Trading design education: a critical study of transnational academic partnerships
What is the value of a British design education in a social, economic, and cultural context different from its own? Rooted in the commodification of higher education, this doctoral project is a critical investigation of the global trade in transnational education services known as TNE and focuses on design education. Globalisation and communication technologies have enabled the fast-paced digital flow of information across global networks, leading to the growth of TNE systems where students live in a country different from their degree-awarding institutes. Higher education services, not students, cross national borders. Postcolonial discourse is used as a theoretical framework to explore established systems for facilitating TNE and critically evaluate the power structures embedded in them as it questions global homogenisation and appreciates nuance in cultural specificities. Methodologically, this project adopts a qualitative para-ethnographic or collaborative research approach to fill gaps in the existing literature on TNE which tends to be uncritical and focused on quantitative data. This thesis offers in-depth insights on facilitating franchised education from the perspective of an institute that hosts British higher education services. The research focuses on the partnership between a university in Newcastle, England and a private design institute in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Diverse stakeholders involved in the franchise were invited to participate and offer views on policies, definitions, everyday facilitation, and learning in TNE systems. The empirical data includes the situated knowledge of academic staff, senior management, students, and graduates shared during interviews, focus groups, and participatory design workshops. The study reveals that for TNE design students who graduate and practice in Sri Lanka, the value of their British educational qualification is not in gaining skills to become global design practitioners but in achieving the ability to think critically and facilitate reflective self-learning. The franchise partnership examined provides students with an opportunity to develop design agency which is crucial in devising courses of action to change and shape a local industry that does not acknowledge the economic or cultural value of design as a discipline. In acknowledgement of their ground realities, stakeholders involved in the facilitation of this TNE franchise modify the prescribed system to adapt to their local context and the tacit knowledge, language, and creative skills of their students. These seen but unnoticed practices of academic staff occur in the margins of such educational systems and challenge the official definition of franchised programmes. However, they are critical in easing the flow of TNE services and need acknowledgement for further development.