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Construction begins on China’s first overseas university campus

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Construction has begun on China’s first overseas university campus, with the Malaysian branch of Xiamen University expected to open its doors to students from next Autumn.

The historic $400m new campus, which was first announced in June last year, will eventually play host to 10,000 students.

The university base- which will be located 45km out of capital Kuala Lumpur – was given the green light after Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak issued an open invitation for Chinese universities to set up in the country.

Speaking at its launch in July, Razak said: ““Xiamen University is a prestigious and an internationally recognised university and by opening a branch in Malaysia, it will not only attract high quality students from abroad but would provide more choices for students.

“Not everyone can study abroad – but now Malaysian students will be able to undertake a global education at a reasonable cost, right here in Malaysia.”

The Malaysian branch of Xiamen will initially have just five schools; Chinese language and culture, medicine, information communication technology, economics and oceanography. But courses in chemical engineering and energy, biological engineering, electronic engineering, material sciences, and mass media and animation will be eventually open at the site.

Around 500 students will enrol next Autumn. The courses, mostly be taught in English, will be offered at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.

Zhu Chongshi, president of Xiamen University, said:  “This represents another meaningful cooperation between Malaysia and China in the field of education besides economic, trade, science and technology, and cultural cooperation to boost bilateral relations.”

Xiamen University was ranked in the top 450 in the latest global QS university rankings, and regularly features in the prestigious top 100 of Asian institutions. It was founded in 1919 by Tan Kah Kee, the influential businessman and philanthropist, before being handed over to the Chinese government in 1937. It now has a reputation for educating the children of leading diplomats.  

Although Xiamen will be the first Chinese institution to set up overseas, it is unlikely to be the last. The Observatory of Borderless Higher Education has for many years predicted a significant increase in Chinese overseas campuses in Asia.

Malaysia is an increasingly popular destination for overseas campuses, with the country aiming to boost its global influence and economic power by improving its academic standing. It aims to attract 200,000 international students to study in the country by 2020. The University of Nottingham in the UK and Monash University from Australia have opened campuses in Malaysia in recent years.

“The 21st century will likely be Asia’s century,” said PM Razak. “China aspires to be the largest economy in the world while Malaysia aims to be a fully developed nation by 2020.

“We need peace, stability and prosperity in our region if we want to achieve our respective goals.

“Deepening and strengthening our people-to-people relations help us to achieve this.”

Xiamen says it will reinvest any income from the facility back into Malaysia to boost the quality of teaching at the institution. Recruitment has begun for teaching posts, with around 700 staff eventually expected to be hired.

It’s not just in Asia where Chinese academic influence is growing. In the latest Shanghai rankings 32 Chinese institutions were ranked in the top 500 in the world, a fourfold increase over the last ten years.

Overseas campuses are unlikely to be limited just to Asia. A partnership has recently been announced between Imperial College London and Zhejiang University to collaborate in a new data science lab, following rumours that the top Chinese institution could aim to build a satellite campus in the English capital.