Internationalisation of Malaysian universities has grown in scale in the past decade.
This is in line with “global prominence”, a major shift in the Malaysia Education Blueprint for Higher Education 2015 to 2025 (MEBHE) that aims to enhance the end-to-end international student experience, increase brand visibility, and strengthen existing and new markets for international students.
Generally, the process of internationalisation includes fostering cross-border academic and research partnerships, exchange programmes, global-focused curriculum and recruitment of foreign students and academics to meet the demands of a globalised world.
The Education Ministry, through its Higher Education department, seeks to boost the national higher education brand from being known for its affordability to being recognised internationally for its academic and research expertise.
According to Universiti Malaya (UM) deputy vice-chancellor (Academic and International) Professor Dr Kamila Ghazali, internationalisation has transformed the Malaysian higher education system in many dimensions.
“It is very important not only for the nation but also for our students. The international exposure undoubtedly accords them a much wider worldview.”
The Malaysian community would also benefit from the initiatives, she added.
“Universities use their international resources to strengthen social inclusion processes, offering mutual benefits and learning for all stakeholders.
“For example, a UM researcher is working on the Malacca Portuguese community’s language documentation and revitalisation efforts, in collaboration with a UK university.”
Taylor’s University vice-chancellor Professor Michael Driscoll said: “Learning and the development of knowledge as the core mission of higher education should go beyond national boundaries.
“Apart from attracting international staff and students, institutions should actively encourage local staff and students to gain experience at universities abroad.”
Malaysian private higher education sector has adopted a strong international outlook from the outset, he added.
“The future for all respectable universities is to strengthen their international dimension. Without this, they will lose the ability to provide quality education for a globalised world,” said Driscoll.
Leading global universities are highly international in nature, said Sunway University Malaysia vice-chancellor Professor Graeme Wilkinson.
“These universities bring together talented academics and students from different backgrounds from across the globe. The mixture of ideas helps drive innovation and ultimately stimulates global businesses operating at the leading edge of scientific and technological fields. Hence, it’s important for Malaysian universities to be international,” said Wilkinson.
A meaningful internationalisation approach is based on values, according to International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) deputy rector (internationalisation and global network) Professor Dr Nor Faridah Abdul Manaf.
“Education at IIUM is about grooming future leaders with values and integrity that excel in their field of expertise. It is not so much about making profit.
“In transforming a life, we help transform a country. IIUM aims to service students from all walks of life and different parts of the world, especially from conflict zones like Palestine and developing countries in Asia and Africa,” she said.
In the Malaysia Education Blueprint for Higher Education 2015 to 2025, a target was set to place two universities in the Global Top 100 by 2025.
Meanwhile, two targets in the blueprint have been achieved, namely, having one university in Asia’s Top 25 and four in the Global Top 200.
Following its success of placing 70th in the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings 2020, UM was recently ranked 58th in the Times Higher Education (THE)’s ranking of the world’s most international universities 2020, the only Malaysian university to join the list.
The four metrics assessed were proportion of international staff, students, research co-authorship and reputation.
According to Kamila, the UM’s internationalisation strategies span six critical sectors.
They are student mobility, staff mobility, academic programme, research and development, governance and autonomy, social integration and community engagement.
“We have 5,000 international students from over 90 different countries, which is 20 per cent of the total student population. Recognising the importance of international experience, UM sends around 2,000 students abroad for mobility programmes annually.
The university’s international faculty members make up 13 per cent of the population, she added.
“Our academic programmes are on par with international standards. For example, our Business and Accountancy programmes are accredited by the professional bodies. We also undergo the Asean University Network — Quality Assurance (AUN-QA) assessment,” said Kamila.
Ranked 12th in the World and 1st in Malaysia for QS 2020 Top 50 Under 50 universities, Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) has more than 100 international academics.
UPM deputy vice chancellor (academic and international) Professor Dr M. Iqbal Saripan said that studying with international students and learning from faculty members from other countries will help local students broaden their life perspectives.
“We have 1,556 international undergraduate students on campus. Meanwhile, at the postgraduate level, there are 3,733 international students, making up 36 per cent of the student population. They will normally bring their families here as well.”
To enhance its global reach, UPM academic programmes are internationally accredited.
“UPM is the first Malaysian university and sixth in Southeast Asia to receive the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business Accreditation (AACBA). Other accreditations include International Engineering Alliance (IEA) and Royal Society of Chemistry,” said Iqbal.
For private universities in the country, international twinning programmes are a strong feature of internationalisation, said Driscoll.
“Taylor’s University sends and receives students from across the globe, including sending students to the top 100 universities in the world in North America and Europe.
“Ranked in the global top 20 for Culinary and Hospitality Management, we have had a very productive partnership with Toulouse University, France, in this field for over 20 years.”
International academics make up 22 per cent of the Taylor’s University faculty while 30 per cent of undergraduate cohort are international students.
“The number of international students, including postgraduate students, has been growing rapidly in recent years,” said Driscoll.
Wilkinson said Sunway University has always aimed to attract the best academics including from abroad.
“Having excellent academics enables us to deliver top quality education to our students and carry out leading research. Around 15 per cent of our academics are international. At the more senior level, around 50 per cent are from overseas.”
The university has 1,000 international students which amounts to 12 per cent of their student body.
“The presence of international students helps our domestic students become more aware of different cultures and understand the world better, thus becoming better global citizens.
“Ultimately, this promotes social harmony and international collaboration between graduates which can eventually lead to international business opportunities,” said Wilkinson.
RESEARCH AND ACADEMIC ALLIANCES
Malaysian universities are also increasingly forming international research collaborations and joint academic programmes.
Wilkinson said Sunway University formed cooperative research centres with international universities.
“We established a joint Future Cities Research Institute with Lancaster University, a top 10 UK university, as well as a Joint Research Centre on Information Technology with Huizhou University, China.
“Our academic staff have co-authored research papers with international academics. Topics included vaccine development with Oxford University researchers, and improving solar energy systems with researchers from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.”
Sunway University students also benefit from obtaining Lancaster degrees while studying in Malaysia, he added.
“Our academic programmes are jointly approved by two international universities,” said Wilkinson.
Kamila said UM is continuously partnering with top universities to enhance teaching and learning, multidisciplinary research and capacity building.
According to the 2020 Education Mandate, public universities should focus on strengthening collaborations with the Top 100 universities in the world.
“Since 2014, we have produced over 15,000 co-authored articles from our international collaborations.
“We have developed ties with over 40 of the top 100 universities in the QS World University Rankings 2020. UM is a member of over 30 global networks, such as the Asian Universities Alliance and the Association of Pacific Rim Universities (APRU).
“Through these networks, we bring experts together to exchange ideas and collaborate on effective solutions to global challenges affecting the region.
“Our researchers actively collaborate with counterparts in prominent institutions such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Yale University and Peking University.”
“Currently, UM has two double undergraduate degrees, six dual Masters and 22 dual and joint Phd programmes with its international partner institutions in fields namely medicine, science and engineering,” said Kamila.
In facilitating international experience, UPM offers 17 collaborative programmes with 13 international institutions, said Iqbal.
“For example, we established a jointly awarded PhD with University of Newcastle, Australia and University of Sheffield, UK.”
UPM is also globally recognised for its ground-breaking research, he added.
“From 2013 to 2018, we acquired RM284,724,541 of grants for research projects. To date, we have filed over 2,500 Intellectual Properties (IP) and had 171 IP commercialised with gross sales of over RM61 million,” said Iqbal.