There are now 32 international branch campuses (IBCs) in China, making it the top host country, according to a new report published by the Observatory for Borderless Education (OBHE).

Transnational Education (TNE), of which IBCs are a major component of, has been a growing trend over the past couple of decades, as universities in predominantly developed Western countries seek to strengthen relationships with higher education institutions and student markets overseas.

An estimated 180,000 students were enrolled at IBCs around the world by the end of last year, which the report calls “a significant number”, despite accounting for less than 4 percent of the five million international students in the world.

In the foreword for the International Branch Campuses: Trends and Developments 2016 report, OBHE’s chair, Drummond Bone, said: “IBCs may not be the most common form of cross-border higher education, but they are among the most ambitious and embody the greatest potential for institutional transformation.”

IBCs are defined in the report as “an entity that is wholly or partly owned by a foreign education provider, operated in its name and providing an entire academic programme leading to a degree awarded by that provider”.

The report, which was compiled in collaboration with the Cross-Border Education Research Team (C-BERT), revealed that the number of IBCs had risen to 249 in 76 countries by 2015, showing a 26 percent growth from 2010.

Global IBC provision (Host Countries), 2015. Image via the OBHE.

Between 2011 to 2015, more IBCs have popped up around Asia than any other region, particularly China, which saw 16 campuses being launched within that time frame, while Malaysia saw five new IBCs, and South Korea three.

The rise of IBCs in China has been mainly driven by the Chinese government, so it should come as no surprise that the Asian giant currently leads the pack with the most IBCs, leapfrogging over the former top host nation, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which has seen TNE activities slowing down.

OBHE director Richard Garrett said he expected the shift in growth from the Middle East to Asia to continue, as Asia is considered a “less risky” region for branch campuses “from a geopolitical view”, with far more potential due to its large youth population, reported Times Higher Education.

Based on the report’s data, the top five host countries are China (32), the UAE (31), Singapore (12), Malaysia (12), and Qatar (11), which together host 98 IBCs, or 39 percent of the world’s total.

On the other end, the top countries in exporting education through IBCs are the U.S., the UK, Russia, France, and Australia. In total, these countries account for 181 branch campuses, or 73 percent of all existing IBCs.

The report predicted that U.S. and UK institutions will continue to spur the growth of IBCs, citing that nearly half of the known IBCs under development will be overseas campuses of institutions based in the two countries.

Meanwhile, the geographical scope of IBCs has spread, with seven new host countries, including Cyprus, Egypt, Finland, Ghana, India, Malta, Nicaragua, Rwanda, and Saudi Arabia, while higher education institutions in Belgium, Estonia, Japan, South Korea, Turkey, and Taiwan have joined the TNE movement, setting up their first IBCs.

Image via Shutterstock

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