Cambridge ventures east

August 8, 1997

MALAYSIA is to set up a Commonwealth University near Kuala Lumpur in a joint venture with Cambridge University, writes David Jobbins.

Dato Seri Mohd Najib Tun Adbul Razak, the Malaysian education minister, slipped the announcement into a speech during the Commonwealth education ministers' conference in Botswana. His revelation even surprised his officials, although the project has been rumoured to be on the way.

The minister said that law and business studies were to be the initial subject areas at the new university. But Sir Humphrey Maud, deputy secretary general of the Commonwealth, said that the minister had said that Commonwealth studies would be considered as a course to be offered as well.

"We see great opportunities in this development for strengthening links particularly with the Association of Commonwealth Universities, of which we hope the new Malaysian university will become a member," he said.

Cambridge has received considerable amounts of Malaysian cash over the years and is particularly strong in Commonwealth studies. It has also recently acquired the Commonwealth Society library.

In Gaborone, ministers backed a resurgence in Commonwealth studies in line with last year's Symonds report, which found more live academic interest outside rather than in it.

One solution they discussed was for the creation of chairs in universities considered to be centres of excellence in different regions of the Commonwealth. They identified six general areas of research in an effort to stimulate academic interest. They were:

* challenges facing small states, including climate change and other environmental threats

* the Commonwealth in Asia

* comparative study of the development processes of Commonwealth countries, especially lessons to be learned from the economic dynanism in Southeast Asia * the management of social transformation

* democratisation in Africa since the Harare declaration on human rights and democracy

* comparative studies of higher education in Commonwealth states.

Improved links between universities in the Commonwealth are needed to take part in joint studies using new information and communications technology, it was agreed.

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