“Malaysia Campus is an ideal location for us to develop a high quality living, teaching and learning environment – in keeping with Nottingham’s status as a leading international University”

These words, spoken by the Chairman of the University of Nottingham Malaysia campus, do not fit the experiences I underwent while living there. I don’t deny that I had the best time of my life during my one semester exchange; the opportunity of integrating it with my degree was the reason I chose Nottingham University. I’m not advising that students should miss this unique opportunity, but merely pointing out the improvements that the university needs to make.

To me, it seems as though the university tries to suppress any discrepancies between the experience they describe and the reality. On my return to England, I and my fellow exchange students were asked to speak to potential applicants, but the main requirement was that we were not to reveal anything negative or anything that would decrease interest. I was shocked to be asked this, and refused to go. Perhaps things have improved since my time there, but as I couldn’t voice my opinion at the meetings, I’m telling it here instead.

In the initial talk about the exchange programme with past students not a bad word was breathed. On reflection it was almost a mimicry of a pre-recorded sales pitch, as each student reeled off variations on, “It-was-brilliant, I-had-the-time-of-my-life”, like talking dolls with pull strings.

When I arrived on the Malaysia campus in Semenyih, I was a little puzzled when I saw a friend who had already been in Malaysia for one semester wearing a bizarre combination of a jumper with his shorts and flip-flops, carrying a bomber jacket, in the scorching 38-degree heat. Did he not realise he wasn’t in drizzly Britain anymore? He was, in fact, going to the library; he shook his head in disbelief that I had only brought summer holiday clothes, claiming that for revision, a ski jacket was more appropriate.

This baffling encounter was explained a few weeks later when I visited the library, and understood the possibility of near death by pneumonia from the icy cold air-conditioning. Students were wearing winter woollies and some were falling asleep because it was too cold to concentrate. In Asia, it seems the colder the air conditioning, the higher the status the person holds; I really hope this is not the reason that the University keeps the library in the ice age.

Poor ventilation nurtured mould in the hall bedrooms; two days after placing clean clothes in the wardrobe, they would reek of damp and would have grown a layer of grey-green fur. Students living on the bottom floor would have slimy green sheets of mould on the bathroom tiles in a matter of days and even, in some cases, mushrooms growing from the bedroom ceiling.

The Malaysia campus is the ideal place to lose weight; the heat helps but the campus’ lack of decent food and resources really do the trick. The main food café was very cheap but certainly not cheerful! It had the same menu, day in day out: curry and roti for breakfast, chicken rice for lunch, and the evening meal a selection of lumpy curries, fried chicken and greasy vegetables. Past students warned me against evening meals, claiming they’d seen cockroaches swimming in the food.

There were some problems that weren’t the university’s fault, but I wouldn’t have minded a warning about. In the halls, I had a few sleepless nights due to a pesky gecko that sneaked into my room; until, in a combination of exasperation and terror, I regrettably battered the poor thing to death with my badminton racket. Situated near a jungle, we were sometimes attacked by huge moths the size of a man’s hand! The edges of the buildings were lined with a white powder to ward off snakes; it worked, but snakeskin often had to be fished out from the swimming pool. I suppose if you can get used to the monotonous yet challenging game of hopscotch to dodge raging geese and their poo on Jubilee, then you can quickly become accustomed to a few anacondas and geckos.

Having been to both Malaysia and China campuses, the brief stop on the Ningbo campus presented a cleaner and more organised structure with better facilities and food than Semenyih. However, my experience with a doctor left a lot to be desired. While trying to explain that I had developed stomach cramps and nausea, the doctor dragged a random student into the surgery to help her understand the extent of my illness even though she spoke English (my numerous attempts at sign language and frantic pointing were clearly futile). I was stunned after she joked with the student and burst into sniggers after I mentioned ‘naughty words’ like “bowels”. What on earth happened to confidentiality, and dignity!

Like its China counterpart, the Malaysia campus had many academic and recreational buildings but nothing substantial inside them. They had stalls for fruit and phone top-up but nobody serving, the cash machine seldom worked, the convenience snack store seemed limited to crisps, chocolate, and more crisps. The gym had a lot of equipment which was broken for the whole time I was there. The library shelves had more gaps than books. Core modules were not supported with the essential materials, to the extent that one teacher said, “There is one core reading book, and it’s in my hand. Who wants it?” After a baffled pause, this resulted in a swift and vicious tug of war.

We were aware the campus was no longer in Kuala Lumpur, but we were certainly given the impression that it was not too far. We were told that buses were frequent and taxis were available… In fact, buses came once an hour and would only drop us off at the nearest town, Kajang, where we had to get a train for a further 40 minutes. As for taxis, none from the city would come to campus as it was too far away, and the University had only arranged 4 taxi drivers that everyone used. They were on constant redial as students desperately attempted to get out of campus to eat. When we succeeded in getting a taxi, it would take 45 minutes to an hour to get to the city, at a cost of £8-£12.

Contrary to what you may think, I am not a bitter student trying to put other people off. I don’t want to discourage potential exchange students because even writing about the worst bits reminds me of how much I miss Malaysia. Also, the opportunities to explore South East Asia were endless; I managed to visit Laos, Cambodia, Singapore, Vietnam, and Thailand while I was there. The teachers are friendly and, due to smaller class sizes, the lessons are more interactive and have a personal touch. All in all, don’t think twice about it, just go! However, I hope voicing complaints to the managers of the Malaysia campus will not continue to be fruitless activity – the university just needs to pull its socks up for you.

Amy Yau

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13 Comments

  1. April 22, 2009 at 15:58 — Reply

    Good article, it’s interesting to hear something about the international campuses which doesn’t come straight out of a brochure.

  2. kazim
    April 25, 2009 at 12:25 — Reply

    people on mobility need to speak up more of the problems at the Malaysia campus..this article is a very true picture of what life is at UNMC..

  3. Asad Ali
    April 25, 2009 at 12:51 — Reply

    Amy I am from today onwards, your biggest fan!!!

    You spoke the truth yet kept it simple and not all nasty, except the gecko part!!

    Really truly spoke of how the campus is. All in all when you do leave this place (although i’m a first year student) you will always miss it!

    Changes have to be made, its as simple as that.

  4. April 25, 2009 at 13:40 — Reply

    If there was any way of rating this article I would give it a 10/10. It reflects the undeniable reality of life on the Malaysia Campus.

    I have been an Executive in the Student Association and I second the fact that Management has always been playing this game of hide and seek when it comes to exposing the actual truth to students at large. Views and opinions are hardly entertained and it is so frustrating!

    A few reasons why I would encourage exchange to the Malaysia Campus is to experience the Asian culture and heritage, to enjoy the cheap cost of living in Malaysia and to explore the neighbouring countries but surely not “to develop a high quality living, teaching and learning environment”!!!

    Cheers!

  5. Mark Konrad
    April 27, 2009 at 14:13 — Reply

    Great article, its certainly in line with what myself and the other mobility students of the 2007/08 year found.

    I served as the education officer of the SU during my time out there and the academics were a shamble – the average mobility student’s grade dropped 7%.

    If anyone if thinking of going id defiantly read my final report below (might take a while to get through). I was prevented from sending this to students at the university and my report was bluntly ignored by all senior management in the UK and UNMC. That being said I did have an incredible time and am glad I went.

    ******************************

    Introduction

    As with many annual reports I would have expected this to be stored unread in a filing cabinet, however, I wanted to personally send this to you as I have spent a great deal of time to make this as clear and concise as possible and would greatly appreciate your time. I feel the report highlights many problem areas whilst offering positive suggestions for the development of Nottingham University for which we are all stakeholders.

    It has been an interesting 8 months for me as education officer and as my time draws to a close I think it is important for me to document and explain what I have been doing. The UK government aims that by 2010, 50% of all 18 to 30-year-olds will participate in higher education. This is helped massively by a series of government grants and loans that make it possible for all to afford to go to university, and many students go to university not only to further themselves academically but also because they are not sure what else to do and for the massive social element! By contrast, some Malaysian families spend up to 50% of there lifetime income on educating their children and a university degree is a massive differentiator when entering the labour market, such as the prestige of a UK degree in the 1960’s.

    I believe that this difference in the culture of the universities has a massive impact on the perception of university and what students expect from it.

    This leads me into my main question from my time as education officer; Why is it that UK students, that came out to Malaysia on mobility drop grades (an average 7% drop first semester) and students that go out to the UK from the Malaysia get better grades?

    This then made me think, why is it that students that work so much harder in Malaysia end up with grades on par or lower than their UK counter parts?

    Three key possibilities for these differences are;
    1. Students in the on one campus work harder than the other?
    2. Students in the on one are naturally more intelligent?
    3. Or just maybe, there is a difference in the teaching/examinations standards?

    Exam papers

    I have been told that all papers are moderated in the UK and by an external examiner. As well as this UK students were told that papers would be similar to that of the UK so that we would have the same learning experience.

    Having now sat two semesters of papers at Malaysia Campus, I feel this is either not the case or the system is clearly not working.

    Many of my exams are in a different format to that of the UK, for example the attachment my email explains that there is a completely different exam structure. Despite being ridiculed by my lecturers, exactly what I predicted occurred in the exam, whereby the theory questions were mixed in with the quantitative questions. Without a doubt the UK paper was easier and I would be very surprised if the marks do not reflect this.

    There are so many cases whereby exams are repeated, for example I have attached an annotated copy of the similarities between the 2004/05 and 2006/07 paper for MAD II. If you look at the attachment you will see the questions are asking the exact same thing. Similarly in the Accounting Information Systems 2006/07 paper the questions were solutions to the 2005/06 paper. This meant that you could have written down the 2005/06 questions as answers for the 2006/07 paper and would have got 100%!

    Inevitably discussion themes will be repeated, however to repeat exact questions like this is crazy. If papers are being moderated properly then moderators must look at past papers to check that entire chunks are not repeated papers word for word. This may look like it is easier for students but a problem arises when the pattern changes and something completely different comes up.

    I also understand that every University will have occasional problems with modules that go wrong; however the Malaysia campus has consistent discrepancies. Below are a few examples of such discrepancies for modules that I could get the information. Many students who have voiced concern have been fobbed of with excuses for a clear problem, such as conditional marking and talk about remarking with external examiners. Naturally, subtle differences between students occur but I would argue that the average differences between exactly the same modules in the UK and Malaysia in Business Law A and MAD II are 20% and 24% respectively. These are not subtle differences! Such dramatic differences are for many the difference between three grade boundaries. How can a module be taught in the knowledge that the average student is not even passing?! The hard fact remains that these exams were clearly not taught or examined correctly or in accordance with the UK paper. I now understand that the averages for these papers have gone up however I don’t feel this solves the root of the problem.

    Averages grade UK Malaysia
    Business Law A 57.5 37.3
    MAD II 60.6 36.6

    The Business School has just organised that students receive generous accounting exemptions if they want be become qualified accountants, however what is the point of this if students are going to loose accounting accreditation because of an internal problems causing averages to be lower than 40/50%? This is not an isolated problem either, last year I know the same thing happened with Financial Management and from what I hear similar things happen in other schools too.

    The following exam question was brought to my attention:

    You are an elemental wizard majoring in fire magic living in a world of fantasy. One day, you found out that sulphur powders can be used to summon a magic know as fireball.

    I) State the basic assumptions to make the summoning of fireballs work
    ii) Suggest ways or methods to improve the efficiency in summoning a fireball magic using sulphur powders. Briefly describe how these ways or methods are accomplished

    When a student complained at the ludicrously of this question, they were spoken at with language that would not be suitable for this report at and thrown out of Mike Cloke’s office. The same exam also has a question that appears twice in the same paper. This paper and particular question should surely not have passed a full moderation and if it did pass it was not moderated correctly. Similarly if papers are being moderated correctly, why are there so many papers that have basic incorrect spelling, punctuation and grammar?

    On line resources

    One of the biggest differences students find when they come from the UK is the resources that they receive. Malaysia’s WebCT is painfully slow and has little information on it, whilst it is not updated by lecturers regularly. In contrast, the UK Business students get to use Nexus where all lecture slides are available, information about the course, tutorial sign ups, previous grades, papers and a forum to post questions to the module convenor is available. The UK has embraced new technologies such as Blogs and delivering material in Pod Casts while Malaysia has been waiting for years for the university to upgrade to the Saturn web system. Until then students will have to use sub standard IT resources which clearly affects student performance. Even an open forum would be a start to allow students to post questions for lecturers.

    Exam preparation

    There is a clear difference between advice and preparation given by lecturers in Malaysia and the UK. The vast majority of UK lecturers give students detailed solid guidance on what to study for the exam whereas only a minority of Malaysian lectures offer such clear advice. This is clearly an unfair advantage to the UK students. Even worse is that from personal experience on countless times students have been grossly mislead about what will be in the paper, often implying one thing will be examined when it is not. Misguiding students in this way is clearly unacceptable with students naturally investing their trust in those who are supposed to be helping them achieve the best degree they are capable of.

    I understand that the moderation process takes longer because it must go through the UK, however for engineering courses who never receive feedback on coursework until the end of the course this is pitiful compared to the UK’s system of quickly assessing work. Surely it would be helpful to provide students with an indication of the grade they achieved.

    A similar frustration whilst being at the Malaysian campus is the late release of the exam timetable. I found out that the timetables are made manually because the campus does not have the required software, and thus claim that they need all the time they can get. Therefore can only release confirmed timetables 2-3 weeks before the actual exam period begins. Surely after week 2 they should be able to begin planning, as the modules available and number of students should be confirmed. Students are rushed to confirm their modules (which often start 1-2 weeks late anyway) but will not be able to confirm when their actual examination will be until ludicrously late. In the UK it is confirmed 2 months ahead of the scheduled start.

    The treatment of students by staff can only be described as shabby in numerous cases, for example during the exam period the library emailed all students the afternoon before a public holiday to inform them that the library would closed. This also means that students are unable to collect short loan books that they ordered for that day. It should also be noted that the Malaysia campus library closes at 10pm compared to the 24 hour policy during exam periods. This is very early, as students often prefer to revise in the evening and a valuable resource is not available to them.

    If any of the above were isolated problems, the situation would be more manageable; however it is the build-up that becomes frustrating.

    SSFC meetings

    One of the things that I have proposed that might start to help is that students who have been to the UK campus have a place in the SSFC meetings so they can give feedback to the university about how things can be brought up to the UK standards.

    One clear difference between the average UK student and a Malaysia Campus student is that they voice there opinion far less, a result of culture. I can only urge the students of Malaysia to speak up when there is a problem, if you get a far lower grade than you expected, ask to see your paper. When lectures are not being delivered correctly, come forward and say so as soon as possible rather than waiting or leaving it to someone else.

    Conclusion

    Nottingham University UK has 60 years of experience and maybe it is too much to expect Malaysia to have the same standards so soon. Having now studied for one year in both the UK and Malaysia campus it is clear that the Malaysia Campus is run like a franchise. However is it possible to franchise an educational organisation in the same way McDonald’s franchise their outlets? Disappointingly a McDonalds in the UK and a McDonalds in Malaysia probably have stricter or more effective systems and rules to ensure that their product and service is identical. The Malaysia Campus advertises that it offers students a UK degree, however as I have tried to highlight in many areas they are far from equal. The decisions that the university makes can potentially have mammoth affects on the careers and lives of thousands of students.

    In a similar way to many other organisations which are franchised, the only real way to ensure an identical final output is for both the UK and Malaysia to take the same exam papers (UK 9am sitting, Malaysia 4pm sitting). Could this not be tried out next year to see if there is a difference? This is surely the only way to standardise the service being offered at both locations.

    Perhaps this report appears to be “mobility-skewed”, as I am a mobility student. This is not personal, however, as my grades dropped the least out of any mobility student. Mobility students are also the only ones who have experienced both locations and therefore in a position to offer an objective opinion. Without these concerns being voiced by mobility students, Malaysia campus students who never actually study in the UK are blind to the service offered in the UK. Lower marks received in some Malaysia Campus modules not only jeopardise the future degrees of UK mobility students, but is surely unfair on Malaysia Campus students who believe they are being graded on par with their UK contemporise, as they are paying for a UK degree.

    The exchange of students between the UK and Malaysia has been the Malaysia-Campus selling point since its initiation. If mobility students go back home and spread the word about their massive grade reductions, which they will do, then English students will not transfer. Consequently no Malaysian students will be able to transfer to the UK, and Brian Atkins vision of ‘student going for either one or two semesters to the UK’ will be unrealistic.

    This is a major risk to the future of the Malaysian Campus, especially due to the fact that most mobility students are already starting to react. You only have to look at blogs such as, http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/chemenv/undergrad/david_brownjohn.php, to see that students are not happy. The UK site has not even put up that latest blog perhaps because it is too critical.

    More attention clearly needs to be placed on standardising the product and service that Nottingham University is offering, regardless of locations. Only then should Nottingham University be able to offer UK degrees in multiple locations, confident in the knowledge that they are not jeopardising the education, future careers and lives of their students.

  6. April 27, 2009 at 14:44 — Reply

    Wow, that’s a long comment! Thanks for sharing the report!

  7. Pascal
    May 27, 2009 at 10:20 — Reply

    Great Article. I’ m enrolling @ UNMC this September.
    I now know what is expecting me :'(

  8. Irfaan Coowar
    June 4, 2009 at 06:55 — Reply

    My time is the office as an Student Association is coming to an end, and when I look back over the past few months that have elapsed, I would like to say that things have improved drastically. Referring to my previous post and following my meeting this morning with the Management, things seem to be changing for the better and the future promises to be bright at UNMC. I have been convinced that it takes time to build a great campus and the Malaysia one is no more than just 5 years. I am sure that with the Student Association strategic plans and those of the Senior Management, UNMC will emerge as the best campus in the South-East Asian Region in years to come. Let’s be positive!

  9. Irfaan Coowar
    June 4, 2009 at 07:18 — Reply

    Please ignore my previous post dated 4th June 2009.
    My time in the office as an Student Association Executive is coming to an end, and when I look back over the past few months that have elapsed, I would like to say that things have improved drastically. Referring to my previous comment and following my meeting this morning with the Management, things seem to be taking another dimension and changing for the better. The future promises to be bright at UNMC. I have been convinced that it takes time to build a great campus and the Malaysia one is no more than just 5 years. I am sure that with the Student Association strategic plans combined with those of the Management, UNMC will emerge as the best campus in the South-East Asian Region in years to come. Let’s hope and be positive about it!

  10. August 10, 2009 at 00:10 — Reply

    hmmm, you have voiced many valid points. And some of the many reasons why i will not be mentioning my “location” of study, have been expressed in previous comments… I know that the lecturers are “harder” on us and the processes are certainly convoluted. I suppose the UNMC in 5 yrs will be superior to the UNMC of ’05, the pioneer year.

  11. Zakeeyah
    August 10, 2009 at 06:00 — Reply

    Dear Irfaan,
    After all this battering and your 10/10 agreement with it (dated 25th April 09), I feel truly curious about this sudden ray of optimism you let shine on the 4th of June. Would you mind shedding some light on improvements which undergraduates enrolling this sept can look forward to?

  12. Qay-Z
    August 30, 2009 at 13:44 — Reply

    I’m shocked to see this, Amy and I’m about to begin my course over there. Gosh lets hope everything will be fine~

  13. Amir
    September 6, 2009 at 02:25 — Reply

    No worries, there has been improvements.
    Food has improved since late 08, but still lack that diversity as found in many universities, but at least there’s 24-hour Pakistani delivery and competing catering services now!
    Its humid enough for certain unwanted plants to grow in your room. However this normally happens to people who forget to open the window once in a while and also buy that dehumidifier box to dry up the place. Poor ventilation only means that the window isn’t open. The rooms are only awful if the tenant is.
    The internet is less sluggish, but still not good enough, and the management seems to be experimenting on different methods to make it faster, however none have been permanent.
    I do admit, the sport complex needs a serious amount of funding in order to bring it back to full utilisation and necessary expansion. Yet again, Semenyih has much to offer in recreation, but not that much may not satisfy every single one.
    Currently there has been many more staff, library books and building, such as the engineering research building, compared to the awful 07 year (terrible year, rancid catering, extremely slow internet and most facilities were still under construction or being upgraded).
    I doubt Nottingham will make Malaysia Campus as a cash cow as its reputation in its degrees and popularity is at stake.
    Therefore the campus still has a lot of potential and shouldn’t be written-off. Improvements are being made, its just unfortunate that the students are experiencing the changes.

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