President Dunn heads to Malaysia to celebrate 25-year partnership

Contact: Cheryl Roland
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Sunway University

KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University President John M. Dunn will travel to Malaysia this month to celebrate the 25th anniversary of a partnership with a private college that brought hundreds of students to WMU and changed the face of international education. He will also sign several articulation agreements with other private Malaysian universities.

The 1987 opening of Sunway College near Kuala Lumpur and the launch of a "twinning program" between that college and WMU helped Malaysia emerge as a Southeast Asia regional center for education. The twinning program developed there placed a WMU faculty member on site at Sunway to guide Malaysian students through their first two years of college studies before they traveled to WMU to complete their final two years of study and earn a bachelor's degree.

The 2+2 model is now used to educate thousands of Malaysian students at more than 60 American colleges and universities as well as universities in such nations as the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. The Sunway program continues to bring new students to WMU each year, and WMU has established similar twinning programs in Hong Kong, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Bolivia and Kenya. The articulation agreement to be signed by Dunn will bring additional Malaysian students to WMU's Kalamazoo campus.

"Our long and very strong relationship with Sunway and the impact it has had on global higher education is a source of great pride for Western Michigan University," says Dunn. "Our connections to Malaysia go back to the late-1960s and 1970s, when large numbers of Malaysian government scholarship students were enrolled at WMU. Together these programs have meant that we now have an alumni community in Malaysia of about 2,500 strong. We'll be celebrating this wonderful occasion with two major alumni gatherings and a series of meetings with our colleagues in Malaysia who made this relationship a reality."

Dunn says he may even get a chance to visit the Kalamazoo Cafe in Kuala Lumpur, which opened in 2010 and was started by four WMU alumni.

The groundbreaking idea for the twinning program grew out of a mid-1980s higher education crisis in Malaysia that found the nation unable to provide enough seats at its six universities or scholarships for students to study abroad. The then-prime minister appealed to the private sector to help by creating private colleges where students could earn degrees at affordable prices. Quick to respond was Jeffrey Cheah, president of the SungeiWay Group, a construction and real estate conglomerate.

Cheah sought a partnership with WMU, which was already well known in that nation. Together, the SungeiWay Group and WMU developed the 2+2 collaboraation that would result in a savings of 40 percent compared with the cost of spending all four years abroad. The government-approved effort to encourage private initiatives in the education sector created a number of two-year transfer schools and opened a critical avenue for the rapidly growing cohort of young people, particularly those from the Chinese and Indian communities, who were not being admitted to Malaysia's traditional universities.

Sunway College opened in 1987 in rented quarters. By 1997--10 years after its founding--Sunway had a 22-acre campus built by the SungeiWay Group, and it was the largest private college in the country, with WMU the top U.S. destination for its students. After the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the twinning programs was rebranded as an American Degree Transfer program--ADTP--offering enrollees the option of continuing at WMU or applying to any of 60 other American universities and colleges that accepted transfer credits from the Sunway-WMU program.

Today, Sunway College has transitioned into Sunway University and awards its own bachelor's degrees. The 2+2 plan that WMU created will also transitioned to general articulation agreements, study abroad opportunities, faculty exchange and research initiatives. One WMU faculty member, Finance Professor Christopher Korth, has just completed a three-month teaching stint at Sunway.

The SungeiWay Group's founder Jeffrey Cheah, who received an honorary doctorate from WMU in 1994, has remained deeply involved in Malaysian higher education and has begun an educational foundation to support Sunway and its new departments and colleges as well as disburse student scholarships and research funding. The foundation is the first of its kind in Malaysia and has prompted WMU historian Howard Dooley to speculate that, "Cheah seems destined to be the Andrew Carnegie of Malaysia."