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OBHE event charts rampant growth of IBCs

International branch campuses (IBCs) were the focus of debate at the most recent Global Forum staged by the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education (OBHE). A modern phenomenon – IBCs provided a cohesive and tangible subject matter, according to delegates, who represented existing IBCs, institutions interested in such an arrangement and government representatives.

OBHE room

By 2014, 250 IBCs are expected to be in operation

Staged in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, which is a hotbed of IBC activity, the two-day event proved a breeding ground for discussion; with The PIE’s reporter, Sean Chee, noting that both the ethics (who are IBCs benefiting and what is the purpose of setting one up: moral or financial?) and the business practicalities (what do students expect?) were typical talking points.

The event was opened by Malaysian Deputy Higher Education Minister, Hou Kok Chung, who signalled that there were seven IBCs currently (University of Nottingham being a well known example) and 25 institutions looking to follow suit in Malaysia.

Malaysia’s Ministry of Higher Education wants to manage the growth of IBCs in its positioning as a higher education hub; therefore MOHE will be selective in its permission. It is keen to broaden its IBCs to include technical and vocational education. Chung added that Malaysia will achieve 100,000 international students by the end of year.

Dr William Lawton of OBHE told the audience that by 2014, 250 IBCs are expected to be in operation: growth is rampant. Trying to understand the transformation of a university from endemic to something more mobile is a challenge which all governments need to address.

MOHE is keen to broaden its IBCs to include technical and vocational education

Other sessions highlighted that the thirst for fluency in the English language is a key driver of demand for IBCs; the paramount importance of maintaining quality (monitoring by local government and host institution; who else?); and that important services to provide were – in order – good accommodation; access to facilities; career support and internships; extra-curricular activities/social inclusion.

Two students from Nottingham’s campus were interviewed and highlighted that their expectations had changed as they stayed in Malaysia, and that they had enjoyed the experience.

The “nation building” potential of IBCs was also considered, especially when campuses forge strong links with local industry (an example mentioned was Curtin’s IBC in Malaysia which runs a petroleum programme there, but not in Curtin’s home country of Australia).

Professor Michael Worton, Vice-Provost of University College London, said that discussions were quite complex, ranging from the moral to the business-focused. “It’s been very good for us to have discussions between these people: government, those driving [IBCs] and also the students – that was helpful as well,” he said.

Worton signalled that – looking ahead – collective issues that arose were around recognition. The USA wont recognise IBCs for student loans, and the Chinese government won’t recognise IBCs when bestowing academic scholarships, he said. “There might be a role for a form of institutional lobbying, collectively, to the major agencies to change policy at national and supra-national level.”

Summing up, Chee said one point of cohesion was that internationalisation was not all about numbers and enrollment – but also about intercultural exchanges and mix between faculty and students.

• Reporting by Sean Chee

Sean Chee is the Business Development Director of ELS Language Centres, Malaysia.

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