‘Malaysia Education’: strategic branding leads to growth in international student numbers 2006-8?

Several months back in our round-up of the global higher education student mobility market, we reported that Malaysia might be viewed as an emerging contender with 2% of the world market in 2006 (this was using the Observatory for Borderless Higher Education figures which reports only on the higher education sector).

Last week, Malaysia’s leading newspaper The Star reported that figures had increased between 2006 and 2008 by 30%, bringing the overall numbers of international students in Malaysian international schools and higher education institutions to 65,000. According to the following calculations by industry analyst (see pamjitsingh.ppt) the Malaysian government is well on target to realise its 2010 goal of 100,000 international students.

Taking into account the forecast in world demand by 2010, the Malaysian government estimates that their market share would need to grow from its current world share of international students (schools and higher education) of 3.9% in 2004 to 6.6% in 2010. In comparison to the global average annual growth rate of international students which is around 7.4% p.a, the Malaysian target growth rate would need to be in the order of 24.0% per annum to achieve the 2010 target.

In order to realize this goal, a new Higher Education Ministry Marketing and International Education Division was created.

    dr-nasser.jpg

    Dr Mohamed Nasser Mohamed Noor took on the post of Division Director in January 2006. According to Dr. Nasser, the success of this rapid increase can be attributed to Malaysia’s ‘branding’ of its education sector – ‘Malaysia Education’. It would seem that Malaysia is not far off course to realize their 2010 target if they maintain their current progress of 30% increase over two years (2006-2008).

    Branding has emerged as an important strategy for governments seeking to strategically develop their higher education markets. Nick Lewis’s entry on Brand New Zealand carried on GlobalHigherEd late last year illustrates how cultural re/sources, such as ‘clean’, ‘safe’, ‘green’ New Zealand, are being drawn upon to realise value and to reposition New Zealand in a highly competitive market.

    Similarly Europe (see this report destination-europe.pdf) has been casting around for an identifiable ‘brand’ to market itself as a significant player with an identifiable ‘product’ in the global higher education market. This means finding a combination of distinctive elements that enable the country or region to position themselves in relation to the competition.

    The ‘Malaysian Education’ brand draws on deep cultural, religious and political resonances to promote its product – one that emphasizes lifestyle, culture and quality of education. This includes the value to be gained from its unique multicultural population of Malay, Indian and Chinese; its Islamic religion; and its experience of colonialism. Despite the contradictions inherent in this new form of neo-colonialism, these cultural values and symbols are being (effectively?) mobilized to open up the African, Arab, Chinese and Indonesian markets.

    Malaysia’s story demonstrates the high level of fluidity in globalising the higher education market. It requires players to be highly competitive, constantly utilize intelligence, be attentive to strategies as to how to open new markets, and have a way of representing the sector as an attractive and unique brand.

    Will Malaysia leave behind its ’emerging contender’ crown and don the mantle of a major player in the region? Much depends clearly on what the other players in the region do – Singapore, China and Australia. Let’s see what 2010 reveals.

    Susan Robertson

    Malaysian university campuses in London and Botswana (and Mel G. too)

    The vast majority of foreign campuses tend to be created by Western (primarily US, UK, & Australian) universities in countries like Malaysia (e.g., University of Nottingham), the United Arab Emirates (e.g., NYU Aub Dhabi), China (e.g., University of Nottingham, again), South Africa, and so on. As Line Verbik of the OBHE notes in an informative 2006 report titled The International Branch Campus – Models and Trends:

    The majority of branch campus provision is from North to South or in other words, from developed to developing countries, a trend, which is also found in other types of transnational provision. US institutions clearly dominate, accounting for more than 50% of branch campuses abroad, followed by Australia (accounting for approximately 12% of developments), and the UK and Ireland (5% each). A range of other countries, including Canada, the Netherlands, Pakistan and India, have one or two institutions operating campuses abroad. South to South activity is rare, some few examples being the Indian and Pakistani institutions operating in Dubai’s Knowledge Village.

    Post-colonial relations are often an underlying factor for they facilitate linkages between former colonial powers and their colonial subjects. This is not surprising in some ways, though the relationship between former colonial powers and colonial subjects is a complicated one. Singapore, for example, has been shifting its geographic imagination away from the UK and towards the USA for the last decade, driven as it is by a perception that the US has better quality universities, and also the growing number of now well-placed politicians and government officials who have US vs. UK degrees.

    Post-colonial dynamics aside, ideological and regulatory shifts also enable foreign universities to open up campuses in territories previously closed off to “commercial presence” (using GATS parlance). While there are huge variations in the nature of how ideological and regulatory transformations unfold (peruse UNCTAD’s annual World Investment Report to acquire a sense of variation by country, and the general liberalization shift), it is clear that the majority of countries are now more open to the presence of foreign universities within their borders. This said the mode of entry that they choose to use, or are forced to use (via regulations), is also very diverse.

    In tracking the phenomena foreign/branch/overseas campuses, it is always valuable (in an analytical sense) to hear of unexpected developments that cause one to pause. One such unexpected outcome is the March 2007 opening of a Malaysian university campus in London, one of the world’s most expensive cities. Yesterday’s Guardian has an interesting profile of the key architect (Dr. Lim Kok Wing) of this university (Limkokwing University of Creative Technology (LUCT). LUCT is a private for profit university with a flair for out of the norm (for universities) PR: witness the excitement spurred on by the presence of Mel Gibson, for example, when he was brought to the Malaysian campus of LUCT.

    The Guardian profile does a good job of explaining some of the rationale for the campuses, but also some of Lim’s personal style which is an intangible but important part of the development process, and seems to be even reflective in the titles of the degrees LUCT offers.

    Coverage of Lim Kok Wing’ s overseas venture in Botswana (which opened up in March 2007 too) is also worth following for it sheds light on how higher education entrepreneurs are exploiting a country’s brand name (Malaysia in this case), as well as the relatively difficult higher education context many African countries are experiencing. It is also in line the Malaysian government’s strategy – of expanding its share of the global higher education market (see our earlier report).

    The Botswana campus took Lim only five months to establish, and over a thousand students “swarmed” its campus during opening day. We’ve heard that there are just over a 1,000 students, with some 5,500 students being planned for in 2008 at the Botswana campus. Entrepreneurs like Lim are effectively mining fractured seams in the global higher education landscape, for they operate at a level than enables the to identify openings for the creation of institutions (and student tuition income stream). Lim puts it this way:

    “However, as a developing country, Malaysia is better able to understand the needs of other developing nations. It is therefore in a better position to deliver British education to the developing world.”

    So a Malaysian university, providing a Malaysian education in London, and a British education in Botswana (to students from over 100 countries)…the global higher ed landscape is indeed changing…

    Kris Olds & Susan Robertson