New guidelines for international branch campuses mooted

Malaysia is to conduct a wide-ranging study into international branch campuses to help it draw up new guidelines on the kind of institutions it will allow into the country, Deputy Minister of Higher Education Hou Kok Chung told a conference on international branch campuses on Wednesday.

The Ministry of Higher Education study will draw on the experiences of other countries in a bid to ensure the entry of only quality institutions that can thrive, Chung told a conference in Kuala Lumpur on international branch campuses, organised by the UK-based Observatory on Borderless Higher Education.

The study was necessary because of an unprecedented number of applications “to set up both ‘pedigree’ and hybrid branch campuses”. In addition to seven branch campuses already operating in Malaysia there are 25 knocking on the door wanting to do business, he said.

They include institutions from the UK, US and Australia. “Interestingly, even universities from the Middle East, India and China are showing interest,” Chung said.

Revealing some of the areas that the new guidelines would cover, he warned that pricing – including tuition fees – would not be left to market forces. “The social responsibility of the government to provide affordable higher education shall remain consistent. Hence, pricing will be monitored, not necessarily regulated.”

Chung also said the ministry was more inclined to invite institutions that could offer high-demand programmes not easily available in Malaysia “with a high graduate employability rate”.

While not restricting the entry of business and management programmes, “a higher emphasis and priority would be placed on programmes related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields,” he noted.

Malaysia “seriously seeks” institutions in the technical and vocational education and training field. But none had until now come forward wanting to set up international branch campuses in the country, he revealed.

The deputy minister a number of times in his speech stressed the need for quality, saying the government wanted to see international branch campuses “provide the same quality experience as studying abroad.

“While not expecting the international branch campuses coming from temperate regions to guarantee the four seasons experience here in Malaysia, it is vitally important that the essence and culture of the main campus, in terms of teaching and learning standards, academic and research, development and innovation excellence, is 100% enforced,” he said.

The programmes must be as good as the ones offered at their main campuses, “with no significant differences either taught here or elsewhere”.

Opportunities to “spend a reasonable length of time” on the main campus should be an option made easily available. Allowing students from the main campus to spend time at the international branch campus in Malaysia should also be offered to students

Malaysia’s National Higher Education Strategic Plan set out the country’s aspirations to be an international higher education hub.

However, said Chung: “Malaysia's willingness to open her doors to international branch campuses cannot be allowed to be turned into a free-for-all situation, where every Tom, Dick and Harry university can simply walk in and open a campus. In this respect, the Ministry of Higher Education will be selective, even diligent, when inviting international branch campuses to open here.”

Chung admitted that a decade ago there was not much interest inside the country in enticing foreign universities. But now “Malaysia wants to welcome as many as she possibly can”.

The government sees them “as partners in its efforts to widen access to higher education to the increasing population. It regards the current seven international branch campuses as complementing the existing 20 public and 51 private higher education institutions.”

To increase the number of branch campuses would “pose no threat; instead it would enrich the higher education ecosystem,” he said, adding: “I am of the opinion that the presence of quality international branch campuses can be a catalyst to healthy competition among higher education institutions.”

Chung also noted that Malaysia’s target of 100,000 international students would be met and may even be surpassed. At the end of January 2012, the country recorded close to 93,000 international students. The target for 2015 is 150,000 international students, and 200,000 by 2020.