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Malaysia’s tertiary education scene is dominated by lacklustre public institutions and mediocre, profit-minded private ones.

So what about starting an independent institution, with a good teaching staff, a strong research faculty, and a kick-ass campus? Just an idea:

Build a small college in a small to mid-size town near Kuala Lumpur, Penang or Singapore. We get to build a proper campus without blowing the budget (suburban locations are quite expensive too). 11 of the top 20 universities according to the Times Higher Education Supplement is located in towns, including all of the top 5. More than that, campus life is a crucial aspect of tertiary education–and quite unlikely if students could commute from home.

Start off with offering University of London external degrees before building up the capacity and brand to offer our own degree. Success stories include University of Ceylon, University of Nottingham and University of Exeter. Hire a top notch teaching staff so that students are on a somewhat level playing field with internal students in London. Slowly branch out into increasing the number of research academics, to build up the college’s academic credentials and to, indirectly, increase the quality of teaching.

Taper on to the college a career office that is staffed by HR and recruitment experts with a vast network of contacts in the industry. They will help graduands get jobs (as well as internships and mini-pupillages). In the meanwhile, slowly build up the college’s financial capacity, so more bursaries can be given out (think of needs-based financial aid and need-blind admissions at several elite American universities).

After several batches of success stories, lobby for a university charter so we can start issuing degrees. Award degrees together with London degrees – students will take both the college and London examinations. Then make the London examinations optional. As the acceptance and brand of the college degree grows, start offering degrees in fields where there isn’t an equivalent external London degree (e.g. sciences, engineering, medicine, arts).

Eventually, start tweaking the degrees and breaking compatibility with the equivalent London degrees. And viola. We successfully set up a prestigious university college.

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