Monash University’s expansion into Malaysia was established with a partnership between the University and Sunway College, just outside Kuala Lumpur. Both Monash University and the Malaysian Government recognised the need for additional higher education options in Malaysia. As a result of the preferential treatment given to ethnic Malays, many ethnic Chinese students were missing out on university places and having to seek tertiary education overseas. In 1993 the Malaysian Government announced that it would accept applications from international universities interested in establishing campuses in Malaysia. Monash, together with the Sungei Way Group, submitted an application, which was eventually accepted by the Malaysian Government in 1996. An agreement was reached between the two institutions whereby students started their first year at the College in Malaysia, before transferring to Australia to finish their degree. Robin Alfredson, who became the first Head of Engineering and Science at the Malaysian campus, remembers that one of the main reasons Monash went to Malaysia was because ‘there was a need there … in part that was because of the large number of Chinese students who were very talented but couldn’t afford to go overseas and were capable of doing Engineering or Science.’
Alfredson was working in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Clayton when he noticed the advertisement for a Foundation Head of Engineering and Science at the new Malaysian campus. After being offered the job, he spent the next five years setting up the new school and establishing Monash’s engineering presence in Malaysia. ‘When I went there’, he reflected, ‘there was virtually nothing there. They had lecture theatres but there was nothing in the way of staff, or students, and everything had to start from scratch.’
The Monash University Sunway Campus in Malaysia opened in 1998, and within a matter of a month or so, the School of Engineering had a staff of five, and a first year enrolment of between 50 and 60 students. First year was a common year, and the initial programs offered were Mechanical Engineering and Mechatronics (programs formally offered at the Gippsland campus). The course grew, as did the student body, with a new course being offered each semester. ‘We had to provide new subjects, and we had to provide new staff, and new facilities. I thought to myself, well after four years when we’ve got all the staff and facilities, things will settle down a bit, but it never did’, Alfredson recalls.
Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering was established in 2001, when Bill Brown arrived to teach the first group of second year students. ‘Of course they had to have someone teaching computers and electronics, because that’s all part of Mechatronics’, said Brown. He worked closely with Alfredson, building up the staff, laboratories and the Electrical Engineering course. ‘When I got there in February 2001’, he remembers, ‘there were labs, there were programs, there were staff, the things I just couldn’t imagine how they would do, were all there and they were working. Robin did a fantastic job.’
There was of course some concern over the creation of a Malaysian campus – concern mainly that it would deprive the Australian campuses of income if Malaysian students could stay and study in Malaysia instead of physically journeying to Australia. As it turned out, however, after the establishment of the Sunway campus the number of Malaysian students coming to Australia actually increased.
Reflecting on the reasons for the relatively instant success of Monash Malaysia, Robin Alfredson concludes that Monash was well known in Malaysia well before the campus was established. ‘I think the fact that the students were doing the same exams at the same time as the students here was enough to satisfy people in Malaysia that the standard was the same, and I’m confident it was.’
In 2011 Monash Sunway School of Engineering has over 35 academic staff members, seven current PhD students and four engineering programs: Mechanical, Mechatronics, Electrical and Computers Systems and Chemical Engineering. The Sunway Engineering School research strengths include: robotics, automation and manufacturing; photonics semiconductors communication technologies; chemical and sustainable process engineering; and environment and green technology.