March 17, 2014, by Adrian Mateo

Branching Out

U21 logoAs part of its closing act, the ‘Global Citizen Workshop 2014’ ended with a small(er) round-table discussion before waving adieu to the many delegates that had attended over the past few days. Issues of branch campuses, internationalisation of both the curriculum and the experience were debated including an insight into the difficulties of collaborating research and teaching styles across the campuses. Having attended the previous two days, in University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus (UNMC) and KL respectively, there was a surreal comfort in seeing familiar faces again – and their various, differing perspectives. In such a cosy setting, everyone easily had the chance to speak: whether it was the presenters – including the Vice Provost – or the audience which consisted of academics from other universities, delegates who had chosen to stay out of interest … or us, the students.

Vice-Provost for Research & Knowledge Transfer at UNMC, Graham Kendall’s segment on “Building a Research Intensive International Branch Campus: Lessons from the Nottingham Experience” was particularly interesting for an aspiring academic as it put into perspective the pressures that face lecturers and the administration. We learned that students aren’t the only ones with homework and academic deadlines since lecturers must fulfil research quotas and publish as many articles of quality as they can. Furthermore, it seems institutions must conform to all sorts of standards and produce an overwhelming number of articles in order to be accredited as a research university, making it appear to be a truly daunting task. From a student’s perspective we feel that accreditation and quantity of articles published are not important if quality is sacrificed in regards to teaching and research.

In addition, when we were first approached to write this reflective post, our initial thoughts were ‘Cannot, lah!’ – a throwback to its frequent use in the everyday, colloquial Malaysian English that we have begun to adopt as well as its persistent appearance in Stephen Doughty’s (Vice-Provost for Teaching & Learning at UNMC) presentation ‘Things the VC Never Told Me (or Never Knew)’. As final-year students, the subtitle ‘Internationalising the Curriculum and QA on the ground’ held little appeal. Yet, as Stephen began to outline the many things he had to say ‘Cannot!’ to – from the number of library books per student to the amount of space required for accommodation – we found ourselves intrigued by how far the University had initially attempted to transplant the ‘UK’ experience in Malaysia. Of particular interest was how we were repeatedly questioned about how ‘British’ we felt the curriculum or the lifestyle was here – yet, as a British and a Canadian student, neither of us had actually expected or even desired to experience a replica of the UK. Moreover, in our time in Malaysia, we’ve both found that this a point of view other students also share – whilst the UoN brand, and its degree accreditation, are highly important we feel that students are highly self-aware of the international nature of the campus lifestyle here and, actually, love it!

Consequently, there has been a noticeable shift away from such a mind-set – and this is something we would further encourage, for both staff and students. Yes, it is important as an overarching ‘Nottingham’ institution to have some common, shared values across the campuses but there is a definite need to contextualise certain aspects in order to appeal to the many cultures and nationalities that study here – rather than solely focusing on how to ‘internationalise the Curriculum’ the focus should instead shift towards ‘Internationalising the campus’ as a whole, respecting both the influence of its parent campus in the UK but also its highly unique position situated in the middle of South-East Asia. Perhaps, for example, it’s time to move away from the polished, canteen-style environment of ‘Sodexo’ and pay homage to the lively food culture here with some on-campus Mamaks?

About the authors: Rida Khan is studying for her BA (Hons) in International Communications Studies with English Language and Literature at the Malaysia campus, Olivia Dumas is a mobility student from Concordia University, Canada, spending a year in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures.

The U21 Global Citizenship Workshop took place at UNMC 12-14 March, and was followed by a smaller event, The Offshore/International Campus: Trends, Experiences, and Objectives, hosted by KWBN at the UNMC Kuala Lumpur Teaching Centre.

Posted in Higher EducationInternational campusesInternationalisationMalaysiaUncategorized