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Prior to the COVID pandemic, there already was a lively debate about the value and future of international branch campuses (IBCs). While there have been some notable IBC ‘failures’, there has been renewed interest in this form of transnational higher education accompanied by a growing range of both institutional providers and host countries. This SRHE webinar brings together global perspectives on different aspects of IBCs from multi-disciplinary perspectives (including sociology, human and economic geography, among others) to examine issues of marketisation, branding, international relations, and student experiences.

This event has been co-designed by the IRR network convenors (Miguel Antonio Lim, with Emily Henderson and Josef Ploner) and the presenting colleagues.



Yi’En Cheng (National University of Singapore) and Sin Yee Koh (Monash University, Malaysia)

March Schulze (Leibniz Institute of Research on Society and Space (IRS))

Alice Bobee (Leibniz Institute of Research on Society and Space (IRS))

Jingran Yu (Southern University of Science and Technology, Shenzhen)

Panel moderator: Jana Kleibert (Leibniz Institute of Research on Society and Space (IRS))

Chair for sessions: Miguel Antonio Lim (University of Manchester)


The ‘Soft Infrastructure’ of the Belt and Road Initiative: Imaginaries, Affinities, and Subjectivities in Chinese Transnational Education

Yi’En Cheng and Sin Yee Koh

Drawing upon ongoing research using qualitative and ethnographic methods conducted at Xiamen University (XMU) and its overseas campus, Xiamen University Malaysia (XMUM), this presentation provides a critical reading of transnational education as a component of the soft infrastructure of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). We interrogate XMUM as an instance of broader Chinese efforts to internationalise higher education, to entrench Chinese transnational education as a form of soft infrastructure within wider geopolitical and cultural diplomacy in Asia, and as a transnational site in and through which new regional imaginaries, affinities and subjectivities are produced and contested. We begin by discussing how XMUM is borne out of a particular co-construction of historical and cultural affinity centred around the revered figure of Tan Kah Kee between Chinese and Malaysian elites, and the ways in which this narrative is being disrupted and omitted by Chinese, international, and local students. We demonstrate the limited extent to which Chinese international students perform their role as cultural ambassadors in the host institution. We then show how students chart their imaginative geographies that centre China in the new world economy and simultaneously decenter its place in their individual post-study aspirations and mobility desires. The students’ narratives and practices simultaneously reinforce but also present alternatives to the imaginaries, affinities, and subjectivities that XMU seeks to produce through the vehicle of the BRI.



"Foreign Universities' Strategies in Malaysia - Stretching Organisation and Regulation"

Marc Schulze

Malaysia is the country that hosts the second most students studying for a British qualification completely outside the UK and where a large number of foreign universities operate costly offshore campuses. This presentation explores how foreign universities’ have become involved in this highly marketised higher education sector and why their offshore subsidiaries in Malaysia have changed their forms since the 1990s. It is demonstrated that foreign higher education institutions have strategically employed investments and modified their business partnerships and (transnational) programme organisation to gain access to the Malaysian domestic student market as well as to benefit from changing higher education regulation.



“Just to make clear that our identity was not French anymore”. Thinking through the geographical expansion and (re)branding strategies of French business schools.

Alice Bobée

Geographical expansion in the form of campus developments within and across national borders as well as (re)branding strategies constitute two major pillars of French business schools’ internationalisation strategy. The presentation builds upon a cultural economic geography of branding and asks “how do French business schools use geographical expansion to (re)brand their institutions?” and “what does it reveal about how French business schools are situated within global higher education markets?”. Shedding light on the entanglements between business schools’ branding and geographical expansion strategies, the paper contributes to understanding the links between transnational higher education and socio-spatial segmentation. 



Mobile educational space and imaginative travellers in-situ: A case study of a UK transnational higher education institution in China

Jingran Yu

This presentation problematises the neglect of materiality and spatiality of international branch campuses in current studies of global educational mobilities and challenges the dominant representation of transnational education students merely in terms of their corporeal immobility. Bringing the studies of transnational educational spaces and transnational educational mobilities into dialogue, it presents students’ educational experience at a UK branch university campus in China as both locally embedded and transnationally mobilised. Grounded in the new mobilities paradigm, it illustrates the case study’s educational space as mobile, where mobilities and materiality converge and are mediated by the spatial participants’ imaginations. It presents the Chinese students as ‘imaginative travellers’ who have never physically been abroad but whose being and belonging are constantly negotiated by their everyday experiences in a mobile educational space.


Speaker profiles:

Alice Bobée

PhD candidate in human geography at the Leibniz Institute of Research on Society and Space (IRS) and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

I have interests in understanding how global higher education markets are being established, maintained and (de)stabilized, by whom and for whom. In my PhD I focus on the development of French offshore campuses. While the development of campuses across national borders is not a French particularity, France is the nation-state with the highest number of offshore campuses in the world. Adopting a cultural economic approach to the study of transnational education, I ask in my dissertation a) why do so many French higher education institutions open campuses abroad? b) what discourses, strategies and geographies sustain the development of French offshore campuses? and c) whom are those strategies made for?


Yi’En Cheng

Research Fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore.

I am human geographer researching topics across education, youth, and mobilities in Asian cities, with a current focus on how higher education restructuring is changing young people’s citizenships and their relationships to mobility and immobility. I have conducted fieldwork in the contexts of transnational degree providers in Singapore, American liberal arts colleges in Shanghai and Singapore, and Chinese branch campus in Malaysia. I am currently driving new research on Belt and Road Initiative and Student Mobilities in China-Southeast Asia which includes potential case studies of novel vocational education partnerships between the regions.


Sin Yee Koh

Senior Lecturer in Global Studies at Monash University. Malaysia

I am a human geographer working at the intersections of migration studies and urban studies. My work uses the lens of migration and mobility to understand the circulations of people, capital, and aspirations in and through cities. I am currently exploring this line of enquiry through a project on a Chinese university branch campus in Malaysia, and a project on Chinese capital-led urban developments in Iskandar Malaysia.


Marc Schulze

PhD candidate in Economic Geography at the Leibniz Institute of Research on Society and Space (IRS) and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.

I investigate how international higher education providers’ accesses to strongly territory-bound higher education markets in Southeast Asia, mainly in Malaysia and Singapore, are regulated and how and why these regulations have evolved over time. A theoretic-conceptual focus is on the process of strategic (de-)coupling and mutual interrelatedness of universities as transnational actors on the one hand and higher education sectors as multi-scalar socio- and politico-economic contexts on the other hand.


Jingran Yu

Research Associate at the Southern University of Science and Technology (Shenzhen).

I recently finished a PhD in Sociology at the University of Manchester. My PhD research, awarded as best dissertation by the British Education Research Association, was based on a case study of a UK IBC in China, exploring TNE in relation to global socio-spatial inequalities and Chinese students’ socio-spatial (im)mobilities. I focused particularly on the convergence of materialities and mobilities at IBCs (i.e. in a co-constitutive relation). Built on my PhD research, in the next stage I’m planning to explore China’s strategic shift from a major IBC importer to an IBC exporter in the rapidly changing global geopolitics, particularly in relation to its Belt-Road-Initiative.

June 3rd, 2021 10:00 AM through 12:00 PM
Online event (login details will be provided)
United Kingdom
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