Sunday January 23, 2011
The UoW factor
By RICHARD LIM
After establishing itself in Australia and Dubai, the University of Wollongong is set to work its magic on the Malaysian higher education landscape.
DO a quick check on Dubai’s tourist attractions and a foreign name will jump off the page. No, this has nothing to do with luxury hotels.
Rather, the landmark concerned is Wollongong Beach – the only place in Dubai where kitesurfing is allowed.
Unlocking the mystery, the beach is not named after the Australian city, but rather, its university.
In Dubai since 1993, the University of Wollongong (UoW)’s educational offerings and landmark presence had led locals to name the nearby beach after it.
The university has since been relocated to the Dubai Knowledge Village but the name of the beach remains.
And when a varsity commands such an affectionate influence, you know that institution has truly arrived on the global stage.
On this note, it is worth noting that UoW will soon be making its presence in Malaysia via collaboration with the INTI Education Group and a recent trip to Australia unravelled the university’s big plans for its local operations.
Explaining that UoW and INTI will be exclusive partners, UoW deputy vice-chancellor Prof Joe F. Chicaro said that business and information technology (IT) programmes would initially be offered in Malaysia, including postgraduate programmes.
“We don’t go overseas with a written script and we will modify our courses to suit the local environment,” he said.
“In Malaysia, we hope to provide students with an international experience.”
By an international experience, Prof Chicaro was talking about student and staff mobility.
Thanks to INTI’s semester abroad programme, students would be able to spend six months to a year at the university, with the option to finish their studies there.
And while the bulk of teaching responsibilities would be handled by local academics – honed by UoW standards – the varsity would also be sending key staff to Malaysia on a regular basis.
In Dubai long before the emirate’s economic and construction boom, UoW is no stranger to transnational education.
And as one of the pioneer institutions in the region, the university had to navigate a minefield of potential pitfalls as Dubai was not known as an education hub then.
“We (UoW) started with a narrow set of offerings in commerce and IT – the same programmes which will be offered with INTI – and moved on to the MBA and other Masters’ programmes in time,” recalled Prof Chicaro.
“We were really pioneers in Dubai and today, there are over 100 universities there. However, some have pulled out over the years. UoW’s longevity stands out in this respect.”
The varsity’s Gulf experience gives it the confidence to make the leap in Malaysia.
After going through lengthy processes of due diligence on both sides, UoW and Laureate Education Asia Ltd – the organisation which owns INTI – decided to ink an agreement and both parties are now preparing for the first intake of students in Malaysia.
“We know it won’t be easy but we are ready to commit in developing programmes which satisfy both local and international demands,” said Prof Chicaro.
“We are confident in the partnership as INTI has a solid brand and presence while UoW has a number of competitive programmes for the local market.”
The programmes are three-year degree programmes in Computer Science and Information Technology for IT, and a myriad of commerce majors in Economics, Finance, Accountancy and Management, among others.
Falling back on the varsity’s track record of a high employment rate and industrial relevant courses in Australia, Prof Chicaro added that it could offer a different dimension to Malaysian students.
“Parents and students might not know too much about us but the industries know us very well,” he said.
Originally part of the University of New South Wales, UoW achieved its “independence” in 1975 and never looked back.
As Wollongong was once a thriving ore and steel mining town, it always had a strong orientation in science and engineering and this supplied the base for it to become an intensive comprehensive research university.
The university’s milestones speak volumes.
Coming out tops for graduate employability, as well as teaching and learning in a number of Australian rankings, UoW earned the Times Higher Education Supplement inaugural “Commonwealth University of the Year” award in 2006.
It also made it into Australia’s 2009 Good Universities Guide, which gauged institutions not only on the basis of a “five-star education”, but also on a “five-star chance” of its students getting a good job and salary at the end of their degree.
A recent trip to the university also revealed the backing the university receives from the Australian government.
A 20,000 sq m SMART (the acronym for simulation, modelling, analysis, research and teaching infrastructure) facility was being completed and A$35mil (RM107.26mil) of its total A$61.8mil (RM189.4mil) cost was funded through the Australian Government’s 2009 Higher Education Endowment Fund.
The facility has a two-pronged approach - to deliver research services with the government, industries and the community; and to produce world-class professionals.
The industrial relevance was also evident when Prof Philip Ogunbona, the dean of its Informatics faculty, said that the varsity’s priority was to equip students with skills for the marketplace.”
“For example, we are currently refining software to detect human faces and track their expressions.
“By identifying whether a customer is happy or unhappy with certain marketing or promotional strategies, businesses can finetune their approach.”
Assoc Prof Gary Noble, the associate dean (business) at the varsity’s faculty of commerce highlighted a key feature of the Commerce programmes which would be offered at INTI.
“We will roll out a capstone subject in the third year and students will have to apply the principles of socially innovative commerce by conducting original research through live business simulations,” he said.
“This subject requires them to draw on all the knowledge they have learnt in their course and it will give them the confidence to start their own company in the future.”
The name game
Like all new ventures, the christening of the university’s presence in the Malaysian market was a complicated process.
And in the end, it was decided the varsity would brand itself on its acronym.
This led to a burning question: Why UoW and not its full name?
Prof Chicaro offered a practical line of reasoning with the “hard name versus unique brand” argument.
“Although we love Wollongong, the name may be hard for people to pronounce,” he said.
“At the end of the day, it’s a question of what will stick in people’s minds.”
Prof Chicaro speaks from experience, as testified by the varsity’s presence in the Persian Gulf.
The UoW Dubai campus has come a long way from relative obscurity and today, the teeming offshore campus is simply known as UoWD.
“We believe we have a lot to offer and we hope to make a name as an esteemed institution in Malaysia,” said Prof Chicaro.
UoW will roll out its business and IT degree programmes in Malaysia soon.