For thousands of students across the Middle East and North Africa, transnational education (TNE) is offering opportunities that would have been hard to access even a decade ago.
Where once students had to travel abroad to study at a UK institution, now they can do it more affordably in their home country, balancing work and family commitments as they do – while also gaining the career skills, English-language skills and international outlook they seek.
Yet when they apply to a UK institution, many TNE students expect an equivalent experience to that of students studying in the UK. In many cases, though, this hasn’t quite happened yet.
Part of the reason is the underlying technology. No matter how TNE is delivered – online, via branch campuses, or via partnerships between institutions – it depends on the technology that enables it. Virtual learning environments (VLEs), videoconferencing applications, MOOCs and online assessment platforms, for example, can all help free education from physical boundaries and facilitate global learning.
In their turn, though, these technologies rely on reliable, high-performance connectivity between UK and host institutions. And in many cases, this essential connectivity isn’t up to the standard that TNE students and staff expect – and that affects the student experience.
This is where Jisc, the national research and education network (NREN) for the UK, can help.
Along with GÉANT, the pan-European data network for the research and education community, Jisc has been working in partnership with NRENs and commercial internet providers – both globally and throughout the Middle East and North Africa – to improve the connectivity students depend on.
By doing this, we can help improve the learning experience, and help students gain the skills they seek.
Our partnerships are already bearing fruit. In China, for example, we worked with CERNET, the country’s NREN, to provide reliable, fast access to the 10Gbit/s ORIENTplus link between Beijing and London via GÉANT. Our work has meant that TNE students and staff in China can reliably access services and learning environments hosted in the UK, from both on or off campus.
In Malaysia, too, we worked with a commercial provider, Telekom Malaysia, to offer a cost-effective, reliable connectivity solution to UK branch campuses in EduCity, Nusajaya.
In the Middle East and North Africa, we hope to develop similar partnerships, in an effort to improve the quality and speed of internet connections. The region is already a hub for UK higher and further education partnerships, and we aim to support TNE further by developing collaborative relationships with ASREN and our peer NRENs in the region.
The benefits of developing educational connectivity extend beyond the student experience. TNE can also benefit host countries, including those in the Middle East and North Africa – by helping support local economies; by establishing and enabling research collaboration; and, in the long term, by fostering closer links between the region and the UK.
It all starts with partnership.
* Esther Wilkinson is head of international at Jisc. To contact her, see https://www.jisc.ac.uk/staff/esther-wilkinson