Nottingham University has stolen a market lead over its international competitors by becoming the first foreign university to open campuses in China and Malaysia.
Last week, it opened the first campus in China, and next week it will become the first overseas institution to open a free-standing campus in Malaysia. Other foreign universities have campuses in Malaysia, but these are part of existing sites and not free-standing.
The moves will open up new opportunities for Nottingham academic staff and students to spend time teaching, researching or studying in Malaysia or China as part of an exchange scheme.
The two ventures, with a price tag totalling £31 million, appear at first sight to be something of a gamble at a time when admissions of Chinese and Malaysian students to the UK are falling.
Latest figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service show a 20 per cent drop in the number of Chinese students accepted on to UK courses this year compared with 2004, and a fall of nearly 4 per cent in acceptances of Malaysians.
But Nottingham's international managers argue that recruitment through offshore campuses will more than compensate for any fall in overseas intakes at home.
Delivery of UK higher education overseas is popular with governments in countries with developing higher education systems, and with students who pay cut-price fees - in this case half of what they would pay if they studied in Nottingham.
Chinese and Malaysian students will have the chance to spend a semester in Nottingham, while students and staff from Nottingham will get the opportunity to visit the overseas campuses.
The Chinese site, in the booming seaport city of Ningbo, just south of the Yangtze River estuary, has attracted 900 students and is expected to accommodate up to 4,000 by 2010.
Student numbers could double if Nottingham decides to go ahead with the second phase of its development plans. Numbers at the Malaysian campus in Semenyih, close to Kuala Lumpur international airport, are expected to grow from 1,200 to about 3,500.
Strong links with China forged through Yang Fujia, Nottingham's Chinese chancellor, have also allowed the university to keep its investment in Ningbo down to £3 million, while negotiations in Malaysia have left it as a one-third shareholder in its £11 million campus there.
Douglas Tallack, Nottingham pro vice-chancellor, said it was expected that many graduates from each campus would choose to progress to the university's postgraduate programmes in the UK.
He said: "For us it's all about building the right reputation overseas.
Without that, we would not have been able to do this. Certainly, we are not going to lose money on these campuses."
Securing investment from partners in China and Malaysia should also help protect the campuses from the risk of political changes. "What we have is a good basis for co-operation. If issues arise, we should be able to work through them because both sides need this to work," he said.