MALAYSIA: Knowledge hub in progress

Malaysia is developing an education city that it hopes will be partially operational by 2013. Located in Nusajaya, Iskandar Malaysia, the 129-hectare EduCity could eventually have eight universities, each with one specialised faculty, developed in two phases under a 10-year plan.

According to the Institute of International Education, Malaysia has 2% of the world's international student population. It is currently the world's 11th most preferred study destination with almost 70,000 international students from more than 150 countries - the majority from Indonesia, China and the Middle East.

Setting up the education city to achieve the Malaysian Higher Education Ministry's target of 80,000 international students by 2010, was the first step in implementing the nation's National Higher Education Strategic Plan.

Work on the first phase has started and is expected to be operational in 2013 with four universities and 4,000 students. Under the second phase, another four foreign universities will be invited to set up branch campuses and these will double the student enrolment.

Certain universities will be asked to open their faculties to disciplines that could relate to the 20-year Iskandar Malaysia Comprehensive Development Plan.

Negotiations are taking place with several public universities from Australia and Europe to open branch campuses offering hospitality, engineering and marine and logistics-related studies.

In the second phase, Malaysia will look at language courses, fine arts and multimedia disciplines to provide support for the creative industry, one of the new economic pillars in Iskandar.

In March last year, Britain's Newcastle University announced it had been invited to become the first foreign university to establish a branch campus. The university said in a statement at the time that following approval from the relevant bodies, it would replicate its UK programme of two years of the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery in Malaysia.

The new institution would be known as Newcastle University Medicine Malaysia (NUMed Malaysia) and would offer 40 places in its initial intake. The university has received more than 200 enquires from Malaysia, Egypt, India, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Europe and the US. The medical degree will be issued by the University of Newcastle in the UK and is expected to be recognised by the British Medical Council.

Hassanuddeen Abdel-Aziz, an associate professor in the faculty of economics and management sciences at the International Islamic University Malaysia, welcomed the new development, which he sees as an important step in promoting Malaysia as an emerging contender to attract a high percentage of an international student body that is estimated to reach eight million by 2025.

"EduCity will bring intellectual capital to Malaysia, enhance collaboration with local public universities through joint research projects and student exchange programmes, and generate academic job opportunities to tackle the unemployment problem of university graduates as well as the brain drain," Abdel-Aziz told University World News.

EduCity, along with other education cities being launched in Asia and the Middle East, will boost trans-national education and encourage educational innovation to fill skills gaps in labour markets, Abdel-Aziz added.

But Abdel-Aziz warned that branches of foreign universities in education cities in Asia must focus on local educational and scientific research needs and award academic degrees equivalent to those awarded by the home university, or "education cities will be a waste of money, creating palatial cities built by foreign construction companies for the benefit of western companies and managed by imported lecturers."