What is the latest update on KBU’s progress towards becoming a university college?
LIANG: Last year, we filed in an application and we passed through the first stage. We have been given positive indications, but of course we have to meet certain conditions, which we are targeting to meet by the beginning of next year.
KBU has 2500 students now and 26% of them are foreign. How will becoming a university impact these figures?
LIANG: First of all, we will be expanding our campus. We will go into Phase 2, and we will be starting construction in February of 2013. Currently, we are building the British International School next to the campus and once this is finished, we will come into the tertiary education side. With the new campus our capacity will be about 6,000 students.
Are you hoping to increase your percentage of international students?
LIANG: In Malaysia the population is not large, so going forward, all institutions will have to rely on foreign students. Thus, our target is to have at least 35% foreign students. Our policy is also to expand and go into many different countries, as opposed to just a few, in order to recruit foreign students. I think having a good country mix will contribute a lot to the education that students will receive at KBU because they then develop a more varied perspective on what different cultures are, and the way they interact. Nowadays, we also conduct a very mobile lifestyle, where everyone travels a lot. Thus, for example, you may have a student coming from Mongolia to study in Malaysia and, vice-versa, i.e. a Malaysian graduate working in Mongolia. So this policy of attracting foreign students from diverse countries in preparation for their future is important for KBU.
What are the unique aspects of the partnerships that you currently have with institutions in the UK?
LIANG: Currently, we have 3 partners in UK and we are franchising their degree programs, which are delivered here. Recently, the UK government has increased their tuition fees. Originally it was free for UK citizens, then it was 1,000 GBP per year, then 3,000 GBP per year, and now it is 9,000 GBP per year. Considering this recent tuition fee increase in the UK, we hope to attract some British students to come and study here, because we provide a British degree at a third of the price offered in their homeland. I think this is one important feature of attraction and there is a market there. We are able to provide this service with our partners. In fact, students can study 2 years here and 1 year back home and they would save a lot of money and yet obtain a British degree. Going forward, this is definitely something to monitor and to look at.
How has the increasing cost of university’s fees in England impacted the education sector?
LIANG: In the UK, the British government is cutting funding to universities and making universities more responsible for their own funding, besides increasing the tuition fees for their citizens. One of the possible ways for English universities to get more money is to either to go out of Britain and attract more foreign students to attend English universities, or to collaborate and make partnerships with educational institutions abroad, like the partnerships that KBU has in operation now. In this way, I believe they will be able to build up their revenue and move forward.
Do you think Malaysia has the right resources to absorb all of the students looking for an education in Malaysia?
LIANG: Yes, definitely. I think Malaysia already has as an objective to become an education hub and the government is giving incentives to attract foreign universities to establish campuses here. I believe there are a few institutes on the waiting list who want to establish their campuses in Malaysia.
We must look at the education system holistically, from primary, to secondary, and up to the tertiary level. There is no point having good universities when the students coming into them are not well prepared at the schools level.
What are the challenges that you anticipate?
LIANG: I think one of the remaining challenges is infrastructure. We have to be ready and resolve our hick ups, such as our immigration system, and enable foreign students to obtain their visa within a stipulated time frame. The government needs to do a lot under this perspective and speed up the application process for the foreign students who wish to study here. Moving forward, we should follow the Australian and UK models, where they allow their foreign students to work certain hours per week while they are students to gain some extra pocket money. Although we allow this, our permission remains rather restrictive and I think that our procedure should be simplified. More importantly, I think that we should also look at allowing foreign lecturers to teach here, if they are required, and the procedure for allowing this should be simplified and sped up. You need to have the infrastructure in place if you aim to be a world player and attract foreign students into this country.
According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report, Malaysia ranks 44th on “educational and technological readiness”. The report states that there is room for improvement in technological adaptation by businesses and the population at large. What role do universities play in addressing this challenge?
LIANG: We need to go back to the education system. That is why the government announced a new education revamp plan for the education system. We need to remember the importance of the education system if we want to develop the type of human capital that businesses require to meet all the technological changes. Technology is changing all the time. Thus, we really need to match this with the proper human capital and this starts with education at the schools level. We must look at the education system holistically, from primary, to secondary, and up to the tertiary level. There is no point having good universities when the students coming into them are not well prepared at the schools level. Only then can the technological readiness rank up in this country. The fact that the Government is allocating large sums of money to retrain graduates is a reflection of the quality of our graduates from our current education system.
What role do private institutions play in Malaysia’s education sector?
LIANG: The Government acknowledges that the private sector is an engine of growth for the country. In this respect, private education providers must be facilitated in this recognized role, especially since there are not sufficient places in the public universities for all of those who wish to have a tertiary education. One of the areas I hope the Government will review and amend is the Private Higher Educational Institutions Act 1996, which is highly regulatory. The Act should be more developmental, allowing private providers more room to be innovative, and realize that a policy of ‘one size fits all’ does not work today in order to achieve the desired outcomes.