British Council press release: Robust risk management key for transnational education (TNE) partnerships

British Council press release: Robust risk management key for transnational education (TNE) partnerships

18th May 2024

A robust and flexible risk framework is imperative for any institution aiming to pursue transnational education, a new report has outlined.

Through risk management, UK universities can enhance their TNE activity, expand their offering, and grow their capacity for widening access to higher education internationally, while ensuring that partnerships are responsible, sustainable and secure.

A new report outlines that all phases of a TNE partnership, from inception to winding down, must be underpinned by an integrated approach to managing risk across six key areas: financial risk, reputational risk, academic freedom and freedom of speech, security considerations, relationship and personnel management, and cyber, intellectual property (IP) and data management.

The joint British Council and Universities UK International study, based on interviews with UK higher education institutions and British Council TNE experts, found that partnerships were more likely to thrive where they define their strategic objectives for TNE before looking for a partner and scoping host countries.

The study also found that universities continually need to conduct effective due diligence on external actors and third parties to mitigate against risks throughout the course of a partnership. This due diligence must be accompanied by developing and updating exit strategies and guiding principles for partnerships.

Universities may also wish to consider more closely aligning existing in-house teams for capacity building and strategy alignment, including research compliance, finance, legal, HR and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) staff; as well as in-country students, teaching staff, and key internal stakeholders.

In terms of research considerations, the report advises universities to consider appointing internal representatives to oversee the university’s TNE activities in order to increase research security management.

Freedom of speech is also highlighted as a risk, with TNE providers advised to concentrate their efforts on two overarching obligations: upholding the principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech, and appropriately managing any unwarranted behaviour or circumstances that work against these freedoms.

Sir Steve Smith, UK International Education Champion said: “A key strength of this report is that it focuses not only on the beginning stages of a partnership, when initial due diligence checks are made, but explores what appropriate risk management looks like as a partnership evolves and eventually winds down. Appropriate monitoring measures, as well as attention to ongoing relationships and shifting political contexts, is crucial to maintaining partnerships in the longer term.”

Maddalaine Ansell, Director Education, British Council, said: “UK transnational education has grown significantly over the past decade, but it is not without risk. It requires a good understanding of the local regulatory and political environment and of the motivations of a potential partner. Time must be spent in developing the relationship, building trust and in establishing clear boundaries and expectations. The UK organisation must also think about its own risk appetite and red lines so they are clear which opportunities are worth pursuing.”

Jamie Arrowsmith, Director of Universities UK International, said: “As the UK’s transnational education offer continues to grow and diversify, the expanded benefits must also be considered alongside a sound understanding of the risks and challenges. This report draws on the experiences of those who have managed transnational education partnerships at all stages, as well as the insights of TNE experts, to offer guidance on effective risk management strategies that can help universities develop resilient, sustainable and secure partnerships.”


Notes to Editors

Full report available here:

About The British Council

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We support peace and prosperity by building connections, understanding and trust between people in the UK and countries worldwide. We do this through our work in arts and culture, education and the English language. We work with people in over 200 countries and territories and are on the ground in more than 100 countries. In 2022-23 we reached 600 million people.

About Universities UK International

Universities UK International (UUKi) represents 142 UK higher education institutions (HEIs) globally and helps them flourish internationally. To do this, we actively promote UK HEIs abroad, provide trusted information for and about them, and create unique opportunities through our ability to act at sector level. We draw on UK university expertise to influence policy in the UK and overseas, delivering information, advice and guidance to facilitate mutually beneficial collaboration between UK HEIs and a broad range of international partners.

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