New Chinese university in Malaysia is anything but


Some Malaysians are passing around a speculation on why Prime Minister Najib Razak let in the Xiamen University campus.

Larry Teo, My Paper, Asia One

If you were the prime minister of Malaysia, why would you allow a country, where the majority race rules supreme, give up a strip of land for the building of a Chinese overseas campus?

The campus is the very first from China to be set up overseas.

I have been posted the question by some friends, who apparently believe that being a newsman, I know how the Xiamen University, or Xiada, succeeded in swaying the Malaysian establishment.

After all, the Umno-led government is never close to recognising the Unified Examination Certificate of local Chinese independent high schools as eligible for entry application to local public universities.

So would it not worry that the Xiada branch would be another high institution that flies the flag of Chinese culture – just like the three existing Chinese university colleges: Southern in Johor, Hanjiang in Penang and New Era in Selangor.

Interestingly, the latter three have been accredited as tertiary institutes only after Prime Minister Najib Razak came to office.

So what about the constant rumour that the Malaysian government is moving slowly but surely towards eradicating all vernacular schools – those where the medium of instruction is not Malay or English?

However, my friends might have no inkling on how education is being organised in Malaysia, and are apparently so drawn to the frequent headlines on religious extremism and ethnic tensions that they fail to see its cosmopolitan side.

Education in Malaysia no doubt is divided generally along ethnic lines, said my cousin in Malaysia.

That explains the “mutual culture shock” between people of different ethnic groups when they are brought together in the workforce, she said.

“However, at the same time, the majority race won’t let go their monopoly over the government sector.

“An ‘integrated school’ concept aiming for a level playing field might not be to their advantage,” she pointed out.

Meanwhile, the so-called Chinese universities are wise enough not to fly their flags too high, knowing how fragile ethnic ties are in the country.

Xiada Malaysia (XMUM), the newcomer located just outside Kuala Lumpur, is a case in point, for it is not really what most people would call a “Chinese” campus.

To start with, the medium of instruction for all its lessons, except for Chinese studies and traditional Chinese medicine, is in English.

“Using English is stipulated by the Malaysian government, as Malaysia aims to be an education hub,” said the campus’ president Wang Ruifang, who is from China and obtained his doctorate in London.

The courses that XMUM – which has 400 students from China and about 900 from Malaysia and elsewhere since it opened in February – bills as its top-rate offers are management, fine arts, law, chemistry, journalism, communications, and mathematics.

Pure social science subjects are glaringly and safely missing from the curriculum.

“As a university, we would like to keep our distance from politics and business,” Professor Wang pointed out.

He added that his academic staff could give their views on social issues but they must follow local laws and rules.

In fact, XMUM is a new face in a crowded field, as before its coming, Malaysia has had nine branch campuses of foreign universities, including Nottingham and Monash.

Perhaps Mr Najib believes “balance of education” is relevant to multiracial Malaysia.

More likely, he trusts that the Chinese, too, have their own cutting-edge knowledge to share with his people, just like the Western and the Islamic worlds.

But as a local Chinese sees it, with its heavy slant towards the hard sciences, XMUM is only half the image of its mother campus in Xiamen.

Some Malaysian Chinese wary of China’s growing presence

Some Malaysians are passing around a speculation on why Prime Minister Najib Razak let in the Xiamen University campus.

The reason is money, they said. He is currently under a cloud, accused by many quarters that he had siphoned billions into his own account from state fund agency 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

To pay off its debts, 1MDB had sold its power assets and a property development venture to Chinese companies.

A Chinese state-owned company, together with a local partner, now holds a 60 per cent stake in the development project of Bandar Malaysia – an enclave to be a self-contained part of Greater Kuala Lumpur.

The stake has strengthened China’s position in the coming bidding for the construction of a high-speed rail that runs between Bandar Malaysia and Singapore.

But not all Malaysian Chinese welcome the increased Chinese presence, as they fear this might be a dangerous outcome of Mr Najib grasping a convenient lifeline, and it might end up heightening the ethnic tensions in Malaysia.

And what would happen if the Chinese economy crashes, which is not impossible since it has been slowing down of late?

Would the projects then be thrown into chaos?

According to a commentary in the See Hwa Daily News, the heady development of property in Johor’s Iskandar district could be one example of over-optimistic belief that the Chinese pockets would be easily tapped on.

What if these potential buyers fall on hard times and are not coming after all, asked the commentary.

Part of this “Chinese invasion”, the Xiamen University, flush with money and free scholarships, is already threatening the existence of other private universities, especially those funded by the local Chinese, it noted.

So, whether all this “invasion” on balance really benefits the local Chinese remains to be seen, it warned.