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Date of print: 05/10/23

Work programme 1999-2001

International Seminar on Transnational Education

Bologna Seminar Malmö, Sweden 02/03/2001 - 03/03/2001

The theme of the seminar held in Malmö, Sweden, was transnational education. This topic is not specifically identified in the Bologna Declaration, but, as awareness rises, it is becoming a common concern of the signatory countries and is, in fact, related to most of the issues.

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The theme of the seminar held in Malmö, Sweden, was transnational education. This topic is not specifically identified in the Bologna Declaration, but, as awareness rises, it is becoming a common concern of the signatory countries and is, in fact, related to most of the issues. As a rapidly growing phenomenon, it cannot be simply ignored. Transnational education has been considered both as very positive and very negative. Positive as it is a way of widening the access to higher education to students that otherwise would not have that possibility, but negative as alongside good quality, there is also low quality and even fraudulent offers.

An idea has emerged from the seminar, that transnational education challenges national higher education and, in doing so, its growth is often a sign that the national systems are not responding to the needs of potential students. The relevance of the code of practice prepared by the ENIC network of the Council of Europe and UNESCO was emphasised. Concerted action by the signatory countries related to quality assessment and recognition policies regarding transnational education was considered necessary and it was suggested that it could be promoted through the association of the NARIC/ENIC network and ENQA.

Code of Good Practice in the Provision of Transnational Education

The following text is an extract from the report on the International Seminar on Transnational Education
General Rapporteur: Rolf Hoffmann

Towards a common policy on Transnational Education (TNE) – the need to cooperate and address this issue together on a European level was the message which the majority of participants took home as one of the most important results of one and a half days of intense discussions. TNE is about to surface as one of the major – and most pressing - issues in the process of internationalization of Higher Education in Europe in the near future, in particular in countries with federally financed systems. TNE as the most obvious manifestation of globalization in higher education is flourishing in almost every country, it is demand-oriented and thus introduces a commercial component that is completely new to most higher education systems in Europe.

While the physical presence of TNE institutions is obvious, it’s implications for the existing systems are less visible: Higher Education, in European countries usually state-driven and financed, based on (in the best case) federal mid-term planning and with little need to compete, are suddenly confronted by very successful competitors which operate client- minded, and out of the definded Higher Education matrix. They offer international curricula and degrees which prepare students for a global market, they charge tuition and they seem to supply modules and degrees (and models) that state-driven systems often lack. Students – and often the best students – choose TNE-providers over state universities, and if they cannot find appropiate offers in their home country in Europe they go abroad to study there, mostly in the US. Hence, the consequences of TNE, it’s challenges of and chances for the various existing systems in Europe, and various approaches to a coordinated response to TNE defined the discussion of the Seminar.


All participants agreed that the findings in the draft report being presented by Stephen Adams are a very sound and well-researched basis to facilitate the discussion on a mutual approach to a common policy on TNE. It was agreed that there was little to be added, or changed to the results and recommendations. Minor suggestions were made (such as a re-draft of 4.22) and will be incorporated by the author. Some issue though drew special attention and were subject to very intense, yet rarely truly controversial discussion.


There was a general concern that much too little is known about the impact of TNE, particularly with regard to

  • students and their motivation to choose (and often prefer) TNE institutions and offers over state institutions in their own country
  • students, their strategic goals and their expectations with regard to higher education, curricula, degrees and quality of existing state-driven systems
  • acceptance of TNE degrees (vs. recognized state degrees) on the labor market
  • the current situation of intra-European and trans-European export and import of Higher Education products
  • strategic options for TNE and traditional HE models in the future with regard to the growing need for internationalization
  • best practices in TNE
  • the size and the future demand of the potential ‘market’, in europe and on a world-wide basis.

It was very strongly recommended that studies should be commissioned as soon as possible to address these questions since national authorities and actors cannot develop policies without substantial quantitative and qualitative assessment of the situation.


It was generally agreed upon that the issue of quality, quality assurance and it’s international transparency would have to become the main focus of all parties involved in TNE in the future. While some state-driven systems had long ago developed a set of internal quality measurements which still may differ widely from country to country they are now faced with the challenge to re-define quality and quality assurance parameters in study and research both to position themselves on the international HE market, and to guarantee at least minimal common national and European standards. For example, top-seed TNE providers (e.g branches of US Ivy League universities) which actively compete ‘next door’ with well- established European universities for the best students may create the need for European institutions to quickly develop and apply comparable and transparent quality standards, as much as they need to distance themselves at the same time from degree mills of questionalbe origin.

It was recommended that

  • TNE providers (including European institutions) should be subject to strict quality assurance on a national level (host country; or country of home mosther institution if member on EU)
  • That every country should set up a proper quality assurance system acknowleged within the EU
  • That Naric/Enic should be more aware of their responsibilities with respect to TNE
  • That a European platform for quality assurance could be helpful in order to provide the exchange of ideas, approaches and – in particular - to facilitate the coordination of existing initiatives and networks such as Naric and ENQA.

Accreditation can be part of quality assurance, but it is likely to succeed only if generally accepted quality standards are being applied. Different national accreditation standards will multiply problems and dilute quality transparency rather than establish it. Accreditation has become an important tool of efforts to control TNE providers in some members states already, but there is little, if any, coordination or cooperation among states in setting up a commonly agreed-upon set of criteria. Accreditation as a standardized tool to guarantee quality in TNE is most likely successful only if it is developed on a supranational (here: European) level.

Social issues

In various discussions it was mentioned that the social issue in TNE was not being considered appropriately. In particular there seems to be too little concern over the impact of TNE on

  • the possibility of a gradual transformation from non-fee systems to fee-based systems (‘value for money’ – approach)
  • the development of national and European student loan and grant schemes in a rapidly opening international market
  • the responsibility of Governments for student’s needs
  • the commercialization of higher education when being subjected to GATS.

It was obvious throughout the discussions that too little is known about the links between students, their motivation with respect to their preferred field of study, the labor market and it’s demands, and TNE providers which obviously seem to fill a certain gap. The internationalization of labor markets require a set of new qualifications from students that state-driven national systems cannot easily provide without giving up traditional national positions and protective behaviour. Students who can move freely from one institution to another in a harmonized yet diversified European Higher Education landscape are most likely to fulfill the requirements of future global employers. They will look for the best education, and they will choose those institutions which can provide this in the most efficient manner. The push-and-pull factors have changed over the last years, and the principles of the Lisbon agreement will further This change significantly to a configuration of rules guarding the HE market following the principle of motivation (by students) and attractivity (of providers).

This new global development requires that internationally accepted quality standards are sound, transparent, applicable to both private and state institutions and transferable.

It was generally agreed that these standards need to be developed as quickly as possible on the broadest European level.
Apart from the strict application of quality assurance, there was consent that there should be as little formal regulation of TNE providers on a national or European level as possible, that in fact a cooperative approach would serve much more the needs of all parties involved. The emergence and success of TNE providers in many countries should be seen as a helpful indicator of the problems of existing state systems, of options for future developments and even best practice models in some cases. Institutions in some countries have already begun to act themselves as TNE providers, and there will be an increased competition for highly qualified students worldwide in the years to come. TNE opens the door to a first step towards a de-regulation of European Higher Education, and thus the need towards a common approach.

Published: 03/03/2001 - Last modified: 20/10/2016
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