Border-Crossing Universities

Europe is seeing new models for foreign institutions. In Britain, a Malaysian university opens to serve immigrant students.

October 1, 2008

When officials in Britain discuss the arrival of newcomers from Southeast Asia to the local academic environment, any hesitation in their conversation is not about visiting lecturers or foreign students from the region. It's about the surprising identity of the latest international university now operating in their midst.

“From Malaysia to Mayfair,” as a headline in the British newspaper, the Independent, recently declared about Limkokwing University of Creative Technology’s journey from the developing world to one of London’s toniest neighborhoods, where the country’s first non-American foreign university is now “sending out shivers” in to the traditional world of British higher learning.

Limkokwing, now in its first year of operation, is putting the finishing touches on a corporate plan to further ramp up its presence in Britain, a country that has long attracted students from its former colonies; until now, however, those students have typically come to study at the institutions of the onetime colonial overlord.

The university’s arrival also marks a notable twist on the traditional relationship between colleges and universities in developing countries and their counterparts in the first world, with the former invariably playing second fiddle to the recruiting successes of the latter. This current year has seen major academic moves not only by the Malaysia-based Limkokwing, but also by education planners working out of Slovenia to compete directly for a new place in the Western academic sun.

Limkokwing, which opened its doors in March, expects to welcome 300 international students over the coming academic year — complementing the 20,000 students it already enrolls across its system of campuses across nine other countries, including Cambodia, China, Indonesia, and Malaysia — for English-language certificate and degree courses in architecture, business, communication, information technology, and multimedia studies. Virtually all the students at this point are foreign-born, about a third of them Malaysians, although the locally recruited faculty, including ex-pat Malaysians, hope to see more British faces in their classrooms before too long.

Because the degrees are not British but overseen in Malaysia, the university is not required to submit to the country’s quality-assurance regime; nevertheless, its offerings have already received a number of significant accreditations, including the British-based Accreditation Service for International Colleges.

And while Limkokwing is a for-profit operation, as the naming for its Malaysian entrepreneurial founder suggests, it still has managed to charge around 20 percent less for average annual tuition than the 8,000 British pounds, or $14,750, that students might expect to pay at most of the country’s other universities, two of which — Anglia Ruskin University and the University of Bedfordshire — have already forged teaching partnerships with the newcomer.

All going well, Limkokwing hopes to parlay these successes into a similar planned venture for next year in New York.

“I can’t mention the name of the university I was speaking to recently, but I can tell you that they reminded me, nervously, that they have been here for a long time and we’ve just arrived in their back yard,” David Taylor, a locally recruited professor of business with the London operation, said this month.

“And they were right,” Taylor believes. “In a sense, we are a threat.”

As Limkokwing undergoes its own expansion, another unusual new institutional outrider is preparing to mount its own kind of academic assault from another unlikely vantage.

60 Universities from 24 Countries

The Euro-Mediterranean University, an international postgraduate research institution based in Portorož, Slovenia, was inaugurated in Europe this past June with support from more than 60 member universities spread out across 24 countries from its namesake region -- and, it is hoped, some additional American teaching support. Among the institutions now fully on board are Italy’s International University in Rome, International Telematic University, and University of Bari, Britain’s University of Westminster, and the University of Malta.

The “university of universities,” as the institution known as EMUNI is already billing itself, will become a fully accredited and recognized European institution of higher learning later this fall, with much of the oversight for the consortium provided by a publicly funded new central campus in the Slovenian capital.

In addition to providing facilities for the EMUNI operation, the Portorož center will act as a secretariat of both the university and a foundation set up last month to administer funding, which, along with partner institutions, will also come from the government of the European Union as well as private donors.

For the current academic year, the university is offering four pilot master’s programs, in business administration, diplomacy, Mediterranean culture, and tourism, with all its degrees and diplomas to be conferred under a corporate EMUNI crest.

While each program remains the responsibility of a single member university, at least three other universities must play an active academic role, with at least one of them being from a south Mediterranean country. Students — the university expects at least 100 in its first year — will spend at least one month in Slovenia to work on a complementary course in Mediterranean studies, with most of the other work taking place at the campus of the sponsoring university.

The center has already established its own International Journal of Euro-Mediterranean Studies, editorially dedicated to “discussion and insight in the issues relevant to the Euro-Mediterranean area” across a variety of fields, according to the center’s academic director, Nada Trunk.

“This is a new structure of a university, not the classical one,” says Trunk, who is also a professor of management at the nearby University of Primorska.

To date, the new style of instruction has concentrated largely on short-term teaching projects like a recently completed summer school that drew nearly 100 students from 27 countries, a number of which making for unlikely learning bedfellows.

“It was truly impressive to see, for example, students here from Israel and Palestine, people who seemed well able to understand each other even if at the political level their governments are still unable to, so this has been about creating a new kind of feeling as well as new knowledge,” Trunk reflects.

“So I like to think that on some small level we can show, in a new way, that it’s possible for people to communicate. It’s good that we’re here.”


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