The passage of the Transnational Higher Education Act (RA 11448) in August 2019 signals the Philippine government’s openness to a shift from a focus on student and academic mobility to the mobility of programs and of educational providers in its educational internationalization strategy.

The move by the political leadership, however belatedly, coincides with and reinforces an earlier Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Policy framework on internationalization (CHED CMO 55, s.2016), issued on Nov. 11, 2016, under former CHED chair, Dr. Patricia Licuanan.

The CHED’s “comprehensive” framework recognizes the importance of the internationalization of tertiary education, particularly the movement of different “forms, providers and products” that emanate from the home and cross-border higher education pillars of internationalization. Home-based internationalization in ASEAN and Philippine higher education institutions (HEIs) presupposes that while student, faculty, institution or educational service providers do not necessarily cross jurisdictions, the content and process-based measures and activities on curricula, programs, teaching, learning, service, and research are enhanced by technology, networking, and collaboration with foreign partner HEIs. Alternatively, the UNESCO/Council of Europe Code of Good Practice in the provision of transnational education (2001) defines cross border internationalization as the movement of people, as well as programs and educational service providers across national jurisdictions.

At the outset, higher education expert and scholar Jane Knight (2016) stated that transnational education (TNE) and cross border higher education (CBHE) dominate the discourse on program and provider mobility. TNE basically moves the programs and providers closer to the students in their very own countries which host these mass offerings of academic programs, rather than students moving out to foreign countries to begin with. Although used interchangeably with TNE, CBHE is more specific in its definition as it refers to the mobility of people, programs, providers, and other services as provided in the tertiary setting, across countries’ jurisdictional boundaries.

The past decade has seen an increase in the diversity of TNE activities. From the more common twinning and international branch campuses (IBC), TNE has come to include a wider range of other labels and collaborations such as joint/double/multiple degree program and franchised universities. Branch campuses are quite notable given their general success in attracting students not only from the host country but also from other foreign countries, who choose to go to the campus offered by the former than to the country that hosts the original campus. IBC practice in ASEAN goes all the way back to two decades ago, with Malaysia putting up its first branch campus, the Monash University Malaysia, in 1998, followed by the University of Nottingham in 2000. Recent data inform that Malaysia currently hosts eight other IBCs, including the University of Southampton Malaysia Campus and Xiamen University Malaysia Campus. Malaysia’s higher education strategy is not only limited to IBCs, but is focused on collaborations that put a premium on institutional-level developments involving multilateral partnerships that have a wider consortium, an example of which is the Malaysia-Japan International Institute of Technology.

Singapore has also been aggressive in pushing for international recognition and has since then attracted international universities to set up campuses within the island country. Europe’s INSEAD established its Asia campus in Singapore in 1999, while James Cook University Singapore was established as the university’s first international branch campus in 2003. To date, Singapore’s more than a dozen TNE partnered activities include the Yale-NUS College established in 2011, an independent liberal arts college with strong collaborative ties with the Connecticut-based institution.

These distinct forms of internationalization reflect the overlapping of the globalization forces of “territorialization” and “deterritorialization,” where the former emphasizes the need for resilient domestic institutions, such as the state, at the forefront of information and communication technology (ICT)-engendered interactions (or deterritorialization). Strong educational internationalization, therefore, is reliant on equally robust national, societal, and institutional processes that are needed to regulate the “penetration” of states and of domestic institutions (such as HEIs) by non-state actors, such as firms and private educational providers and their knowledge base and sources.

While Philippine legislation on transnational education is a critical development in strengthening higher education system, it poses a big challenge on educational and digital access. Internally, transnationalism in HE also involves quality and institutional autonomy issues that underpin the various articulations of educational provision with foreign HEI partners. Cross border flows of programs and educational providers will also require greater harmonization and innovation of internal and external quality assurance systems as much as they will bear significant implications on strategy, standards, and financial sustainability.

Malaysia and Singapore have adopted the international recognition of higher education systems as part of their core national strategy. It is only a matter of time before other countries in the ASEAN region, such as the Philippines to take bolder steps forward towards the same direction.


Alma Maria O Salvador, PhD and Pilar Preciousa P Berse, PhD teach full time at the Department of Political Science, Ateneo de Manila University.