Spotlight on Sunway-Lancaster: an exemplary TNE model

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Some 17 years ago, an unlikely love story between two universities on opposite sides of the globe – one in Malaysia and one in the UK – began.

The transnational education relationship between Sunway University and Lancaster University has flourished, with over 6,000 students studying programs in Malaysia that are offered together with the UK partner today.

The partnership is increasingly being talked about as an exemplary TNE model, as highlighted by stakeholders who came together during East Asia Education Week in Kuala Lumpur at the end of February.

Was it love at first sight?

The collaboration’s inception was down to match-making efforts of the British Council back in 2006, complimented by a shared vision for a transparent, sustainable and ever-evolving relationship.

“When I think about this partnership, I cannot stop being amazed about the decision of Lancaster University 17 years ago,” says Sibrandes Poppema, president of Sunway University, noting that at the time, Sunway was not yet a university, but a college.

Having already established a branch campus with Australia’s Monash University, Dato’ Elizabeth Lee, group CEO of Sunway Education Group, says it made “perfect sense” to work with a British university.

Lee, who holds a master of philosophy in education from the University of Cambridge, says that her experience of the UK higher education system was another reason why she was keen to partner with a UK institution.

“I knew right at the onset, when we were going to become a university, that we would need a big brother over us,” says Lee.

“Growth in Sunway is also growth for Lancaster”

As an institution, Sunway has matured significantly since those early days, morphing first from a college to a university college, and later to a QS-ranked university. It now has motivations to become a research intensive university.

And further growth is aided by its international partner, Poppema highlights.

“Growth in Sunway is also growth for Lancaster,” he says.

There are many ways of doing TNE, vice-chancellor of Lancaster University, Andrew Schofield, adds.

Cooperative efforts do not convey the only and authoritative way of doing TNE, but is instead an example of one way of doing it well, and one that is proving to be resilient and far-reaching, he suggests.

Why does it work?

“We see lives transformed through education, through something that we’re doing together,” Schofield says.

Respect for one another’s values – as well as shared values such as humility, integrity and determination – have seen the partners through the 17 years.

At Sunway, equal importance is placed on knowledge and skills as is ensuring students are instilled with humility, shares Poppema.

“You can be proud of what you have achieved. As long as you know it does not make you better than anybody else. That’s what we teach our students.

“We pride ourselves in providing a holistic education.”

Meanwhile, as needs of both students and employers evolve, the institutions remain keen to learn from their partner.

For many, digital fluency skills and knowledge of sustainability are becoming key facets of education.

“That’s one way we’ve been learning from Sunway,” details Simon Guy, pro vice-chancellor global, international, digital and sustainability, Lancaster University.

“They’ve had a commitment to sustainable development goals at the heart of what they’re doing since they were set up.”

Lancaster, in turn, has a “very strong tradition of commitment” to sustainability, he details, both in the operation of its UK campus but also in its education.

Together, the institutions have created strong offerings for students who will wield the attributes they need to be successful graduates, he continues.

While Sunway is Lancaster’s biggest and oldest partnership, the institutions cannot be complacent.

“Like any relationship, it’s something that you do need to continually work at,” says Guy.

“We’ve got more of the senior team coming over to Sunway than ever before. You could argue that’s something you do at the beginning but I would say the opposite is happening.”

Looking to the future

The partnership has come a long way since its initial cohort of 21 graduates and the dimensions of the partnership are constantly evolving.

What started as a focus on solely degree programs has expanded into research and international opportunities.

Both partners have experienced a “sense of growing self-confidence”, Guy tells The PIE News, as has the country with Malaysia’s ambitions to become a regional education hub.

The transnational research partnership – the Future Cities Institute – studies city development in a holistic way, incorporating the sustainable development agenda and planetary health.

“There’s expanding what we already do, but it’s looking at the new opportunities as well”

The institute conducts research that drives teaching, learning and impact and is garnering increasing interest from policymakers, not just from Malaysia but also from the region, explains Mahendhiran Nair, pro vice-chancellor, research engagement and impact at Sunway University.

Together, the institutions have established a joint strategy that will take them to 2030.

It will see them increase the number of degree programs offered, as well as the number of international students. By the end of the decade, the partners are seeking around 30% of its student cohort to be international.

They are also committed to mutually explore how their degrees can be delivered digitally, although Guy acknowledges the move is surprisingly complex and costly.

“We are committed now to at least having conversations around what might be possible,” he says. “That’s what is characterising the next phase of the partnership – there’s expanding what we already do and just doing more of it, but it’s looking at the new opportunities as well.”

They are also considering whether delivering joint degrees is possible more regionally in Malaysia, beyond the Sunway campus to the south-west of the country’s capital city.

A fairly new concept piquing the interest of both partners is the interconnectivity of new, external partnerships.

“One of the things we’ve been trying to do at Lancaster as we develop different partnerships is move into a new phase in which we think about their interconnectivity,” says Guy.

Lancaster recently announced the opening of a joint international branch campus in Indonesia, with Deakin University.

“We’ve been very open about that from the beginning,” says Guy.

“We’ve had quite exciting conversations with Sunway about collaborative opportunities here that may open for us as partners.”

The post Spotlight on Sunway-Lancaster: an exemplary TNE model appeared first on The PIE News.

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