The Malaysian government has signed a multimillion-dollar six-year contract with a consortium of five foreign universities to prepare prospective schoolteachers of English, writes Geoff Maslen in Melbourne.
The government education project, which is one of the biggest and most expensive of its kind, will provide scholarships to cover the students'
tuition and other costs.
The teaching of English in Malaysian schools is expanding rapidly and the language has replaced Malay in courses in mathematics and the sciences.
More than 600 students will take part in the scheme between 2005-11, with the first 125 enrolled at five universities.
The participating institutions are the College of St Mark and St John, whose degrees are awarded by Exeter University; Macquarie University in Australia; Queensland University of Technology in Australia; and Auckland University and Victoria University in New Zealand.
Each has a twinning arrangement with Malaysia's International Languages Teacher Training Institute in Kuala Lumpur, where students undertake the first year of a four-year bachelor of education course.
After completing that, students will then take an 18-month foundation course at their home institutions.
If they qualify and their English is up to standard, they enrol at the teacher-training institute. They spend the next two years at one of the foreign universities.
The final year, which mainly involves teaching in schools, is completed in Malaysia.
Pamela Coutts, head of Macquarie's School of Education, said: "The curriculum has been developed in consultation with our Malaysian partners, but each university will offer slightly different subjects."
She said that students would take classes alongside Australian students and graduate with a bachelor of education degree (ESL or ESOL) issued by the foreign institutions where they studied.
The universities are likely to earn about $A5 million (£2 million) each over the life of the project.