From more collaborative projects to better work opportunities, bilateral ties between Malaysia and the UK look set to soar to new heights.
MORE than any other Western country, the United Kingdom has played a crucial role in the shaping of Malaysia's, and indeed, Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak's, recent past history.
So it is entirely appropriate that this year – the 50th of Malaysia's independence – we also celebrate the 50th anniversary of bilateral ties between the two countries.
Foremost among the links between Malaysia and the UK has always been that of education.
While in decades past, this has mostly consisted of Malaysian students going abroad to study in the UK, this outflow has somewhat reversed recently with local and UK institutions exploring new methods of conducting UK degree programmes locally.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the first UK ministerial visit of the year to our country was by the Minister of State for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education Bill Rammell.
Although his three-day visit was short and quick, Rammell, who was visiting the country for the first time, managed to pack in quite a full schedule.
A framework for cooperation
The highlight of his visit was the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to foster collaboration, partnership and exchanges in education between the UK and Malaysia.
This MoU was co-signed by Higher Education Minister Datuk Mustapa Mohamed, whom Rammell also met with privately.
Said Rammell: “We've got a constructive relationship going back over many decades, and education, I think, has always been a part of that relationship.
“But I think it is crucial, when you work well together with another country, that you don't take that for granted.
“And you should actually, from time to time, seek to renew that relationship, and that is very much what the MoU that I signed with your minister is about, looking at the ways across the board educationally that we can work together because it is so important to both our countries.”
The MoU sets out the framework for cooperation in the field of higher education between the two governments (refer to sidebar).
Rammell revealed that he and Mustapa had discussed a whole range of actions that are of mutual interest, to be implemented based on the MoU.
Among them are how UK universities can work with the four Malaysian research universities (Universiti Malaya, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Universiti Sains Malaysia and Universiti Putra Malaysia) through joint PhD programmes and other initiatives, as well as how to support the improvement of academic qualifications among local public university staff.
“The framework talks about how our institutions can work together with Malaysia’s to develop capacity and to increase the number of partnerships, particularly in research-intensive areas.
“It also looks at how we put the flesh on the bones in terms of what is described as transnational education, where our institutions work with yours to provide real opportunities for students and institutions in Malaysia.”
Rammell acknowledged that Malaysia was a pioneer and innovator in transnational education, being the first country to introduce twinning programmes in collaboration with foreign universities, many of them British.
In addition to meeting Mustapa, Rammell also had roundtable discussions with the heads of both public and private institutions of higher learning.
He met with the vice-chancellors of the four research universities, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak and Multimedia University, as well as officials from the Higher Education Ministry and the National Accreditation Board.
Time was also spent with the heads of Taylor’s University College, Sunway University College, International Medical University, INTI International University College and Limkokwing University College of Creative Technology.
Studying in the UK
From the UK side, the ministers discussed how to continue promoting the benefits of UK education to Malaysian students.
“I’m delighted that 11,500 Malaysian students are studying in the UK at the moment. But also, there are 30,000 in Malaysia itself, who are supported by British higher education institutions,” said Rammell.
The minister emphasised the benefits of UK higher education, namely the quality of its degrees and the shorter period of study compared with many other countries at both the undergraduate and postgraduate levels.
“We’ve also recently made changes to provide some after-graduation opportunities for Malaysian and other overseas students.
“For example, now, all postgraduates and many undergraduates can work for up to 12 months after they complete their studies without actually getting a work permit.
“I know many students are making good use of these opportunities,” he said.
Rammell later announced that he hoped to double the number of Chevening scholarships available to Malaysians, in order to encourage more Malaysians to further their postgraduate degrees in the UK.
While keen on drawing more Malaysians to the UK, Rammell also recognised the need for other educational delivery systems like joint degrees, twinning programmes and establishing foreign branch campuses, describing them as “flexible and innovative”.
He commended the University of Nottingham for taking the lead internationally in establishing a foreign branch campus, having earlier been given a tour of their Semenyih campus.
“On top of that, I’m very keen to provide more opportunities for British students to study overseas, in particular in a country like Malaysia,” he said.
“I think this is a country that is very much developing and going places, and we want a strong and positive relationship to continue with Malaysia.”
Forms of collaboration
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