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Education Fellowships

Learning and teaching in a Transnational Education (TNE) context: a valuable professional development experience

26 June 2023
Earth's globe in a library

Dr Alyson Lewis, Lecturer in Education Development in the Learning and Teaching Academy shares her thoughts on Transnational Education (TNE).

Transnational Education (TNE) is usually described as ‘the delivery of an educational award in a country other than that in which the awarding body is based’ (Universities UK, 2022). For example, a student could study in their home country (e.g. China) and have input from staff at the awarding university (e.g. UK). The input or mode of delivery and type of partnership can take many forms such as flying faculty or branch campuses (Smith, 2014), joint or dual awards, offshore programmes, cross-border education, distance learning, collaborative education alliances, and franchise and validation arrangements (Dai and Garcia, 2019); a complex landscape. 

TNE is a major contributor to the UK economy with a forecast of 849 million pounds in 2025 (O’ Mahony, 2014). This sector is rapidly growing when the value in 2010 was 350 million pounds (Department for Education and Department for International Trade, 2021). The majority of UK TNE students are based in China with 61,495 students studying in 2020-2021 (Universities UK, 2022). In 2020/21, Universities UK (2022) reported that ‘162 UK universities delivered some form of TNE to 510,835 students in over 225 countries and territories worldwide’ and there was a headcount of 1,095 TNE Cardiff University students (Universities UK, 2022).  

As well as being a major contributor to the UK economy, the TNE experience played an important part in my professional development as a lecturer. Before joining Cardiff University in May 2022, I had a unique lecturing role which involved teaching undergraduate students in the UK and developing a TNE programme and delivering modules to students in China. For a period of four years, I was a fly-in-fly-out lecturer and would typically spend three intense weeks delivering two modules to groups of 30 to 40 students.  

My journey to the University would take around twenty-six hours and I would travel between one and three times per academic year. My suitcases were filled with a diverse mix of personal and professional items such as clean underwear, Taylors coffee bags, laminated resources and puppets! I had approximately a day-and-a-half to settle in, adjust to the 8-hour time difference, get my learning materials ready and start delivering the modules. My experience is summed up well by Smith (2017) who reports – flying faculty lecturers generally find the TNE experience ‘more extreme, intense, and disorientating’ (p.8) where it can be challenging yet rewarding.  

Working in a cross-cultural classroom where all students spoke English as an additional language confirmed the importance of the following pedagogic aspects: 

  1. playful, active learning approaches were helpful in explaining complex concepts 
  2. understanding previous student experiences maximised learning and helped to build positive relationships  
  3. repetition and the careful introduction of new words/terms when communicating, and providing information where possible in Mandarin (i.e. first language) supported learning 
  4. ‘assessment as learning’, ‘authentic assessment’ and explaining assessment criteria and the expectations into day-to-day lessons developed students’ assessment literacy 
  5. partnership working and building positive relationships with colleagues across two universities e.g. working with professional services staff helped to develop study skills and enrich the student experience   
  6. putting students first and asking – what is this experience like for them/from their perspective helped improve the support services on offer 
  7. engaging in regular critical reflection with colleagues helped enhance my practice 
  8. being creative, resourceful and adaptable helped me become a better facilitator of learning. 

I appreciate these aspects might not be new to those who work with international students on a regular basis, but the eight points are extremely relevant and beneficial to all students in Higher Education wherever they are learning and wherever we are teaching.   



Dai, K. & Garcia, J. (2019). Intercultural Learning in Transnational Articulation Programs: The Hidden Agenda of Chinese Students’ Experiences.  Journal of International Students, 9(2), 362-383. 

Department for Education and Department for International Trade (2021). International Education Strategy: 2021 update Supporting recovery, driving growth. London: UK Government. International Education Strategy 2021 ( 

O’ Mahony, J. (2014). Enhancing student learning and teacher development in transnational education.  York: The Higher Education Academy. enhancingtne_final_080414_1568036615.pdf  

Smith, K. (2014). Exploring flying faculty teaching experiences: motivations, challenges and opportunities. Studies in Higher Education, 39(1), 117-134. 

Smith, K. (2017). Transnational education toolkit. York: Higher Education Academy. Transnational education toolkit | Advance HE ( 

Universities UK. (2022) International Facts and Figures 2022. International Facts and Figures 2022 (