Country Director Andrew Glass opening the transnational education (TNE) forum held on 24–25 October 2023 in Sofia.

UK-Bulgarian Transnational Education (TNE) Forum held on 24–25 October 2023 in Sofia

Reinforcing the multi-agency approach and facilitating partnerships between higher education institutions was the focus of the two-day TNE forum held in Sofia on 24–25 October 2023.

The TNE forum was opened by Elizabeth Chapman, Deputy Chief of Mission of the British Embassy; Professor Genka Petrova, Deputy Minister of Education and Science in Bulgaria; and Andrew Glass, Country Director of the British Council in Bulgaria and Romania.

Moderated by Janet Ilieva from Education Insight UK and Dobryana Petkova, TNE programme manager at the British Council, the forum brought together over 45 representatives of agencies, governmental institutions, higher education institutions and science academies, including the Bulgarian Higher Education Directorate, the National Evaluation and Accreditation Agency, ENIC-NARIC members from Bulgaria and the UK, UUKi, UK Quality Assurance Agency. They participated in thematic sessions covering topics related to quality assurance, evaluation and accreditation of HEI programmes in the context of TNE collaborations, as well as the recognition of diplomas and the regulation of professions. Higher education institutions also attended small-scale match-making opportunities and Q&A sessions.

The British Council and the British Embassy in Bulgaria, in co-operation with the Ministry of Education and Science, have been working for more than a year on the strategic UK-Bulgarian TNE programme. The aim is to encourage and foster TNE partnerships in the higher education sector, as well as facilitate co-operation between relevant agencies for more inclusive, more international and more connected tertiary education. Enhancing knowledge exchange between faculties, researchers and policy makers from the UK and Bulgaria is one of the key objectives.

Parallel to the event in Sofia – and connected to the objectives of TNE programmes – two strategic Bulgarian-UK agreements were signed, which will have a significant impact on TNE possibilities:

  • A joint declaration of strategic partnership between Bulgaria and the UK was signed on 24 October 2023 in London by Bulgaria’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mariya Gabriel and UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly. The declaration is an expression of the two countries’ strong ambition for closer co-operation in key spheres including technology, science and education.
  • A memorandum of understanding was signed by the Bulgarian National Agency for Evaluation and Accreditation and the UK Quality Assurance Agency at the 2023 ENQA (European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education) General Assembly, which took place on 26–27 October in Dublin, Ireland.

Background

According to the study Local impact of transnational education. A pilot study in selected European Union countries [1], TNE provides top educational knowledge from the best professionals in the market, providing networking and good skill sets for career growth.

According to the main findings and recommendations of the pilot study, transnational education programmes and partnerships:

  • TNE programmes and partnerhips address local labour market needs.
  • UK TNE is seen as having an ‘internationalising’ role that helps to build prosperity for local areas and facilitates local authorities’ ambitions to attract international businesses.
  • For partner higher education institutions (HEIs), the relationship with quality UK providers develops and positions them as critical local providers in the talent supply chain.
  • English-language taught programmes are a critical factor in attracting and retaining international businesses.
  • TNE programmes are perceived as contributing to the local development, circulation and transfer of knowledge.
  • TNE programmes have an immediate and positive impact on local economies.
  • For students, the impact is related to fulfilling their career aspirations and equipping them with the knowledge and skills needed to be successfully employed in the labour market.

Goal and objectives

The main goal of the strategic partnership programme for UK & BG – transnational education (TNE) engagement is the overall support regarding policy development, institutional partnerships and knowledge exchange between the United Kingdom (UK) and Bulgaria (BG) for more inclusive, more international, and more connected tertiary education.

The objectives include:

  • Increasing the scale and effectiveness of UK Transnational Education (TNE) and Joint Teaching Programmes by fostering the existing and encouraging and assisting new TNE collaborations.
  • Enhancing knowledge exchange between faculties, researchers and policy makers from the UK and BG.

Implementing agents and leading partners

British Embassy, the British Council, UK Science and Innovation Network

Invited partnering institutions and organisations

Bulgarian Ministry of Education and Science, Universities UK (UUK), Bulgarian Council of Rectors, UK and BG Universities, National agency for Information and Documentation, National Evaluation and Accreditation Agency (NEAA), Business Organisations, Study in Bulgaria Foundation, NGO Tuk-Tam.

Target audience

  • Main target audience: UK and BG universities, educational stakeholders in higher education (HE) and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET)
  • Secondary target audience: Representatives from the business sector/ potential employers, chambers, HR agencies, science academies/institutes, media

The TNE project in Bulgaria consists of three main execution phases implemented in 2021–23:

  • Preparation phase, including research and data gathering (2021–22).
  • Three research papers were commissioned: two exploring the interests of TNE collaboration between BG-UK HEIs (one consisting of 52 HEIs – respondents from BG, and one exploring the interests of 15 representatives of UK HEIs). The third research is a sociological analysis from conducted national survey among young people aged 16–35 (30 May 2022) exploring Bulgarian young people’s attitudes towards higher education in British-Bulgarian transnational study programmes with representation in Bulgaria.
  •  Execution Phase 1 (Q3, 2022): Launch and First Webinar – presentation of and introduction to the TNE framework, answering why BG-UK TNE co-operation is successful, including institutional and legal background in Bulgaria and why it is convenient for TNE partnerships establishments; research data and analysis regarding the readiness of universities in the two countries to partner, as well as perceptions and attitudes of beneficiaries (young people and students); Case studies of TNE partnerships with good practices and challenges included.
  • Execution Phase 2 (Q4, 2022): Exploring the market – the role of businesses and subjects of interest for TNE partners; labour market gaps and how the interests of employers, students and HEIs can meet and counteract; emerging professions.
  • Execution Phase 3 (Q1–Q2, 2023): Match-making sessions and possibilities for collaborations.
  • Evaluation and review (Q3): Possible scaling into bilateral agreement in HE.

Why Bulgaria would be a good place for UK TNE partnerships

Favourable legislative regulation Unlike other countries, Bulgarian Higher Education Act acknowledges the rights of recognised universities of any EU country to set up all sorts of partnerships, including branches/campuses, and for non-EU countries – all except the latter.
Available infrastructure 52 public and private universities, specialised higher schools, colleges – therefore available buildings.
Demand for students and academic staff About 10% of any school-leaver batch over the past several years – and most often the highest performers – will study abroad. Of those, the largest flow is to the UK – about 2,000 a year.
International students in Bulgaria In 2019–20 approximately 7% of the total were international students in Bulgaria (around 14,000). The second largest group are from the UK – currently some 2,600 UK nationals are studying in Bulgaria (mostly Medicine and Dentistry). Also, the BG government has fixed quotas for nationals from several countries to study in Bulgaria who would not normally go to other countries.
Excellent internet infrastructure Good blended and online courses.
Student bank loans Available for studies in Bulgarian universities (and by extension for TNE, as they would have a local partner).
Employer demand In the sectors which mirror the top choices for Bulgarian students to the UK.
Excellent English language skills English is already used as a medium of instruction across various universities and programmes in Bulgaria.
Quality assurance system The National Agency of Accreditation and Assessment was established based on the UK model by the British Council.
Excellent geo-political location Including climate, landscape etc.
Lower cost of setting up Positive investment policies.

[1] TNE is a crucial part of the Going Global Partnerships Programme of the British Council. The Going Global programme aims to help with policy development in support of higher education partnerships; it seeks to facilitate (new) institutional partnerships between UK and higher education institutions (HEIs) including transnational education partnerships (TNE). It aims to further enhance exchange for more inclusive, more international, and therefore higher quality tertiary education. This British Council programme supports partnerships between universities, colleges, education policy makers, civil society organisations and industry partners in the UK and around the world.

[2] Research commissioned by the British Council and conducted by Education Insight; Authored by: Janet Ilieva, Vangelis Tsiligiris, Pat Killingley, Uwe Brandenburg; www.britishcouncil.org/sites/default/files/bc_tne_report_final_120421.pdf

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