Transnational Education in China – how an understanding of the quality assurance, policy and tax landscape will support the development of more sustainable partnerships

It has been over twenty years since the Ministry of Education approved the first UK-China transnational education (TNE) joint programme. Since then UK-China TNE has grown tremendously. Currently the UK and China boast 228 transnational education initiatives, including 206 joint programmes, 20 joint institutes and two joint campuses. At present there are more than 30,000 students following UK qualifications through these programmes.

Since the establishment of the first joint programme, growth in transnational education (referred to in China as China Foreign Cooperation in Running Schools (CFCRS)) has ebbed and flowed in accordance with China’s national education and social policies and priorities.

Throughout the years of transnational education development, one consistency has been the strict regulation of overseas institutions’ teaching activities in China. In 2003 a key piece of regulatory framework on CFCRS introduced by the State Council of China outlined a requirement that overseas institutions cannot provide teaching in China without a Chinese partner.

To support the regulation of CFCRS, the Ministry of Education established the China Academic Degrees and Graduate Education Development Centre (CDGDC) in 2003. To this day the CDGDC remains a key regulatory body responsible for the evaluation and auditing of TNE at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.

In more recent years, the Chinese Education Association for International Exchange (CEAIE) has begun to play a regulatory role in transnational education, specifically tasked with managing site inspections of TNE programmes to identify any issues or complaints and commend good practice.

Ministry of Education approval for joint programmes and institutes is issued on a case-by-case basis. Since 2014 there has been a marked decrease in the number of approvals of joint programmes and institutes, as the MoE has focussed on quality of partnerships over quantity.

Overseas institutions will have noticed a stricter application of regulations such as the so-called “four one-thirds” requirements, which states that the overseas partner must provide a minimum of one third of all modules and one third of core modules, while core modules delivered by staff of the overseas partner must comprise at least one third of all modules and one third of total teaching hours delivered in China.

Adhering to such requirements places a heavy burden on UK institutions in particular in regard to the allocation of staff time and cost of flying faculty to and from China. From a further practical point of view, institutions must also consider the taxes applicable to transnational education, which vary according to the exact collaboration model and factors such as the number of days faculty spend in China.

Whilst this tightening of policy has proved challenging for UK institutions, China’s increasing focus on quality assurance and support of the development of deeper and more strategic partnerships between the UK and China has (and should be) on the whole, welcomed by a UK sector who recognise the increasing need to develop partnerships that go beyond student recruitment.

China’s ambition to become a standard bearer for international education is becoming ever more pronounced through its ambitious domestic policies, such as the Double First-Class project, and increasing investment in all areas of education. This ambition, coupled with China’s increasing focus on quality and depth of partnership, presents opportunities for UK institutions to foster and develop deeper and more sustainable partnerships for the next twenty years and beyond.

Fraser Deas, Head of Education Services, British Council China


This article is a summary of a presentation given at the Chartered ABS's Focus On: China workshop in May, and features much of the valuable information that was shared with participants. You can find out more about our programme of upcoming events and workshops here,  and more about our international activities here.

To further explore how your institution can develop sustainable partnerships in China or maximise output from existing partnerships, please contact Fraser at