România post-pandemică și antidotul digital

Marius Wamsiedel: Transnational Education in the Post-Pandemic World

Transnational Education in the Post-Pandemic World

Covid-19 has exacted a heavy toll on education worldwide. School closures, a hasty switch to online instruction and exams, staff furloughs and layoffs, students’ suspension of studies, restructuring of academic programs, research interruptions, canceling on annual meetings and other international events, delayed admissions, financial insecurity, and uncertainty regarding future enrollment are some of the short-term consequences of the current crisis. It is difficult, if not impossible, to anticipate how the post-pandemic world will look like and how the crisis will transform the educational landscape in the long run. What we can be sure of, however, is that Covid-19 brings with it not only chaos and confusion but also a host of unprecedented opportunities. I will consider here one such opportunity: the further development of transnational education.

Transnational education encompasses a variety of institutional arrangements through which a University provides a certified educational program or course in another country, either directly or through a partnership with a local institution. Transnational education is a product of and a contributor to globalization. The interconnectedness of economies, societies, and cultures facilitated the establishment of study programs and campuses overseas. In turn, these forms of education responded to the globalizing world’s needs by creating professionals equipped with the knowledge and skills to succeed in multicultural environments.

The reasons for the increased popularity of transnational education are multiple, and so are the consequences of transnational education for universities, teachers, and students. Universities have financial incentives to develop educational programs overseas. According to the UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (2014), the estimated annual revenue of British transnational education in the fiscal year 2012-2013 was as high as GBP496 million. Besides tuition fees, providers can improve their notoriety, standing and prestige worldwide; develop international connections; increased expertise; and further improve teaching practice (Higher Education Academy 2014). Nevertheless, a program failing to meet quality standards or failing to recruit enough students to be self-sustainable can undermine the reputation of the foreign provider. Teachers can benefit from transnational education by having the opportunity to expand their research and become better equipped at teaching in multicultural environments. For students, transnational education is a transformative experience. They can acquire skills, abilities, and competencies that increase their employability in the globalizing economy, and can develop personal connections that may help them in their careers.

Transnational education has proliferated over the past decades throughout the world. However, the development is uneven: by and large, it reflects (and contributes to the reproduction of) the global North-South divide. For instance, in 2011, over 70% of all international branch campuses belonged to universities from only four developed countries – the United States, Australia, United Kingdom, and France. At the same time, 6 out of 10 international branch campuses in the world were in the Middle East and Asia (Knight 2015). Despite the success story of many transnational universities, establishing such institutions and ensuring their financial sustainability is often fraught with difficulties. Difficulties in navigating local bureaucracies, hasty policy changes, and abrupt termination of partnerships by local authorities are reasons for which some authors (e.g., Healey 2019) expect that transnational education would enter a stage of decline.

However, the post-pandemic world is likely to bring a renewed impetus for the provision of education abroad for economic and social reasons. The increasing cost of higher education in a context of economic turmoil and recession makes study abroad less attractive an option for many students from emerging economies. Additionally, the anticipated post-Brexit withdrawal of home fee status for students originating in EU countries is likely to drop the enrollment of many Central and Eastern European students in British universities. Nevertheless, the most significant impact on the enrollment of international students is likely to have a different source. The pandemic prompts a reconsideration of risk, particularly in risk-averse societies. The epidemiological uncertainty (e.g., regarding risk factors, possible mutations of the virus, or likelihood of a second wave) brings with it a heightened sense of personal insecurity. The experience of severe lockdown measures throughout the world, the temporary suspension of international transportation, and the heavily publicized micro-rationing of care in overcrowded ICUs have led to a global moral panic. Compounded by the surge in hate speech and Sinophobia in many Western countries, this moral panic is likely to make international education less appealing an option for many students, particularly of Asian descent. However, as these students and their families cherish the opportunity to attend programs provided by foreign universities for the competitive advantage they may bring about, the demand for transnational education is likely to increase in the years to come.

In this favorable context, transnational universities have the chance to expand and further establish their legitimacy as glocal institutions.  By providing an education at the standard of quality of the home university, with curricula and teaching practices adapted to the needs of their students and responding to the globalized world’s needs, transnational universities can fill in a gap in the educational landscape. Instead of acting as a substitute for the home university, they have the opportunity to acquire a distinct identity and an international profile.


Healey, Nigel Martin. 2019. “The end of transnational education? The view from the UK.” Perspectives: Policy and Practice in Higher Education. DOI: 10.1080/13603108.2019.1631227.

Higher Education Academy. 2014. Internationalising Higher Education Framework. Available at (retrieved June 4, 2020).

Knight, Jane. 2015a. “Transnational Education Remodelled: Toward a Common TNE Framework and Definitions.” Journal of Studies in International Education 20(1):34-47.

UK Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. 2014. The Value of Transnational Education to the UK. Available at (retrieved June 4, 2020).


Short bio: Marius is a Sociologist by training and a Lecturer at the Department of Health and Environmental Sciences, Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University in Suzhou, China. He teaches modules on globalization and health; society, culture, and health; policy making for health; and global health. Marius studied the University of Arizona (BA magna cum laude, 2009), University of Bucharest (MA, 2011), and the University of Hong Kong (PhD, 2016). His works have been published in Sociology of Health & Illness, Social Science & Medicine, and the Journal of Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe. Marius is currently working on a multi-sited ethnographic study of clinical encounters in Romania, China, Belize, and Zambia and a study of learning cultures in transnational education.

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