
  • Education Hubs
  • Joint and Double Degree Programs
  • Quality Assurance
  • Student Perspectives
  • Curriculum, Pedagogy, and Faculty Issues
  • Regional Overviews
  • Country Case Studies

Education Crossborder and Transnational Higher Education
Jane Knight, Qin Liu
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 November 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 November 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0176


Internationalization is one of the major forces impacting and shaping higher education as it changes to meet the challenges of the 21st century. One aspect of internationalization that is particularly important and controversial is crossborder, often referred to as, transnational, education. Since the early 2000s, the scope and scale of higher education moving across borders to offer academic programs and qualifications in foreign countries has changed dramatically. Academic mobility has evolved from people mobility (students, faculty, scholars) to program mobility (twinning, franchise, joint/double degree, massive open online courses [MOOCs]), to provider mobility (branch campus, internationally codeveloped universities), and now to the development of education hubs. The use of virtual mobility and distance education is another burgeoning area. With this unprecedented growth in crossborder education comes the potential for numerous academic benefits including increased access, diversity in program offerings, development of intercultural skills and understanding, joint research, curriculum innovation, and capacity building as well as economic, sociocultural, and political benefits. At the same time, there are risks and unintended consequences involved. These can include homogenization or standardization of academic programs, low-quality and rogue providers, lack of qualification recognition, brain drain, unequal partnerships, overuse of English, and the profit imperative. Thus a comprehensive review of the literature needs to reflect the multiple actors, modes of delivery, types of partnerships, rationales, impacts, and challenges of crossborder higher education. A critical but underresearched area is developing culturally sensitive and appropriate curriculum and pedagogy for transnational education programs. Important to note is the use of terminology. The most common terms are crossborder, transnational, offshore, and borderless education. For the purposes of this article, crossborder (CBHE) and transnational education (TNE) are used interchangeably. Even though different concepts—borders and nations—form the root of these concepts, they both denote the mobility of academic programs and providers across borders and are often interpreted to mean the same thing. A number of principles guide the selection of resources. (1) All forms of program and provider mobility are covered. Student mobility and distance education are increasing in size and scope but deserve to be treated as separate articles. (2) Given the accelerated pace of change of CBHE, a contemporary, not historical, approach is used, meaning that the majority of references are from the early 2000s onward. (3) As appropriate, the annotations suggest what type of reader may find the references most useful. The main types of readers are scholars (including students, professors, and researchers from diverse disciplines), higher education leaders, policymakers, practitioners, and TNE providers. (4) By definition TNE involves sending and host country institutions/partners, each with their own rationales, policies, and expectations. Thus, priority is given to choosing authors from a diversity of countries, ensuring that CBHE in all regions of the world is addressed.

Context and Overview

It is important to understand international program and provider mobility in the larger context of globalization trends and in the internationalization of higher education. The purpose of these selected references is to provide that overview and context. Confusion exists as to the multiple terms used to describe program and provider mobility, and thus Knight 2008 is a good place to start exploring the similarities and differences between crossborder higher education (CBHE), transnational education (TNE), offshore education, and borderless education. The SAGE Handbook of International Higher Education provides fundamental insights into the context of international higher education (IHE) through a rich variety of historical, conceptual, policy, and program oriented chapters covering diverse aspects of internationalization including CBHE. To complement this overview, Egron-Polak and Hudson 2014 presents an analysis of academic leaders’ opinions on a broad spectrum of institutions of higher education (IHE) topics such as rationales, strategies, benefits, risks, trends, and challenges. A systematic review of the current and most frequently cited literature on CBHE is provided in Kosmützky and Putty 2015. Together these three references give academics, policymakers, and researchers an overview of the literature and opinions on IHE in general and CBHE in particular. The issue of addressing and respecting the influences of culture on CBHE is at the core of many debates on IHE, making Eldridge and Cranston 2009 important to understanding the role of culture in the context of CBHE. Fegan and Field 2009 highlights core aspects of program and provider mobility such as political, policy, and legislative issues. The increase in the scope and scale of program and provider mobility since the early 2000s is staggering, but the collection of information on CBHE programs and enrolments is not keeping pace. Although somewhat dated, Naidoo 2009 attempts to systematically collect information on the types of CBHE but has to rely on secondary data sources given the scarce and uneven availability of information from both sending and host countries around the world. McNamara and Knight 2015 emphasizes the critical need for countries to establish or strengthen CBHE data-collection systems in order to monitor trends in program and provider mobility and to develop the necessary policies and regulations.

  • Deardorff, Darla K., Hans de Wit, John D. Heyl, and Tony Adams, eds. 2012. The SAGE handbook of international higher education. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    This comprehensive handbook examines multiple aspects of international higher education, including CBHE. By providing an extensive overview of the strategies and issues facing the international dimensions of higher education, it helps readers from diverse disciplines to gain a deeper understanding of the contexts and complexities of CBHE.

  • Egron-Polak, Eva, and Ross Hudson. 2014. Internationalization of higher education: Growing expectations, fundamental values; IAU 4th Global Survey. Paris: International Association of Universities.

    Included in this extensive report on the 4th Global Survey on Internationalization is data on the scale and scope of international higher education in all regions of the world. This report will assist researchers, practitioners, and policy analysts to gain a deeper appreciation of CBHE modes, trends, and patterns in the wider context of internationalization.

  • Eldridge, Kaye, and Neil Cranston. 2009. Managing transnational education: Does national culture really matter? Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management 31.1: 67–79.

    DOI: 10.1080/13600800802559286

    This study examines the impact of national culture on the academic and operational management of Australia’s TNE programs in Thailand. Using a national culture value framework, the research assesses how Australian TNE managers perceive the effects of national culture of both sending and host countries. The findings have relevance to TNE in other countries of the world.

  • Fegan, James, and Malcolm H. Field, eds. 2009. Education across borders: Politics, policy and legislative action. New York: Springer.

    The authors insightfully discuss the impact of politics, policies, and regulations on CBHE from a wide selection of countries. Chapters address diverse topics related to CBHE such as e-learning, mobility and immigration, building research capacity, and creating pathways through articulation programs.

  • Knight, Jane. 2008. Borderless, offshore, transnational, and crossborder education: Are they Different? In Higher education in turmoil: The changing world of internationalization. By Jane Knight, 81–96. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

    The origins, similarities, and differences among the four terms commonly used to describe programs and providers moving between countries are explored in this chapter. It provides a conceptual framework for gaining a deeper understanding of the different elements and types of CBHE, and identifies some of the key regulatory issues and challenges related to language of instruction, and quality assurance among others.

  • Kosmützky, Anna, and Rahul Putty. 2015. Transcending borders and traversing boundaries: A systematic review of the literature on transnational, offshore, cross-border, and borderless higher education. Journal of Studies in International Education.

    DOI: 10.1177/1028315315604719

    This extensive review of the literature on TNE identifies the most cited publications on specific themes, trends, and patterns in TNE provision. It also points to gaps in research and discusses methodological issues and future directions for research.

  • McNamara, John, and Jane Knight. 2015. Transnational higher education data collection systems: Awareness, advocacy and action. London: British Council.

    Published in partnership with the German Academic Exchange Service. This report acknowledges the staggering growth of TNE program but laments the lack of research and reliable data to monitor trends and inform national policymaking. A set of guidelines and a proposed framework to categorize the different modes of TNE are proposed in order to help develop an international classification system for data gathering and analysis.

  • Naidoo, Vik. 2009. Transnational higher education: A stock take of current activity. Journal of Studies in International Education 13.3: 310–330.

    DOI: 10.1177/1028315308317938

    The author points to the lack of any kind of comprehensive statistics on TNE developments around the world and thus, through secondary data, attempts to gather systematic information on current TNE activities in order to understand types of TNE that are taking place in countries and regions around the world.

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