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China launches first state-backed branch campus

The first ever university branch campus backed by the Chinese State is to be established in Malaysia, one of Asia’s fastest growing education hubs. Xiamen University, a top twenty higher education institution in China, plans to open a five-faculty campus in September 2015, joining well known campuses of foreign institutions such as the University of Nottingham, UK, and Monash University, Australia.

Xiamen University, Malaysia, expects 10,000 students in its first year and all teaching will be in English

“The invitation is historic because this is the first time that the Chinese government has allowed one of its universities to set up a campus abroad,” said Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak this week.

“This is the first time that the Chinese government has allowed one of its universities to set up a campus abroad”

Xiamen, which is directly administered by the Chinese Ministry of Education, is ranked in the top 600 universities worldwide by QS, and China. The new venture will offer all teaching in English across courses in engineering, medicine, information and communications technology, business and economics, and Chinese language and literature.

It expects to enrol 10,000 students in its first year, two thirds from China and Malaysia and the remainder from ASEAN member countries and other nations. Around 90,000 foreign students study in Malaysia.

A report by the Observatory of Borderless Higher Education last year predicted the number of international branch campuses (IBCs) would rise in Asia through 2014, as more Asians chose to study within their region for reasons of cost and convenience. China saw IBCs increase by 70% (from 10 to 17) and Singapore by 50% (from 12 to 18) in 2011, it noted.

Much of the growth in IBCs will be due to Western institutions expanding, but China – where two private universities have previously set up abroad, Ningbo in Italy and Soochow in Laos – is also likely to increase its reach.

For China, a Malaysian IBC represents the opportunity to attach itself to an important economy in the region with a growing demand for skilled workers. “A good reason for them to set up an IBC in Malaysia might be that the country hosts an economically powerful Chinese minority, which can serve as a significant student pool that the new IBC can draw from,” Alex Katsomitros, reserach analyst at the OBHE told The PIE News.

The new campus fits into the Malaysian government’s plan to attract 200,000 international students by 2020

The new campus also fits into the Malaysian government’s plan to attract 200,000 international students by 2020. “This IBC is a way for them to set foot in the Chinese market and will make the IBC market there a bit more competative I suspect,” said Katsomitros.

As a non-profit university, Xiamen says it plans to reinvest all income from the branch campus back into Malaysia, despite estimated set-up costs of RM600 million (US$127m). Recruiting has already begun for the 700 teaching staff  it will require “from all over the world”.

Zhu Chongshi, Xiamen University’s president said the deal would strengthen relations between the two countries. “This represents another meaningful cooperation between Malaysia and China in the field of education besides economic, trade, science and technology, and cultural cooperation to boost bilateral relations,” he said.

Malaysia and China have also fortified bonds through a university mutual recognition programme launched in 2012. The number of Malaysian universities approved by China has risen to 71 from five two years ago, and both countries say mobility has increased.

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