Global education hubs see merit in forging an association

The growing internationalisation of education and the global advancement of the knowledge economy has resulted in the emergence of a number of ‘education hubs’ in different regions of the world aimed at attracting foreign investment in education in the form of branch campuses and other types of transnational education (TNE) arrangements capable of attracting international students.

Although operating within different regulatory and national environments, these hubs face similar challenges and opportunities for growth.

A common challenge is that of developing an ecosystem that is conducive to attracting reputable international education providers and international talent.

A common opportunity is posed by the growing global demand for quality international education nearer to home, which has heightened in the context of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

In a context where we might expect a trend toward the regionalisation or ‘de-globalisation’ of international student mobility, education hubs are ideally placed to play an important role in offering alternative routes to quality international education closer to home.

Against this backdrop, five international education hubs have come together to commit to the development of a platform through which they can share their experiences and lessons learned, explore shared solutions to common challenges and consider ways in which they can support each other’s growth by facilitating partnerships between international providers across hubs, fostering inter-hub mobility of students and education provision and attracting new operations and partnerships.

As a result of these conversations facilitated by Ecctis and EduCity Iskandar, the International Association of Education Hubs (IAEH) has been established including, as initial members, EduCity Iskandar (Malaysia), Incheon Global Campus (South Korea), RAKEZ Academic Zone (United Arab Emirates) and Uniciti Education Hub (Mauritius).

Hainan International Education Innovation Pilot Zone (China) is also involved in this initiative through its academic experts.

EduCity Iskandar, Malaysia

EduCity Iskandar, a catalyst development driven by Iskandar Investment Berhad, is a fully integrated education hub that acts as a feeder of talent to support the various economic activities of the southern development corridor of Iskandar Malaysia.

Set in 305 acres of area within Iskandar Puteri, Johor, Malaysia, it currently hosts four international higher education institutions – Newcastle University Medicine Malaysia and University of Reading Malaysia (UK), Netherlands Maritime University College (Netherlands) and Kolej MDIS Malaysia (Singapore) – as well as the local Raffles University.

It also hosts three international schools and a training centre and it has recently set up two education institutions of its own: EduCity Academy, a one-stop talent lifecycle solution and ecosystem developer, and EduCity International College, which by Q3 of 2022 is set to offer the UK Generic Foundation Programme and Diploma Programmes in a range of subjects.

Currently, EduCity is home to more than 4,000 students from Malaysia and neighbouring countries. It offers a host of shared services that include support for commuting and mobility, student facilities, a serviced accommodation complex, recreation and sports facilities and social and co-working spaces.

Hainan International Education Innovation Pilot Zone, China

The Hainan Lingshui Li’an International Education Innovation Pilot Zone is an education hub that was recently established on the Li’an Peninsula in the southeast of Hainan Island, China. It is one of the 11 key areas of the Hainan Free Trade Port. With a total planned area of 12.72 square kilometres, it currently occupies about one square kilometre.

Its main purpose is to create a platform for cooperation between Chinese and foreign universities, to provide international-class educational services and to develop innovation in education by attracting quality foreign universities.

It is the only location in mainland China where foreign universities are not required to partner with local institutions but can set up fully owned operations.

The Pilot Zone, expecting to reach 1,000 students in the fall semester of 2022, has currently signed cooperation agreements with a range of foreign universities including the University of Alberta (Canada), the University of Glasgow, Queen Mary University of London and Coventry University (United Kingdom), the Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne (Switzerland), Rutgers University, Rice University and the University of Michigan (United States).

Incheon Global Campus, South Korea

Incheon Global Campus (IGC) is a national project established by the South Korean government and Incheon Metropolitan City to innovate the education system of Korea and nurture the next generation of global leaders.

It is located in Songdo International City, with a total area of 29 square kilometres and the plan is to host 10 international universities and about 10,000 students, offering a quality learning environment for domestic and international students alike.

Currently it hosts five international universities and one research institute: Stony Brook University (US), the Fashion Institute of Technology (US), George Mason University Korea (US), Ghent University Global Campus (Belgium), the University of Utah (US) and Stanford Research Center (US).

IGC provides a shared network of facilities and human resources to its hosted institutions, facilitating cultural exchange through a wide range of community spaces and interaction with home campuses around the world. All IGC students are expected to spend one year at the home campus to complete their degrees.

RAKEZ Academic Zone, United Arab Emirates

The RAKEZ Academic Zone is part of the Ras Al Khaimah Economic Zone (RAKEZ). It was established in 2013 to attract and support quality educational institutions and service providers that could contribute to market-driven, educational, training and professional development services that benefit Ras Al Khaimah, the UAE and the broader Gulf region.

A range of customised educational facilities and shared services are provided to institutions operating in the Academic Zone, which currently hosts 10 foreign branch campuses. The majority are from the UK: the University of Stirling, Bath Spa University, Birmingham City University, University of West London and the University of Bolton.

The other five include Northwood University (US), EPFL and the Swiss Business School (Switzerland), Munnar Catering College (India) and Sarhad University of Science and Information Technology (Pakistan).

The RAKEZ Academic Zone also plays an academic regulatory function by offering licences to operate for education institutions based on an assessment of their capacity to offer education provision of comparable quality and standard to what is offered at the home campus.

Uniciti Education Hub, Mauritius

Uniciti Education Hub, an initiative of the Medine Group, aims to create an integrated learning ecosystem in Mauritius. The offerings range from nursery, pre-primary, primary and secondary schools to international higher and executive education institutions.

Currently it hosts five foreign branch campuses – Vatel Mauritius, Université Paris-Panthéon-Assas and Ensa Nantes (France), Amity (India) and Middlesex University (UK) – as well as the local MCB Institute of Finance.

Uniciti Education Hub has a fast-growing student population of over 3,300 from a range of nationalities, with 2,300 in higher education and 1,000 in its nursery, primary and secondary schools. Its wide spectrum of educational offerings touches every stage of an individual’s academic, professional and personal development.

As part of its services, Uniciti Education Hub provides diverse campus experiences to students, ranging from outdoor activities and discoveries to workshops on interesting subjects, competitions, inter-university tournaments and other initiatives.

Joining the International Association of Education Hubs is an expression of a commitment to dialogue, sharing experiences and exploring cooperation. IAEH is open to other hubs joining without any obligation. In addition to its work with the five founding hubs, it is looking forward to engaging with other key stakeholders, such as regulators, service providers and university associations or networks through a range of initiatives. One such initiative will be an annual event hosted on a rotating basis by a member hub. The first of these global events will be hosted by EduCity Iskandar, Malaysia in 2023-24.

Fabrizio Trifiró is head of Quality Benchmark Services at Ecctis, the agency that manages the national qualifications recognition function on behalf of the United Kingdom government. At Ecctis he oversees services aimed at supporting international understanding and recognition of international qualifications. He has led the development and oversees the implementation of the Transnational Education Quality Benchmark scheme aimed at improving the international recognition ecosystem for TNE provision. Fabrizio sits on the board of directors of the International Network for Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education (INQAAHE) and is a reviewer for a number of international quality assurance bodies. He is chief advisor to the International Association of Education Hubs, having played a key role in its establishment.

He would like to acknowledge the following for their contribution to this article: Wan Ahmad Saifuddin (managing director, EduCity Iskandar), Sakina Sofia (director of operations, EduCity Iskandar), Luo Qing (Hainan International Education Innovation Pilot Zone lead and professor at Communication University of China), Ji Xiaoxiao (Hainan International Education Innovation Pilot Zone lead and operations manager), Dohee Kwon (director, Incheon Global Campus Foundation), Seung Yeon Kang (assistant manager, Incheon Global Campus Foundation), Taner Topcu (director of RAKEZ Academic Zone), Steven Reissig (chief academic zone officer, RAKEZ), Steena Kistnen (general manager, Uniciti Education Hub, Medine Group) and Karveen Puddoo (operations manager, Uniciti Education Hub, Medine Group).