University of Reading arrives

With its unique concept, EduCity Iskandar Malaysia in Nusajaya—a planned eco city and trading zone in Johor—is set to the change the face of education in the country. Ten international education institutions are to set up local campuses within 305 acres of land that will soon be an iconic address and a vibrant, well-equipped second home to more than 16,000 students.

The education hub is fast taking shape, and among the players that are already up and running is the University of Reading Malaysia (UoRM). The university will open its brand new, purpose-built campus within EduCity in 2015, but it has already opened its doors in Malaysia, currently operating from Menara Kotaraya in Johor Bahru.

A British university with a world-class reputation for teaching, research and enterprise, the university is ranked in the top 1% of universities in the world.
Its campus in Malaysia will offer undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in three subject areas, namely built environment, business and law, and science, including pharmacy.

theSun gets UoRM provost and CEO Professor Tony Downes to share his excitement about the opening of the campus.

What role will the university play in EduCity Iskandar?

The university is a key partner in the new EduCity Iskandar. As one of the larger partners, it will be offering a wide variety of undergraduate, postgraduate and foundation programmes such as Law, Pharmacy, Quantity Surveying, Real Estate, Psychology, Business & Management, Finance as well as English language courses of differing kinds.

EduCity Iskandar was set up by Iskandar Investment Bhd to create a world class higher education destination within the Iskandar region of Malaysia; to provide educational opportunities for young people in Malaysia and across Southeast Asia; to increase the skills of the workforce in Malaysia, which will be very much needed as economic development accelerates; and, to contribute to the country’s overall goal of becoming a regional educational hub.

Although there are a number of different institutional participants (universities, R&D centres, etc), students will benefit from a strong sense of studying and living at a coherent and cohesive entity, mixing and mingling amongst each other freely.

Why should students opt for a foreign university located here if it is overseas or global experience they seek?

Malaysia as an educational destination is a gateway to all of Asia, just as the UK is a gateway to Europe. Many students use their time at university to explore and discover more about the world around them, and visiting nearby countries and meeting their international classmates is one way to do this.

At a foreign branch campus in Malaysia, like UoRM, students get an opportunity to explore in greater depth the Asiatic region and its people whilst still receiving top quality British education.

Of course, for some, cost is a factor and the ability of UoRM to charge lower fees because of the lower costs of running a university in Malaysia is a further enticement. For some the fact that the official religion of Malaysia is Islam will be appealing; to others, the multiethnic, multicultural, and multilingual society that Malaysia presents is incredibly attractive.

Since UoRM’s programmes will be offered in both countries, students will also have the option of spending part of their time in the UK if they wish.

It is important, however, to stress that the courses we teach at UoRM will be of exactly the same standard and quality as those we offer in the UK, and many teachers will visit UoRM on short- and long-term secondments from the UK to teach. So, parents will know that they can get the same world-class higher education here in Malaysia.

What are your thoughts on the most critical challenges facing education today?

Wow, there is quite a lot to say about that! My first thought is that it is no good thinking that a university education is simply about acquiring knowledge.

In today’s world, and more so in tomorrow’s, technology and ideas and ways of doing things will change ever more rapidly. So, knowledge may very quickly become out-of-date. Education therefore needs to be as much about skills, including enabling students to be flexible, adaptable and lifelong learners.

Students and their parents are rightly concerned about employment after graduating, so one of our challenges is to enable students to be highly attractive future employees. Another challenge comes from the “third industrial revolution”—the information technology revolution.

Access to knowledge and education will be available in many different ways. We believe the traditional values of attending university and working in a group with your peers will remain the best form of higher education, but we must not lose sight of the added value that new technologies can bring.

How does the university go about ensuring the marketability of its graduates?

These are issues which we have had to address in the UK as well—across the whole higher education sector. At the University of Reading, 93% of our graduates are either in further study, training or employment—so we have a really good track record. There is no “magic bullet”, and it involves a variety of different activities.

The main thing is to get students involved in co-curricular activities which help develop the transferable skills, such as team working being developed at the University of Reading. These activities include work placements, internships, mentoring, and volunteering, among others.

The other important thing, of course, is to set rigorous academic standards and make sure our graduates meet them. I think you will find that the students who graduated with a Reading law degree from the twinning programme we used to have with Taylor’s University College have proved to be highly employable.

How best for universities to engage businesses for the most effective outcomes?

I think I ought to say that I hope there will always be a place for theory in university education; we must not lose sight of the fundamentals of our disciplines. But equally, theory alone is not enough.

Ensuring our students are able to harness their knowledge and effectively bring it to bear in business is crucial. This is a large part of what we work to instil in our students at the University of Reading.

We have had significant success in bringing business people into the classroom (by speaking to students about their work, sitting on curriculum advisory panels, running networking skills workshops, and judging our entrepreneurship competitions) and also getting students out into businesses (with work experience and volunteering programmes).

These are the kinds of examples we are bringing to University of Reading Malaysia. It takes time but business leaders see that there is huge self-interest in partnering with us in this way.

We have already invested time in meeting many businesses in the region, and shall continue to do so.
We look forward to business men and women working with UoRM and all our students as stakeholders, mentors, placement providers, inspirational leaders and, of course, as employers.-Yee Jie Min, The Sun.