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