Regulation of higher education in England recognises that there are circumstances where international higher education providers are operating here, but that they may not be subject to the same rules as an English provider is. This is fine, as long as its not confusing for students, particularly if they think they might be at a regulated provider, offering a UK degree and having access to support from the government.
International mobility is a crucial part of the global higher education system and a large proportion of the overseas universities based in England are the study-abroad base of a university. Such providers can sponsor students, and the UKVI register includes the following:
|Boston University London Programme||London|
|Florida State University International Programs Association UK||London|
|Georgetown University (USA) UK Initiatives Organisation||London|
|James Madison University & JMU Overseas Programs Ltd||London|
|Lawrence University London Centre||London|
|Luther College Study Centre||Nottingham|
|NYU in London||London|
|Pepperdine University UK Ltd||London|
|PHBS-UK (Peking University Business School)||Oxford|
|Samford University London Study Centre||London|
|St George’s International School of Medicine Limited||Winchester|
|St. Cloud State University||Alnwick|
|St. Lawrence University (USA) London Programme||London|
|Syracuse University London Program||London|
|TEIKYO UNIVERSITY OF JAPAN IN DURHAM||Durham|
|The Aga Khan University (International) in the United Kingdom||London|
|University of Chicago Booth School of Business||London|
|University of North Carolina||London|
|University of Notre Dame||London|
|Wroxton College of Fairleigh Dickinson University||Banbury|
It’s no surprise that London dominates the list of destinations, but there’s also a representation of a ‘country house’ model at Alnwick, Harlaxton and Wroxton. St Cloud University, based at Alnwick, which was the location for the early Harry Potter films, doesn’t muck about with its imagery. At Alnwick, students take the courses offered by a staff member who’s also travelled to Northumberland.
There are several variants of an ’embedded model’, where an overseas university is working in partnership with a UK university. Students are based at premises of the branch, but are integrated to a greater or lesser extent with a nearby UK university. Tieko University has a group of thirty students from the parent university taking English language courses in Durham. NYU has had a longstanding link with the University of London, and now shares facilities with Birkbeck while running courses for over 500 students.
Stanford’s English operation has migrated from the country house to the embedded model. It was based first at Harlaxton, then moved to Cliveden and is now in Oxford, in premises owned by Magdalen College, supporting embedded Stanford students on study-year. The University of Georgia has a large house in North Oxford where it offers its own courses (modules) in semesters and a summer programme.
It should be noted that these Oxford outposts are not on the UKVI sponsor register; it’s not necessary to sponsor students to visit for shorter periods of study as part of courses in the home country. To be on the UKVI register requires an overseas HEI to have an Student Educational Oversight inspection from the QAA. A judgment is made as to whether the learning opportunities meets UK expectations and that it is managing its responsibilities for academic standards satisfactorily (for example, QAA’s latest review of NYU London was completed in March 2021).
Transnational Education (TNE) is regulated on a differential basis across the world, generally there being some form of baseline regulation for overseas universities. If an overseas university doesn’t want to sponsor students’ visas or access student loan funding, it can still be here and DfE have clarified the rules. DfE are clear that for an overseas provider to use ‘university’ in a company or trading name, they must obtain a ‘non-objection letter’ from them. These include being very clear that it’s not an English university – and will include putting the full name of your home country in the agreed name. It’s quite complex to find who DfE have issued ‘non-objection letters’ too (in 2019 DfE refused to provide a list of organisations who had received a letter) and it’s not clear whether they are going to apply these rules retrospectively).
An example of charting a course between all these different rules is Azad University (IR) in Oxford where students on the masters courses come to Oxford for a semester having started in Iran first. Students can enrol on their short courses, just based in England. This university, in the countryside between Oxford and Eynsham, needs no educational regulation.
While OfS issues press releases about clamp downs and crackdowns, and extends the scope of its regulation to English providers operating overseas, it seems curious that providers can set up in the UK and, if they decline the opportunity to sponsor students or seek student loan funding, they can operate on a caveat emptor basis. Asking students to check various lists to find whether a university has engaged with the gold standard measures necessary for, say OfS Registration or UKVI Sponsorship, if that’s not necessary for your purposes, seems complex. While bodies like HEDD will list the properly bogus places, there’s potentially a tail of providers remaining outside the regulatory framework. The new rules on titles that DfE have set out mitigates a key risk of overseas universities giving the impression they are UK universities, but they need to remain alert to a group of providers which might threaten the controlled reputational range of the regulated sector.