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Wan Ahmad Saifuddin, EduCity, Malaysia

Wan Ahmad Saifuddin is managing director of EduCity Iskandar, Malaysia. The 305-acre campus, offering shared service facilities, hosts nine global universities. In this PIE Chat, Saifuddin explains how Covid-19 has provided more scope for the role of the regional education hub.


Managing Director of EduCity, Wan Ahmad Saifuddin. Photo: EduCity

"We also notice what we call this phenomenon of deglobalisation of education"

The PIE: First, tell us more about EduCity Iskandar.

Wan Ahmad Saifuddin: We are a multi-campus student hub in Malaysia catering to a range of international students. Due to our proximity to Singapore, [students] may have spouses actually working in Singapore as an expat. Prior to the Covid situation, we had daily flights from Seoul. We manage the shared services facilities.

We go by the mantra of “learn, live and lead”. For students who come into EduCity, we have learn, which is something that we really depend on our education partner institutions for. Live is when we take care of students outside of class with our student accommodation, our sports facilities..

Lead is our programs that we organise for students, especially [focused on] the leadership aspect. At our most recent EduCity leadership summit we had Mike Phelan, the assistant manager of Manchester United participating online.

EduCity started in 2008, so that’s where we 1.0. And even in that first period of 2008 to 2019, I think we managed to attract many good institutions. We have world class shared facilities that can be shared by all the institutions and we try to create this multi-varsity community between the universities.

The PIE: How has the project been impacted by Covid-19?

WAS: The turning point was really late 2019 and 2020. During the Covid-19 pandemic, many universities are now facing problems of recruiting international students. Expansion has slowed down and many will be very cautious on how they want to address the situation. We also notice what we call this phenomenon of deglobalisation of education. This is where parents are less keen to send their children abroad.

It forced a switch to learning online. And I think it’s both a huge learning curve, not only for students, but also for the academics. So what we did in late 2020, was actually to launch EduCity 2.0.

Previously what we started was we approached universities and institutions to say, ‘we’ve got land, we’ve got buildings’. It was really a real estate approach.

“We used to say, ‘we’ve got land, we’ve got buildings’. It was really a real estate approach”

What we’re looking at now is how can we lower that barrier to entry, such that the risk is lower for institutions to come and look at the market in Malaysia, in Southeast Asia. And how can you pull students from this region, especially in the current situation?

The PIE: How does EduCity 2.0 look different to your previous operations? 

WAS: We still have our facilities and services of course. But as we move forward to 2.0, [we have introduced] EduCity International College and EduCity Academy. These are the vehicles that we’re using to enable different business models [for more] flexible partnership models.

There’s a licensing option – we’re currently in progress of licensing a generic foundation program from the UK to be brought in to be offered in EduCity because there has started to be a demand where students don’t want to go to the A-levels route anymore and are looking for options.

Second is twinning plus. Many institutions in Malaysia work with international partners to offer twinning programs, whether it’s 2+1, 3+0.

Third is the incubation model, [where] institutions test the market by using our college licence and work with us. We can licence the program with them and then we will assist them to do financial modelling, which looks at the cost of lecturers, major operational expenses, and look at what sort of projection can be pulled up.

But our biggest response to the current situation is actually what we call the Transit Model or the learning centre model.

The PIE: Can you explain the Transit Model?

WAS: As we go along, we’re working out the details in Southeast Asia while travel restrictions are actually in place. For example, university A says,’ I want to recruit a Malaysian student or an Indonesian student, but they’re unable to travel due to immigration and border restrictions’.

“They are your students but we will take care of them because we have all the facilities”

So rather than recruit them virtually and have them stay at home trying to learn at home, which is not really a conducive environment for learning, why don’t you put them in EduCity Iskandar? They are your students but we will take care of them because we have all the facilities that gives it a whole learning environment.

We have a shared library, computer labs, activities, a student hub modelled after a UK student union, along with facilities such as our 6,000-seater outdoor stadium, indoor arena for 1,600 people, Olympic-sized swimming pool. We have gyms, outdoor courts, and the EduCity village student accommodation has 640 beds available.

We can even work things out like hiring tutors. So there’s three parts to it, the academic delivery, teaching and learning support and pastoral care. The Malaysian Ministry of Health is satisfied with how we manage [the campus in a covid-secure way]. This will give a totally different experience for that student. And when the border restrictions are eased, students can actually fly.

The PIE: What are the other benefits of education hubs rather than opening an individual branch campus?

WAS: This cross-pollination that can take place. So I think this potential for education hubs to work together is absolutely huge. And again, I think importantly, it lowers the cost of entry for those institutions to enter a new market without having huge expense and investment upfront.

“Potential for education hubs to work together is absolutely huge”. STR/NUR AISYAH MAZALAN

In fact, we are now working on trying to establish an international association of education hubs. And I do believe that this is the time for the resurgence of education hubs. Suddenly the relevancy of education hubs has gone up so high because we are able to give confidence to the parents to show we bring really good institutions. That’s a model that’s only going to grow.

“I think this potential for education hubs to work together is absolutely huge”

The transit model is the lightest model that we have so that they’re actually your students, but they’re just transiting with us. We hope that if we have a good experience as a partner, then you would consider and if you see the potential number of students signing up, you would consider setting up in EduCity itself.

In Q4, we hope that travel will be allowed so that we can actually organise a physical conference to talk about actually the deglobalisation of education, what can we do? It’s happening at such a fast pace that we need that discourse, we need that discussion, and we need partnerships. No man is an island. No institution is an island. You can’t do everything yourself anymore, not in this connected world. EduCity is a platform, use us for what makes sense to you and partners with us for what makes sense to you.

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