Thirteen years since she was instrumental in setting up The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus (UNMC), Professor Christine Ennew this month returns full-time to a country she loves to take up the helm as CEO and Provost at UNMC.
Since the campus’ inception, as one of the first international universities to set up in Malaysia, UNMC’s student population has grown to 4,500 and its research-active staff have been working closely with increasing numbers of local communities and businesses.
But this is not a time to reflect on past glories. As Professor Ennew embarks upon her new role, it is an opportunity to look ahead, to strengthen and develop UNMC’s position not only in Malaysia, but also across ASEAN – the association of ten south-east Asian countries, of which Malaysia is a member.
“Thirteen years of experience, knowledge and understanding of how things work in Malaysia and the broader ASEAN region has put us in a strong position,” Professor Ennew commented. “But there are increasing opportunities for the University to work much closer with businesses, particularly in terms of being able to support the professional development of staff, particularly those who have degrees but are looking to enhance their skills and abilities.
“I think there’s a lot we can do working with business, in terms of research and development, and increasingly I would see UNMC very much as the University of Nottingham’s base in ASEAN and an opportunity for us not just to work in Malaysia but also with businesses and other university partners throughout the region.”
Enhanced student experience and research to address region’s needs
On the agenda over the next five years are a range of new courses and plans for more students on existing courses. Professor Ennew is keen to focus attention on how her team can enhance the student experience on campus and recreate a Nottingham-style environment which engages and challenges students and helps them develop the skills they need for future employment.
Hand-in-hand with student experience is research activity, which Professor Ennew hopes to further develop, to contribute to the issues and challenges facing Malaysia and ASEAN, particularly in areas where Nottingham has special expertise. The roll call of research specialties at UNMC currently includes bio-product processing, oil palm residues, renewables, elephant conservation and digital technologies and global food security, especially through its Crops for the Future Research Centre.
For Professor Ennew, one of UNMC’s biggest assets is its people.
“We’ve got some tremendously talented colleagues here and I think my role as the person responsible for leading and developing the campus is really to help support them to help them achieve what they want to achieve,” she said. “Because if they do that, then we’ll achieve what we want to achieve.”
Changes in international education
Since the University of Nottingham came to Malaysia, international education in the region has seen some big changes, with the country vying to become a hub for higher education; something which Professor Ennew has witnessed first hand.
“The way in which international education in Malaysia has changed has been really interesting. Malaysia’s long had a significant private higher education sector and I think there’s a lot others can learn from the way that sector has developed and has been managed,” explained Professor Ennew. “Malaysia started with a vision of making the country a hub for higher education and that, of course, was one of the reasons why they wanted to attract international universities to establish campuses here.”
UNMC was a small core of only four international universities in the country, but there has since been an expansion, with a number of international universities setting up in the Iskandar region, to the south.
“There’s been a lot of consolidation; many of the private colleges have become universities and the higher education sector has matured significantly, with much more focus around quality and with an increased interest in research and business engagement.”
The allure of south-east Asia
Malaysia has always been close to Professor Ennew’s heart, with the cultural side being the perfect complement to her work.
“I was fortunate enough to come and live in Malaysia when we set up the campus and that I found it a really great place to live. The climate is fantastic, the food is wonderful, people are friendly, welcoming, and you very quickly feel at home.
“It’s a very cosmopolitan environment and ever since I’ve lived here, whenever I come back, I always feel a bit like I’m coming back to my second home. Who wouldn’t want to be here? It is a fantastic, vibrant, exciting environment.”