‘I don’t regret it’: A Malaysian’s student experience at a branch campus

uk universities in malaysia
The University of Nottingham located in the UK has two satellite campuses in Semenyih, Malaysia and Ningbo, China. Source: Mohd Rasfan/AFP

Picture this: you’re fresh out of college, eager to earn a UK degree.

At this point, you have two choices: study abroad at the parent campus or stay back and earn an equivalent degree at a branch campus (also known as a satellite campus) in your home country.

If you’re struggling to pick an option, you’re not alone. I have been in the same position.

Growing up, I studied in Malaysia. Studying abroad excited me, but going overseas wasn’t an option due to my family’s financial situation.

What was possible, though, was earning a degree through one of the UK universities in Malaysia.

In this, you might wonder: Do any UK universities have campuses overseas? Or why do UK universities have satellite campuses?

Yes, they do — and the reasons are simple. 

What is a satellite campus?

uk universities in malaysia

Branch campuses allow locals and international students to earn an international qualification at a lower cost. Source: Kimberly Wong

Branch campuses or satellite campuses refer to the physical presence of a university away from the original university or college area. It can be located in a different city, state or country.

Although usually more limited than the main campus (also called the “home” campus), they share resources or administrations.

Depending on the agreement, students may not be conferred degrees from the original uni since satellite campuses award their degrees for undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, diplomas, and foundation studies qualifications.

These qualifications are identical to that of the host universities.

What is the purpose of a satellite campus?

Since the 2000s, such arrangements — where unis from developed and English-speaking countries create outposts in developing and emerging economies — have been popular. 

The UK, for example, currently 39 foreign campuses, according to The Economist

“Two decades ago, the country began to position itself as a hub for higher education, seeking to attract students from around the region, as well as from farther-away Muslim countries,” Sarah Deverall, former head of the Malaysian branch of the British Council, tells The Economist.

In Malaysia, some notable branch campuses include Heriot-Watt University Malaysia, the University of Nottingham Malaysia (UON Malaysia), the University of Southampton Malaysia, and the University of Reading Malaysia.

What’s more, 46,920 students were studying for a UK higher education qualification from Malaysia, the second highest after China (60,495) in 2020/21, World Education and News reports. 

There are good reasons for these numbers.

Studying locally at a branch campus means you don’t have to travel far or pay a significant sum to earn a degree recognised in many parts of the world — giving you a greater advantage in terms of international mobility.

It’s what allowed Malaysians, like myself, and other international students to obtain a foreign qualification at a lower cost.

Generally, transferring to a university’s branch campus abroad for a short exchange period is also easier — eliminating the hassle of applying for a full-fledged programme in another country. 

With this, it is more affordable for students to experience a foreign culture. Take UON Malaysia, for example. It has satellite campuses in Semenyih, Malaysia and Ningbo, China.

Here, exchange programmes between branch campuses and partner universities are possible. Transfer programmes are offered at both of these campuses too. 

communications degree

Kimberly (on the left) with her classmates from French class after their presentation. Source: Kimberly Wong

What it was like to study at one of the UK universities in Malaysia

1. Modules choices

I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in International Communication Studies from UON Malaysia.

The same programme goes by a different name in the home campus in the UK — International Media and Communications Studies

Both these programmes share the same core modules. The biggest difference is the elective modules that were available to us in the branch campus in Malaysia and the cost of the undergraduate degree.

My classmate who had the opportunity to go on a semester exchange to the UK campus found that the UK uni had a wider choice of electives than the satellite campus. 

It’s unsurprising since that’s usually the case. 

What’s my take on this? Branch campuses may not have qualified lecturers to teach particular subjects.

Plus, my friend and I noticed other differences when we exchanged notes for our core modules when we returned home. 

As we were introduced to specific theories and dissertation techniques in our second semester, she had already learnt this during her exchange to the home campus.

2. Cost

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: finances. 

Completing my degree at the UK campus would have cost my parents approximately three times more than what we paid to study in Malaysia.

Glance at their website, and you’ll find the annual tuition fees in Malaysia valued at 38,300 Malaysian ringgit. In the UK, a similar programme would have cost me 20,000 pounds (RM109,220.94 at the time of writing) annually. 

That’s not including my accommodation fees, cost of living in the UK, and other expenses I’ll incur as an international student. 

It’s little wonder why satellite campuses have become an affordable option for locals who aspire to study abroad but can’t travel far from home due to family, financial limitations, or other factors.

The availability of UK universities in Malaysia may increase higher education enrolment and mobility for those seeking the prestige of an internationally-recognised foreign institute.

Satellite campuses also cater to non-traditional students, such as working professionals, who might not have the time to pursue their studies full-time.

Should you study in the UK or one of the UK universities in Malaysia?

uk universities in malaysia

Studying in one of the UK universities in Malaysia might give you just as much of an international exposure as studying in a different country. Source: Odd Andersen/AFP

Say you decide to stay back and pursue your studies in one of the UK universities in Malaysia. What are the advantages of a branch campus?


What’s clear is that you will spend less to complete your degree in a branch campus rather than go abroad to the home campus.

Student experience

Don’t let the limited selection of elective modules sway your decision to study locally. During my time at the University of Nottingham Malaysia, I felt that the standard and quality of teaching were up to par.

Since most of the classes focused on assignments, learning was super engaging. Tutorials were the best since we could exchange opinions and ideas about things we learned during lectures — and a chance to build meaningful friendships with my classmates.

Since UON Malaysia is an international branch campus, you can expect to interact in a student community that is a melting pot of cultures, traditions, and practices. Some individuals hail from as far as Turkmenistan, Nigeria and Mauritius.

The best part? The uni really prides itself on being inclusive. You’ll find events hosted by clubs and societies that help international students feel at home.

Experiencing a global mindset in your home country

To answer the question, studying locally in one of the UK universities in Malaysia gave me as much of a worldview compared to some of my other friends who did study abroad.

This, however, was only because of my programme and my lecturers’ experience as both academics and professionals in their respective fields.

Yes, I did not live abroad as an international student — but I am confident that I left uni with a global mindset, considering the factors that made UON Malaysia so international.

Internship placements

For those who are interested in internship placements, you might lose out on that if you were to study in a branch campus. Or you can take the alternate route of applying for internships yourself (which was what I did).

This route, however, may not apply to international students due to visa restrictions.

Option to transfer

Do remember that branch campuses offer semester or yearly exchanges as well as the opportunity to transfer to the home campus in your final year.

These opportunities allowed students like me to experience life abroad, even for a semester, in either the UK’s home campus or the other branch campus in China.

Advice from a UON Malaysia graduate

If you’re an international student bound for Malaysia, I’ve got great news.

You’ll experience a multicultural environment. Think of food from different countries such as Chinese, Malay, and Indian for cheap.

Studying at a branch campus in Malaysia is also a chance to make life-long friends from all around the globe.

Remember that rankings and prestige are not everything. It’s important to choose a uni that suits your personality and your needs.

I chose UON Malaysia because of the campus environment, the diverse international student community, and the programme.

While I can’t say that studying on a branch campus is better than studying in the UK, I don’t regret pursuing my undergraduate studies at one of the UK universities in Malaysia.