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PETRONAS TWIN TOWER NATIONAL FLAG

Inside Educity Iskandr: a multi-national university partnership in Malaysia. Photograph: Andy Wong/AP

Transnational education is booming and the forms in which it is delivered are proliferating all the time. Ever increasing numbers of UK universities are setting up franchising arrangements, 2+1 models, or even full-blown overseas campuses.

The 350-acre campus at Educity Iskandar will be shared by no fewer than eight international universities, including three from the UK.NewcastleSouthampton and Reading universities will take their place alongside the Netherlands Maritime Institute of Technology and the Singaporean private university Raffles. Australia’s Monash and a Californian cinematic art school associated with Pinewood Studios are in talks with Iskandar’s management, leaving just one spot left for another, as yet unknown, international institution.

Students from all of the universities will live together in one giant international student village and will share sports and leisure facilities far beyond those any single university could afford, including a 14,000-seater stadium and an Olympic-length swimming pool.

In the 1990s Malaysia singled out higher education as one of its strategic investments. Historically Malaysia has sent its students abroad for their education, now it is preparing to reverse that position, it wants to become the hub of its region drawing thousands students from across south-east Asia to its universities in huge numbers. Attracting foreign universities to set up overseas campuses is part of the that plan.

The Iskandar special economic region in Johor lies at the southern-most tip of Malaysia, just 5km from the border with Singapore. For Reg Jordan, CEO and provost of Newcastle’s Medical School in Malaysia both of these things – the location and the financial incentives associated with the special economic region – were major factors.

Newcastle University got the call in 2004. It was invited to bring medicine and biomedical sciences to the project. Jordan said it represented a “golden opportunity” for Newcastle to develop its internationalisation strategy.

“Like many civic universities in the UK we have little flags all over the world which have normally grown up through research collaborations and all the rest of it. But our vice-chancellor felt it was time to pick a few strategic areas and plant one or two large flags. The international campus here – a fully owned branch of Newcastle University – is a golden opportunity to do that in south-east Asia, and brings us to the new markets. The World Bank will tell you that there’s going to be an increasingly exponential demand for higher education but it’s largely going to come from Asia and south-east Asia,” Jordan said.

Newcastle has existing partnerships with higher education providers in the centre of Singapore, which is just 35 minutes away from the new campus in Iskandar, so the chance to build on these was not to be missed, Jordan explained. “The growth triangle of Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia is a very big market. We already had a presence here so when the operation came to put our own full international branch campus, our building, our staff, right next door to where we have other interests that became a quite interesting proposition.”

Planting a large operation in the centre of south-east Asia will also help Newcastle maximise the value of its intellectual property. “For the university at large it also gives us a base through which the value added business can be added through the research endeavours back in the UK,” Jordan said.

Jordan also sees the occupants of his south-east Asian outpost as playing “ambassadorial roles” for the north-east of England. “A colleague of mine said that one of the best things that Newcastle University could do for the north east of England is to be globally linked. We have a lot of ambassadorial roles, in a sense.”

Southampton, which will open the doors of its new engineering faculty in Malaysia in October this year, is similarly excited by the location. Professor Mark Spearing, pro vice-chancellor, international, said the location was a “very natural fit for us” given the number of important engineering companies which operate in the region. “Malaysia is the hub of hi-tech industry … Dyson, Rolls Royce, Lloyds Register and BAE Systems are all interested in working with us and employing our students.”

Of the host country’s motives he said: “Malaysia recognises that it is a small country in a region of giants so it wants to move into higher value added activities, not manufacturing but design and engineering, and it needs a very strong education system to do this.”

But what of the practicalities?

Rob Robson is CEO and provost of the University of Reading in Malaysia, which is currently offering english language and business courses in temporary accomodation in Johor Bahru. When the full campus opens in 2015, it will be delivering, chemistry, finance, real estate, pharmacy, law and construction.

He says that all of the partner universities must do well for the project to thrive. “If one institution does badly, and gets a poor reputation, that will be harmful for all of us.”

The management of a large-scale project where organisations’ fortunes are interrelated is “a layer above what we do in a regular university.”

“We all have our own brands out here but what more can we do to be greater than the sum of our parts … working together is going to be terribly important.”

For Spearing, the key to smoothing the process of opening the school was “getting our people on the ground quickly”, rather than trying to arrange things remotely, and “having a lot of native language speakers involved. We had a target of 50% locally employed academics and that was not difficult at all.” All of Southampton’s administrative staff in Malaysia are local, although they are supported and guided through the processes by UK staff at the moment, he said.

“Procurement and purchasing all went smoothly because our staff speak the language,” he said.

But what about student discipline? Or student health and welfare in the student village?

Robson foresees that problems on site “will need to be solved by committee”, He says initial talks have taken place about setting up some kind of “parliament type system, or council to settle disputes”.

This council will also “act as a pressure group on commercial aspects,” since the international student village and leisure facilities will be operated by private companies.

There are a myriad of other practical issues to be dealt with – such as getting the balance of staff. The Malaysia government has warned overseas universities against poaching too many academic staff from indigenous universities so the Iskandar project will recruit globally. Robson said “obviously we’re very keen to use Reading’s UK staff to begin with but we will want to switch to local staff on lower wages when possible.”

At the moment, because it was first to open, Newcastle is operating its medicine faculty like a university in miniature, paying for everything – IT, library, student welfare – itself. So all three of the UK universities are looking forward to merging what they can of these services to share costs in the future. Spearing said “one of the huge attractions of EduCity is the opportunity to share resources and spread risk.” This frees the universities up “to concentrate on academic delivery”.

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30 May 2012 Last updated at 11:09 GMT

University graduates

The letter warned the policy could send students to other countries such as the US and Germany

The government is on course to meet its immigration targets without “fiddling” the figures to exempt foreign students, minister Damian Green has said.

He rejected calls from 70 of Britain’s universities to stop counting foreign students as immigrants.

The universities are angry about new rules on visas which they is harming their efforts to recruit “genuine” overseas students.

They warn it could cost Britain billions of pounds a year.

But Mr Green said the new rules were aimed at closing down “bogus” colleges and there was “no reason” why British universities would not be able to continue attracting the “brightest and the best” students from around the world.

‘No progress’

“It’s always very tempting to try and meet a target by fiddling the figures,” Mr Green told the BBC News Channel, adding: “That’s what you would accuse me of doing if I just redefined away the problem.”

The universities say they support government efforts to improve border controls and to tackle abuse of student visas.

But, in a letter signed by 70 university leaders, they warn Britain was losing out to its “major competitors”, which class foreign students as temporary rather than permanent migrants.

Mr Green says British immigration figures, produced by the Office for National Statistics, are based on an internationally agreed definition of a migrant – someone entering the country for more than a year.

Under the current rules the net migration figures (the number of people moving to the UK minus the number leaving the UK) also count students as an emigrant if they have been in the UK for at least a year when they leave.

This means that any student who came to the UK to study for more than a year and then left would effectively cancel themselves out in the figures over time.

He told BBC News: “A student who comes here for a six month language course doesn’t count as an immigrant but if you come here for three years, or four year, or five years, then you are not a visitor, you are an immigrant under the international definition, so we count you as an immigrant.”

He admitted that the coalition government, according to figures published so far, had made “no progress” towards meeting its pledge of reducing net migration to “tens of thousands” a year.

But he said that the next set of figures – for the current year – would show that the government was on course to meet its target.

“We can see significant downward movements in the number of visas being issued and over time, as the figures catch up, because they are nine months out of date, they will be reflected in net migration figures,” he said.

‘More selective’

Britain attracts around one in 10 students who study outside their home country, generating about £8bn a year in tuition fees, the higher education leaders say in their letter.

This, they added, could increase to £17bn by 2025.

But the heads warned the government’s immigration policy risked driving international students to the United States, Australia, Canada and Germany.

The letter was signed by Sir Menzies Campbell, the former Liberal Democrat leader and chancellor of St Andrews University, and the broadcaster and chancellor of the University of Leeds, Lord Melvyn Bragg.

Other signatories include the former Conservative minister and chancellor of the University of Hull, Virginia Bottomley, and Patrick Stewart, chancellor of the University of Huddersfield.

Figures released on 24 May revealed that annual net migration to the UK is currently 250,000 – still double the government’s target of fewer than 100,000 people a year.

The most common reason for people coming to the UK is to study, as in previous years.

Recent visa changes include rules that prohibit international students from bringing their dependents with them – unless they are enrolled on a postgraduate course of at least 12 months.

A “more selective” system has also been put in place for students wishing to stay and work in the UK, after they finish their course.

Taken from ” BBC News”

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Many UK students are choosing to study abroad in places such as McGill University in Montreal, Canada Photograph: AlamyMany UK students are choosing to study abroad in places such as McGill University in Montreal, Canada Photograph: Alamy

Taken from: The Guardian on Facebook  http://apps.facebook.com/theguardian/p/37934

Tuesday 1 May 2012

If you want to stand out from the crowd when you enter the graduate jobs market, pursuing a degree abroad could be the answer

Elizabeth Fillmore is in her final year at school in England but, despite offers from top UK universities, she will not be staying in the country for her degree.

Rather than take up a place at the London School of Economics or Bristol University, she has chosen to study at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

“For the universities on the North American continent you can do a liberal arts degree; you don’t have to specialise,” she says. “I want to go into law and here you have to do a humanities degree and then a law conversion course, but I’m quite a mathematical person so I want to continue doing several different subjects. I was very attracted by that aspect of North American universities.”

She also likes the fact that Montreal is a bilingual city, so she will get to practise speaking a foreign language and find out about a new culture. And she is confident that in the competitive employment market for lawyers, studying abroad will help her stand out when she graduates.

Then there are the fees. While her parents, worried about the cost of flights, needed some persuading about the idea of her studying so far away, the cost of tuition will be roughly the same whether she chooses Canada or England. “It has played to my advantage that fees here have gone up,” she says.

Fillmore joins a growing number of UK university applicants who are contemplating studying abroad, driven by a combination of higher UK fees and a more globalised graduate employment market.

About 22,000 UK students – 1.7% of the student population – now study overseas, mainly in the US which hosts around 8,500. France, Germany, Denmark and Australia also take more than 1,000 every year, and these numbers are expected to grow.

“We have seen a trend where students are still applying to top universities in the UK, but are also looking farther afield,” says Simon Dennis, principal of Hockerill Anglo-European College, a grant-maintained international boarding school that recently appointed a ­counsellor specifically to advise pupils on study options abroad.

“From our students’ point of view it gives them the best of both worlds,” he says. “They can apply to UK, European or American universities and have offers.”

While the new UK fee regime, which means many European universities are now cheaper, has had an impact, Dennis says students are also conscious of the value studying abroad adds to their CVs.

“After a three-year degree they could be competing with 50 or 60 graduates applying for the same job,” he says. “But if they have got their degree in Italy or Australia or North America it gives the employer an interesting insight into the type of character that person is. Certainly our conversations with employers show that they think it makes applicants stand out.”

Meril Kilinc, 23, a first-year student in European law from north London, says this was an important reason why she chose to study in the Netherlands, at Maastricht University. The university has seen applications from UK students more than double in the past year.

“A lot of my family members and friends who studied in England had difficulty finding a job after they graduated,” Kilinc says. “Coming from a background that isn’t professionally academic, I was worried about that. I thought I would have a better opportunity if I came to Maastricht, not only to work in England but also to look at job options internationally. I will have that edge.”

Like an increasing number of courses in universities overseas, her degree is taught entirely in English.

Now it is even possible to pick up a UK degree while studying overseas. About 100 UK students from the University of Nottingham are taking at least part of their degree at its overseas campuses in Malaysia and another 100 are doing the same in China. Around 10 UK students at each campus have opted to stay for the whole of their three-year course. Fees vary but are lower than the £9,000 a year to be charged in the UK from September – and the cost of living is much lower. Students are not eligible for UK loans but the university does award a number of scholarships based on a combination of grades and need.

By 2014 the university wants around a quarter of its students to have some overseas experience, which could be a short course or work experience abroad.

For the past 25 years, the European Commission’s Erasmus programme has been offering just such a taste of study overseas for European students wanting time in another EU country. Participation in the scheme counts towards their degree, can give them access to a wider range of subjects and may mean their tuition fees are waived for a year.

Interest in the scheme is rising again after a period of decline in the numbers of UK students taking part. Last year saw the fifth successive annual increase in participation, with more than 12,800 UK students involved, beating the record set in 1994 when numbers peaked at 11,988.
Dennis says a reluctance to study overseas is misguided: “We aren’t saying UK universities are bad,” he says. “We are saying there is a choice. Look beyond these shores and see what’s out there.”

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