Crossing borderswithout leaving home

Transnational education is reshaping Malaysia’s tertiary learning landscape

TRANSNATIONAL education (TNE) allows students access to an international learning experience without having to leave their nation’s borders.

This education model is even more important as some countries tighten their entry requirements for tertiary students, British Council country director (Malaysia) Jazreel Goh said.

“Tightening of student visa regulations in some of the major destination countries, combined with increasingly challenging funding environments, are pressurising universities and governments to look to TNE as alternative (education) routes,” she said during the Times Higher Education (THE) Asia Universities Summit 2024 held from April 29 to May 1.

She said these countries, mainly English-speaking destinations, are seeing TNE as a means to stabilise student mobility, while at the same time, keeping students enrolled in their programmes.

“TNE has been increasingly recognised as an important aspect in the internationalisation of higher education and is a growing trend in Asia,” she said during her session on “The trends and drivers of transnational education in Asia”.

This is driven by a number of factors, including students having access to top-quality education and gaining international experience without having to travel far from home, as well as the globalisation of the workforce.

She pointed out that many governments in Asia are increasingly seeking innovative and cost-effective ways to boost their higher education capabilities and also have ambitious plans to create regional education hubs to attract top talent and educational resources to their country.

While TNE largely revolves around teaching and learning – either through franchising, twinning or other education models – Goh said it has the potential to morph into “a richer and more sophisticated model”.“There is so much more potential than just sticking to teaching franchises. This includes more collaborative approaches such as setting up joint research, forming centres of excellence or mobility exchange,” she said, suggesting that universities bring students together for collaborative projects through various initiatives.

“We need to ensure it’s not just about teaching,” she said.

In Malaysia, Sunway Education group chief executive officer Prof Datuk Dr Elizabeth Lee said, TNE has developed by leaps and bounds over the last three decades.

“At the beginning, it was running the programmes that belonged to the foreign universities with these universities, very often, sending their academic staff over to Malaysia, to teach them.

“Of course, over the years, Malaysian institutions have become a lot more familiar and comfortable with the assurance and quality of standards (of their foreign counterparts). “Hence, today, you can see courses such as Sunway University’s programme with Lancaster University, whereby the United Kingdom (UK) institution only comes in to validate the degree we developed.

“Lancaster University will ensure our programme is of quality and validate it to say that it is equivalent to what they have over at Lancaster,” she said during a session on “Navigating regulatory challenges in TNE”.This, she said, is especially beneficial for international students whose home country may not be familiar with Malaysian quality and standards, to still possess a certification recognised and awarded by a UK university.

When it comes to ensuring quality of the courses, Lee said she is “not worried” as the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA) is very stringent and students can be assured that their education is of an international standard.

From the perspective of a branch campus, its pro-vice chancellor, president and chief executive Simon Leunig said Curtin University Malaysia, through training, staff induction and partnerships between coordinators in the home and host country, has empowered local deliverers who manage and teach the programme here.

He, however, stressed that it is important for branch campuses to ensure that they meet the local needs of the host country.

“When we look at culture, either in Malaysia or other Asian countries, how do we integrate it with the critical thinking that drives much of Australian education and come up with something better?” he said.

Goh said from the UK perspective, there has been a steady growth in enrolment into the country’s TNE UK programmes globally over the past decade, especially post-pandemic.

She said there are 535,000 students enrolled into the UK’s TNE programmes worldwide, which is a sizeable number, especially if you compare to the 680,000 international students studying within the country.

Goh said in nine out of the top 10 markets for UK TNE, there are more students enrolled in the country’s programmes compared to students going to the UK.

Five of the top 10 markets are in Asia, she said, adding that 4% of Malaysia’s higher education enrolments are in UK TNE courses.

“TNE today is the cornerstone of educational development in Malaysia.

“UK qualifications are now very acceptable and accessible. It is easier for students to obtain UK qualifications in their home country,” she said.

While branch campuses are popular, Goh said there is a preference for joint degrees, franchise and validation programmes.“In addition, research into the top 10 destinations considered by prospective Chinese students showed that Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan are gaining popularity as choice locations, indicating a clear market shift from traditional East-to-West travel to inter-regional or regional travel,” she added.

“I think Asia is very well positioned to be TNE hub attracting students, not just in-country but within the region and intra-regionally because we have the enabling environment of government policies, economic development and quality of institution partners that would ensure successful TNE,” she said.

To enable and grow the sector, Goh said policymakers need to trust that international universities and their local partners are not going to do something that would be damaging to their reputations.

“Policymakers are here to ensure quality and reputation but you can’t do that by simply policing and setting strict rules.

“Trust in the sector, work with the sector, and develop the policies together.

“As TNE continues to expand and evolve in the region, it will likely continue to reshape the landscape of higher education in Asia, pushing boundaries and redefining traditional paradigms of cultural identity and national education frameworks in the process.

“We need to ensure our education system, TNE included, shapes a future generation that is much more culturally centred, stronger, more resilient, and that they are able to think, learn and act in a more interrelated way,” she said.

Best of both worlds

Sunway University and Sunway College students, who will be spending some time in Lancaster University and Victoria University, share their thoughts on programmes that allow for degrees, which include stints abroad, to be completed locally.

I chose this programme because the UK university’s degree holds international recognition, which can be beneficial if I ever consider pursuing further studies or work opportunities abroad. Overall, the quality of education provided by Sunway University here, in partnership with Lancaster University, is comparable to that of studying directly in the UK. This is due to the strict adherence to the same academic standards, assessment criteria, and learning outcomes, which ensures that the degree holds the same prestige and academic rigour. Nonetheless, while the core knowledge might be similar, the quality can differ in a few ways. A programme conducted here has a more traditional, lecture-based approach, with a stronger emphasis on rote learning and memorisation. I hope to experience a learning environment in the UK where independent learning, which fosters self-discipline, creativity and time management skills, is encouraged. Hence, I plan on spending some time studying in the UK as part of my programme. I also believe that living and studying abroad fosters personal growth and independence. We learn to navigate a new environment, adapt to different cultural norms, and build resilience. These skills are highly sought after by employers in today’s globalised world.

– Tee Shu Wen, 21, Bachelor of Science (Hons) Marketing

I chose to study locally because it allows me to stay close to my family and maintain my cultural roots while receiving a high-quality education recognised internationally. My university’s partnership with Lancaster University in the UK means I can benefit from their prestigious academic standards without the financial and emotional burden of relocating overseas. It felt like the perfect blend of familiarity and global opportunity. One key UK education element present in my programme is the focus on independent research and critical thinking. Unlike some local programmes that might emphasise rote learning, our programme encourages us to question, analyse and synthesise information critically. I plan to spend a semester in the UK if given the opportunity. This would not only broaden my global perspective but also allow me to make connections with students and professionals from various backgrounds. I believe this experience will be invaluable in shaping my personal and professional growth, making me more adaptable and better prepared for a global career. Plus, living in the UK, even for a short period, has always been a dream of mine, and I look forward to the adventure and personal growth it promises.

– Ng Shi Mian, 20, Bachelor of Science (Hons) Financial Analysis

The flexible yet practical learning approach called the Victoria University (VU) Block Model learning schedule drew me to apply for the programme. What I do know is that the block model learning schedule unique to this university is not available in other universities in Malaysia. I’m very glad that I chose this programme because this Australian learning schedule has enabled me to apply what I learnt in class to my business endeavours, thanks to the learning flexibility it offers. I would love to spend my final semester in Australia, as I am eager to experience university life there and immerse myself in their culture and country. Travelling and studying abroad during my final semester is something I have always wanted to do. It is on my bucket list.

– Adam Khairuddin, 22, Bachelor of Business

I was seeking a top-tier education that is locally accessible and internationally recognised. While the quality of a local education is comparable to studying abroad, the blend of local and international elements in my programme creates a distinctive educational experience for me. The teaching methods incorporate practices used in Australian education, such as interactive learning, critical thinking exercises, and practical applications, which may differ from traditional Malaysian teaching styles. I absolutely plan on spending some time studying in Australia as part of my programme later on. Living and studying in a foreign country will also challenge me to successfully manage both academic and personal responsibilities, thereby boosting my confidence and independence. Moreover, this international exposure aligns with my aspirations of building a global network of friends and professionals that can open doors to international business opportunities.

– Monica Megan Tan Xian Yi, 22, Bachelor of Business

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