ONE corner of a foreign field is becoming for ever England. It is in Johor on the southernmost tip of peninsular Malaysia, opposite Singapore. At a site called Nusajaya, workmen are finishing a new campus of Newcastle University. Nearby foundations are being dug for Southampton University. And down the road Marlborough College, one of England’s most famous public (that is, private) schools, is building a Malaysian campus from scratch. If all goes well, the 900-odd pupils will hardly notice that they are looking out over palm-oil plantations rather than the Wiltshire Downs. Within a few years thousands of students will be enjoying an English education in this steamy bit of Asia.
“Educity”, as the Johor complex is called, reflects Malaysia’s grand strategy to become a centre for Western education. The country wants to meet strong demand among Asia’s new middle classes for English-language schooling. It also worries about its brain drain (over 300,000 university-educated Malays work abroad). Having watched Asian children flock west to spend a lot of money on British and American schools, the government decided a few years ago to try to reverse the trend. It has campaigned to persuade Western schools and colleges to come and set up branch campuses. The Malaysian proposition to Asian parents is simple and beguiling: come to these famous schools and universities in our country and get the same degrees and qualifications as in Britain or America for half the price.
Australia’s Monash University was the first to set up shop, followed by Britain’s Nottingham University, in 2000. Other Australian universities followed Monash, and in March the Massachusetts Institute of Technology teamed up with a Malaysian body to create Asia’s first Institute for Supply-Chain Innovation. Johns Hopkins University is expected to set up a medical school. The Netherlands Maritime Institute of Technology is already in Educity.
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