Forthcoming Report!

Whatever happened to online learning?
Lessons from Country Case Studies
Preview of Forthcoming OBHE Report



Online HE Blogpost!

News Analysis Focus for 2017 – Online HE in 30 Countries
Published on our parent company Tribal Group's blog

Our 2017 IBC Report!

International Branch Campuses: Success Factors of Mature IBCs 2017
The OBHE & C-BERT of SUNY, Albany & Pennsylvania State University                 
Headline Findings


Whatever happened to online learning?
Lessons from Country Case Studies

Preview of a Forthcoming Observatory Report


The Observatory’s remit is a big one- the multitude of transnational higher education models, the plethora of commercial players active in the sector, and the complexities of online learning. This “borderless” higher education is dynamic, exciting and interrelated but can become unwieldy. Moreover, OBHE attempts to cover developments worldwide.

In 2017, we paid particular attention to online learning and blended learning. We conducted a series of country case studies- twelve of which are already available on our site- which will culminate in a summary report this spring.

Definition and Methodology

Our definition of online learning is broad, encompassing fully online degree programmes as well as blended and hybrid models; and online delivery as a component of conventional campus courses. We are interested in online learning offered by mainstream universities and colleges, but also the activities of other kinds of providers. Online learning is the latest form of distance and open learning, which has a long history in many parts of the world.

In many countries, data about online higher education is patchy, intelligence about activity fragmented, and many trends nascent, but that is precisely why cross-country comparisons and Observatory analysis is needed. Observatory staff and associates sift available government and other data, and scan reports and media coverage.

So far we’ve published case studies on: China, Egypt, England, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Spain, Sub-Saharan Africa, United Arab Emirates, and the United State of America

Additional country case studies will be included in the final report.

Preview of Findings

Twenty year on from the dotcom boom and bust, when online learning went from disruptive darling to over-hyped has-been, what is the sum total of this innovation today? The promise that new technology could dramatically widen access to higher education, enhance the student experience and lower costs was bold but reality proved more complicated.

Among the countries looked at so far, five categories emerge:

  • Distance, Not Online. Large distance learning sector with little or no use of online learning beyond some MOOC enthusiasm (e.g. Egypt, India)
  • Marginal. Strong growth in campus enrolment, with some online elements. Most distance learning is blended with in-person study centres (e.g. Saudi Arabia, UAE)
  • Blurred Growth. A poorly defined combination of informal, distance and online learning enrolment continues to out-perform the overall market (e.g. Mexico, Spain)
  • Clear Growth. A clear online distance learning sector continues to out-perform the overall market (e.g. United States)
  • Peaked/Decline. Online enrolment growth has been at the expense of the national distance university. Online enrolment is peaking or is in decline (e.g. England, South Korea)

What is common to all the countries considered so far is that online distance learning has yet to command more than 15% market share, implementation of online elements as part of a face-to-face experience is uneven, multifarious and hard to track within and between institutions, and online learning has little to no association with cost or price reduction. Moreover, outcomes data for online students is rarely reported at institutional or national level, but what data there is tends to position online learning outcomes as below average. The value proposition of online degrees quickly defaults to little more than flexibility and convenience.

But while it is fair to say that the big promises of online learning have generally speaking not come to fruition, the access, quality and cost challenges of higher education globally have not gone away. At this stage in our work, OBHE forecasts three scenarios:

Scenario 1: Online as Supplement. On this scenario, the future of online learning looks like the past. The technology adds useful functionality but supplements rather than transforms the conventional classroom. A relatively small minority of students study fully online, driven by pragmatism rather than a conviction that the experience is inherently superior.

Scenario 2: Online as Revolution (finally). Looking back, the mistake made by early advocates of online learning was timing not substance. First generation online was too limited but the capabilities of today and tomorrow- high performance two-way video, adaptive learning and simulations- transcend the shortcomings of routine in-person learning.

Scenario 3: Online Is Not the Point. The line between technology and pedagogy is blurred. Delivery mode can be a vehicle for pedagogy and shape it, but it is sound, purposeful pedagogy that fosters learning, not delivery mode alone. Many studies have concluded that a combination of in-person and online learning produces the best results, with pedagogy leading the way.

To gain access to our summary report and articles, which are exclusive to OBHE subscribers become a member or contact for more details.


Printable Flyer

29 January 2018

Student Outcomes in Higher Education:
A global review of definitions, data and performance

The OBHE 2018 Agenda

Richard Garrett, Director, OBHE

In 2018, OBHE will focus on one of the most important higher education questions- how to define, report and evaluate student outcomes. Outcomes might encompass student experience, engagement and well-being, graduation rates, time to completion, skills acquisition, value for money, employment, salary, and alumni civic participation and life satisfaction. Our interest is certainly in the outcomes of online learning and TNE, our longstanding focus, but in the context of broader debate about global higher education performance.



14 November 2017

Internationalisation of Indian Higher Education:
A one-way traffic?

Kriti Dagar, Doctoral Scholar,
National University of Educational Planning & Administration (NUEPA), New Delhi

Internationalisation has been a powerful and pervasive force in shaping higher education in India. Governments, international bodies and universities have created myriad programmes and frameworks to pave the way for internationalisation, though barriers remain- imbalance in student mobility, poor employment prospects for international students, and a resistance to broader forms of transnational education (TNE), to name a few.  While India may not emerge as a frontrunner in international education in the short-term, it may benefit from the level of internationalisation it has achieved thus far, focusing on knowledge spill overs, brain circulation, collaborative projects, and technology transfers gained from institutional partnerships.



25 October 2017

Online Higher Education in England -  
Explaining distance learning decline

Richard Garrett, Director, OBHE
Carolyn Walker, OBHE Associate;
Consultant in International HE; Former Academic Director at INTO

This article looks at the progress of online higher education in England. The main focus is online distance learning, but there is also discussion of blends between online and campus.

England is a special case, featuring a big distance learning footprint for both domestic students and international students offshore. The country encompasses one large specialist institution, the Open University (which operates throughout the UK), a large offshore distance provider, University of London International Programmes, and a growing number of conventional universities that offer online degrees. But what is surprising is that domestic distance enrolment is in decline, and is flat for transnational students. What is going on?

Our primary concern is England but some of the online initiatives and data discussed span the United Kingdom. Distance learning plays a role in Scottish and Welsh higher education but these are beyond the scope of this article.  While there are many organisations, public and private, offering online courses at various levels and for a range of purposes, the focus here is higher education institutions (HEIs). The vast majority of HEIs in England are required to report enrolment to HESA, the UK’s higher education statistics agency, but a few private providers are not.

Full article available for members.


2 October 2017

Online higher education in South Korea -
The cyber-universities 20 years on

Richard Garrett, Director, OBHE
Rachael Merola, Sr Researcher, OBHE

South Korea took an interest in online learning early on. As part of a wide-ranging Cyber Korea strategy in the 1990s, turning the country into the most wired nation in the world, the government encouraged universities to establish online or so-called cyber-universities. An emphasis on lifelong learning, to help the country cement its rapid economic rise, positioned cyber-universities as a way to reach working adults and experiment with new technology.

Today, Korea enjoys a particular combination of circumstances. Young adults boast the top tertiary education attainment rate in the OECD but live in a country where graduate unemployment is seen as too high. Korea is rapidly ageing. This means a surfeit of universities and worries about return on investment. At the same time, tens of thousands of Koreans still study abroad, and the government is trying to create a regional hub for foreign higher education institutions.

In a country with excess higher education capacity, where does online learning fit in? How have cyber-universities fared over the past twenty years?

Full article available for members.



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OBHE Publications

Our research agenda focuses on topics that have current and future relevance to transnational higher education, and our reports provide in-depth analysis of the latest developments, trends and challenges in borderless higher education. By synthesising the latest international developments, the research reports assess their wider implications for higher education leaders and policy makers.

The Observatory publishes original in-house research reports on themes that challenge the 'traditional' boundaries of higher education, and particularly those expected to impact the core business of universities and colleges.

The Observatory also commissions internationally renowned authors to prepare substantive reports on key issues in borderless higher education with specific national, regional and/or international perspectives. The issues are both timely and provocative, challenging institutional leaders in their thinking and understanding of topics critical to strategic planning. Authors draw on their experience and expertise to provide insight into a wide diversity of international experience.

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The Observatory's full archive of News Headlines, Articles, and Reports is available on an unlimited basis to subscribers only.

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To learn about the Observatory's breadth of coverage, search our publications archive.

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38% international students in NZ apply through education agents, The PIE News, 23 February 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Does Tenure Process Keep Professors Focused on US?, Inside Higher Ed, 23 February 2018

Education under a federal set-up, Kathmandu Post (Nepal), 23 February 2018

New Zealand: Why free tuition may result in more dropouts and fails, Study International News, 23 February 2018

Brexit: German universities among those poised to benefit if researchers and funding shift, The Conversation UK, 22 February 2018

Number of foreign students rising at Czech universities, Prague Daily Monitor (CZ Republic), 22 February 2018

International students left deserted after school shutdown, Newshub (New Zealand), 22 February 2018

UK University Finances Teetering on the Edge, University Observer (Ireland), 22 February 2018

Ask 3 Questions About Majors at European Universities, US News and World Report, 21 February 2018

India launches web portal to combat bogus courses pre-departure, The PIE News, 21 February 2018

Educational hub in Central Asia, Kazakh TV, 21 February 2018

'Happy' uni students still need to lift grades, Bangkok Post (Thailand), 21 February 2018



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Forthcoming Events


6 March 2018:  Westminster Higher Education Forum Keynote Seminar, 'Next steps for the UK’s outward student mobility strategy and involvement in Erasmus+', London, England

10-13 March 2018:  ACE 2018 - 100th Annual Meeting, Washington, DC, USA

14 March 2018:  Universities UK International, 'International Higher Education Forum 2018: thriving in a shifting global environment', Nottingham, England

16-17 March 2018:  11th Annual COIL Conference - Global Learning for All, New York, NY, USA

21-23 March 2018:  The Forum on Education Abroad's 14th Annual Conference, 'Building on Strong Foundations: Best Practices for an Evolving Field', Boston, MA, USA

22-23 March 2018:   Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), Social Media and Communities Conference 2018, Brighton, England

25-29 March 2018: APAIE 2018 Conference & Exhibition, SINGAPORE

25-29 March 2018:  Comparative and International Education Society (CIES),'Re-Mapping Global Education' South-North Dialogue, Mexico City, MEXICO

26-27 March 2017:  AUA Annual Conference and Exhibition, 'Beyond Brexit; embracing uncertainty, defining our purpose, sustaining successful professionals', Manchester, England

5-6 April 2018:  European University Association (EUA) 2018 Annual Conference, Zurich, SWITZERLAND

23-26 April 2018:  Scholars at Risk Global Congress, Berlin, GERMANY

27 April 2018:  ACA-IKY Seminar, 'Internationalisation and academic freedom', Athens, GREECE

2-4 May 2018:  Going Global, 'Redesigning Excellence: Higher Education for Global Societal Impact', Kuala Lumpur, MALAYSIA

27 May - 1 June 2018:  NAFSA Annual Conference & Expo, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

20-22 June 2018:  HEAd'18 - 4th International Conference on Higher Education Advances, Valencia, SPAIN

25-28 June 2018:  Canada International Conference on Education (CICE), Mississauga, CANADA

15-18 July 2018:  World Congress on Education, Dublin, IRELAND

16-29 August 2018:  40th Annual EAIR Forum 2018, Budapest, HUNGARY

11-14 September 2018: EAIE 2018 Annual Conference, Geneva, SWITZERLAND

27-29 September 2018:  NACAC 74th National Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA

9-12 October 2018:  AIEC 2018, Sydney, AUSTRALIA    

7-10 November 2018:  CIEE Annual Conference, Barcelona, SPAIN

13-15 November 2018:  IAU 2018 International Conference, Kuala Lumpur, MALAYSIA

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