Western Michigan University recent graduate Annesha Rai says she’s ready for a global marketplace because she has a global education — one she earned in two different counties.
WMU signed new articulation agreements with four schools in Malaysia and two new schools in Turkey last month to bring more students like Rai to Kalamazoo. Students from HELP University, INTI International University, Nilai University College and KDU University College in Malaysia will now have the option of studying at WMU.
This fall, three engineering students from Turkey’s Anadolu University will be among the first students from that university to study in Kalamazoo, as well. WMU has signed study abroad and exchange agreements with Turkish institutions before but has never had an articulation agreement, which allows a student to obtain a degree with credits from two institutions, with a Turkish university.
Being ‘globally engaged’ is considered a pillar in WMU’s strategic plan to move forward, which was put on paper last year. President John Dunn established a strategic planning assembly for the entire school, with a goal of creating a streamlined, synthesized plan that encompasses the university’s mission.
However, WMU has a long history in global relations. Students started to study abroad in 1945, and the university was forming international relationships with foreign schools as early as 1961. WMU opened its first transnational education program (twinning) in Malaysia in 1987.
Last year, when WMU’s total enrollment increased by a mere 41 students overall, the international student count increased by 133.
‘I did it for the experience’
Rai was one of about 1,400 international students at WMU last year. She recently completed a WMU twinning/Transnational Education programs (TNE) program, in which WMU equips a partnering institution with a curriculum and best practices and after two years the students move to Kalamazoo and finish their degree at Western.
WMU also holds articulation agreements and cooperates with more than 60 foreign universities in various ways, depending on the country and government leadership.
“Basically twinning is a transfer program in their purest form,” said Donald McCloud, dean of the Diether H. Haenicke Institute for Global Education at WMU. “We tell them exactly what to teach, but we don’t teach the courses. We have local hires and we supervise. They grade exams, and exams come back here and we have a professor read those and agree with grades.”
Rai, who is of Indian decent, grew up in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and began college at Christ University in India, which has been a WMU twinning partner since 1997. After two years, she moved to Kalamazoo and graduated with a finance degree this past spring.
“A good amount of seniors who had transferred through the program had wonderful things to say and highly recommended it,” Rai, 22, said. “I did it for the experience, as I love to travel and explore new cultures; also the quality of education is stellar. I think it’s a great idea because it gives you a very well-rounded perspective of the world and culture. In my case, it gave me a totally different perspective on the world of business.”
McCloud said WMU was the first institution to develop the modern-day twinning program. In Malaysia, such partnerships are now used to educate thousands of Malaysian students at more than 60 colleges and universities from various countries. About 2,500 Malaysian students have graduated from WMU.
The idea stemmed from a mid-1980s higher education crisis in Malaysia, which prompted the formation of Sunway College in 1987. The same year, the college partnered with WMU and became the university’s first twinning partner, according to university.
“The global marketplace in higher education started to evolve in 1980s when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister in United Kingdom,” explained McCloud, who was the executive director of the Malaysian-American Commission on Educational Exchange before coming to WMU in 2007 and lived in Malaysia for six years.
“She began cutting back government subsidies to universities and she opened the door for them to do more recruiting internationally. Australia and Britain are way ahead of us in terms of recruiting international students. WMU is aggressive, but many U.S. universities don’t have a clue on how to recruit internationally.”
Again, governments are cutting funds for universities across the country. McCloud said WMU’s push for more international students is part of the trend. “WMU started earlier and we stayed with it. We have changed it over time to meet changing needs out there, and that’s why it survived,” he said.
‘Respect and relationships’
Dunn, who recently returned from a trip to Malaysia, where he celebrated the institution’s 25th anniversary of being educational partners, has touted WMU and Sunway University’s success again and again, often crediting WMU for helping Sunway become a respectable higher education institution.
“Many would say without WMU, things would not have developed as well as they have (in Malaysia),” Dunn said. “They honor us when we are there and we need to be there more often. We have this 25-year-old relationship with Sunway, and I was the first WMU president to be there. We need to do that more often; that’s about respect and relationships.”
During the 1990s, WMU began similar programs in Bolivia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Pakistan, Poland, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Uzbekistan. Currently, twinning programs only exist between WMU and India’s Christ University, Kenya’s Egerton University and Malaysia’s Sunway College.
“They don’t need us nearly as much as they used to,” said WMU finance professor Christopher Korth, who recently completed a three-month teaching stint at Sunway. “That is the point of twinning program. It helps funnel good quality students to us. What we did over the last 25 (years) has been very valuable to them and us. It’s imaginative of us to do it and other schools have borrowed the idea, but we were one of the earliest.”
Rai, who was a Lee Honors College student, moved back to India and is working at a Singapore-based company called Wealth-X as a research analyst. She says WMU’s international and study abroad programs are why she decided to attend the university.
She said students should worry less about the cost and think more about the value.
“This is something we need to do more of. We need to get a large share of our undergraduates overseas, going to universities to study. It’s one of the best education experiences a student could go through,” Korth said.