Purpose ‐ The purpose of this paper is to examine the gap between what should happen and what actually happens in Sino-UK transnational education (TNE) provision, with a focus on the barriers of language and culture. Design/methodology/approach
‐ Following a literature review, an exploratory study was carried out using the non-probability-based snowball sampling method. In total, 38 programme managers from ten Sino-UK TNE providers responded to a questionnaire survey, with eight of them taking part in a subsequent semi-structured
interview. Additional data were collected via observations at staff meetings and classes. Findings ‐ Demand for Sino-UK TNE based in China was in decline for reasons including demographic changes, increased competition and expansion in the Chinese state sector. Due
to barriers of language and culture, the overall learning experience of TNE students in China was not found comparable with that of their counterparts in the UK in terms of learning, teaching and academic support. Research limitations/implications ‐ Without further
research, the findings of this study may not be generalised to all Sino-UK providers due to the non-probability based sampling method. Practical implications ‐ Managers of a Sino-UK TNE partnership on both sides need to be open about the language and culture induced
challenges facing the sector and be committed to addressing them in the long term if they are to continue their operation. Originality/value ‐ The paper presents admissions from practitioners about the disparities between the rhetoric and reality of the current Sino-UK
TNE provision, which raise questions critical to the future survival of the sector.