Project 3.1

Alternative, emerging and cross-border higher education provision and its relationship with mainstream provision

The aim of this project is to trace the global-national-local dimensions of contemporary UK higher education, its alternative, emerging and offshore provision, and the relationships of this provision to mainstream higher education.

Project team


The forms taken by expanded systems of higher education have been a central concern of historical and comparative study as well as policy thinking and decision-making.

The shift to mass-universal levels of participation, the internationalisation and liberalisation of higher education markets, and the global-local reach of courses and institutions have variously stretched, blurred or undermined the boundaries of national systems.

These same processes have brought into view previously hidden, displaced or marginal zones, especially in public university-based systems where the long-standing contributions of private providers, vocational institutes or distance and correspondence colleges might not be considered or counted as parts of mainstream higher education.

The example of the UK – and especially England – is a powerful case in point where the boundaries of the national system have conventionally been drawn around the undergraduate and postgraduate programmes taught on the home campuses of the large multi-faculty multipurpose ‘public’ universities.

Outside this ‘mainstream’ core is a range of ‘alternative’ provision leading to higher education qualifications and credits awarded by UK authorities and offered offshore by partner institutions or branch campuses or distance/online providers, by privately funded providers and by further education colleges. These alternative segments and spheres represent the distributed zones of public-private and global-local UK and English higher education. Only in recent years have attempts been made to understand the nature, scale and scope of these activities and their dynamics.

The goal is to assemble, for the first time, a comprehensive picture of UK higher education as undertaken by students across tertiary sectors, across national borders and within online environments. A second objective is to chart the emerging forms taken by alternative provision and to examine its relationships with mainstream higher education (and with other forms and styles of alternative provision).

This project will have implications both for the UK higher education sector, and international researchers concerned with alternative providers of higher education.