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New kid on the block: Southampton brings world-class engineering excellence to Malaysia

Published by on Jan 31, 2013, 02:36 pm

Invited by the Ministry of Higher Education, the University of Southampton established their branch campus for engineering within the [email protected] development in Iskandar, Malaysia. The new campus opened in October 2012 and offers premier undergraduate degrees in engineering.

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Heading this new branch campus is Pro Vice-Chancellor International Professor Mark Spearing. A PhD graduate of Cambridge University, he was previously the Head of Engineering Sciences at the University.  Prior to Southampton, he spent a decade with the faculty of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“The location of Educity in Iskandar is very attractive to us. We have very strong, long-standing links with Malaysia and also with Singapore’s extremely vibrant economic growth and very strong knowledge base. There have been a number of overseas universities opening campuses in Malaysia – mostly around Kuala Lumpur – and Iskandar is sufficiently far enough removed from those that we don’t feel in direct competition with these Australian and British institutions,” said Spearing.

Aside from allowing Southampton to provide world-class undergraduate experience to students in Malaysia, this initiative to set up a branch campus has allowed them to form partnerships effectively within the country.Recently, Southampton partnered with Universiti Teknologi Petronas to develop academic exchanges and cooperation in teaching and research.

“In addition to providing very direct mutual benefits to Malaysia and ourselves in terms of promoting research and education in Malaysia and in the Southeast Asian region to, we hope Malaysia’s benefit. There is no doubt that having a presence in such an important and vibrant part of the world will help to raise our profile and our standing as a global world-class university.”

University rankings important but not conclusive

University ranking has always been an old-age issue among universities, here and abroad. In Malaysia, government has stressed the importance of rankings. Despite the growing obsession and politicization on rankings, Spearing thinks otherwise by encapsulating it in a question.

“How can a single number possibly capture the full diversity of what a university brings?”

“While some of the world rankings are quite kind to our university, particularly in areas of science and technology, these rankings should not be the sole measure of the quality of a university,” explains Spearing.

University of Southampton is rank no. 73 in the overall QS University Rankings and no. 58 in Engineering and Technology. Its mechanical engineering studies alone is ranked number one in the UK by The Guardian University Guide for the last three years. It is also one of the top 15 research universities in the United Kingdom.


“Different universities have different missions in education and research but equally important there are social and societal impacts that universities have which by and large these rankings don’t capture at all."

Nevertheless, the university aims to have a similar status within Malaysia as being a premier university for engineering education and engineering research.

Providing globalised, project-focused education

What makes Southampton’s courses particularly attractive is that students will be able to study in Malaysia in the first two years of the programme, and study at Southampton’s UK campus for the last two years. This offers students a truly international experience and an affordable top notch degree.

“We think that the two-plus-two model for engineering education with students spending two years in Malaysia at our campus and then two years in the UK is a model that works particularly well,” said Spearing.

With the hybrid model, Spearing believes that more students from around the world who come to Southampton will consider spending part of their time on Malaysia campus, creating a more equal flow of students to and from the Malaysia campus.


“We have quite a distinctive education programme. What particularly defines it is a very strong project-based education, especially in the third and fourth years. A very strong ethos in design runs through all four years of the programme and we are looking to replicate that part of the programme that will be taught in Malaysia.”

“As far as practically possible, we are aiming to achieve exactly the same academic quality standards and standards of student experience for students whilst they are studying in Malaysia as they will experience when they study in the UK. The accreditation of the programme will be monitored in Malaysia but will also be monitored by the quality assurance processes we use in the UK which are recognised as being amongst the highest and most rigorous standards anywhere in the world.”

The University of Southampton has a strong track record of placing graduates in leading multinational corporations such as Airbus and Rolls-Royce in the aerospace industry, McLaren Racing and Renault F1 team in the automotive industry, as well as Schlumberger and BP in the petroleum industry.

New courses in the pipeline

“We have one of the strongest engineering programmes in the UK if not in the world. Engineering is a vital academic discipline for economic growth and so we think it fits very well with the overall ambition for the Iskandar development.”

Southampton is now offering its mechanical engineering programmes and has plans to offer its other courses in the near future.

“We plan to offer its degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering in Malaysia this year to provide further opportunities for students in the region to achieve a recognized industry-focused qualification,” Spearing shared.”

The EEE programme combines elements of both pure electronics and electrical engineering, and gives flexibility to study courses ranging from power systems to nano-scale devices. It is currently awaiting approval from the Malaysian Qualifications Agency.


Written by Lyn Cacha

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