Iskandar Investment Bhd (IIB) wants to position Iskandar Malaysia's EduCity in Nusajaya as the leading knowledge hub in the region.
Senior vice-president (education & healthcare) Khairil Anwar Ahmad said EduCity would be developed into a unique destination offering quality but affordable higher education for locals and foreigners.
"EduCity will be developed into an educational hub with the best in class faculties from reputable universities in the world," he told StarBiz recently.
Instead of just one university with eight faculties, EduCity would have eight universities with one specialised faculty each.
The 21.4ha EduCity will be developed in two phases under a 10-year plan (2008-2018). Work on Phase One on 49.12ha has already started and is expected to be operational in 2013 with four universities and 4,000 students.
Under Phase Two, another four foreign universities are expected to set up their branch campuses and these will double the student enrolment.
Britain's Newcastle University Medicine (NUMed) is the first foreign university to set up its branch campus in Iskandar Malaysia, which is also the university's first international branch campus.
In a media briefing in May, NUMed Malaysia Sdn Bhd chief executive officer Professor Reginald Jordan said its Johor campus would be the main catalyst to promote the state as the preferred destination for medical studies.
Construction work on its RM300mil campus on a 5.26ha site has started in Nusajaya; one of the five flagship development zones in Iskandar and is scheduled for completion in May 2011.
The university will offer 40 places in its initial intake and has so far received over 200 enquires from Malaysia, Egypt, India, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Europe and the United States.
The first two NUMed Malaysia intakes of 40 students each will undertake the first two years of the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) programmes in Newcastle.
They will return to Malaysia to complete the remaining three years in Johor. Subsequently, from 2011, all five years of the MBBS programme will be delivered at the Nusajaya campus.
Khairil said NUMed professors would be at the Johor campus and deliver the curriculum on a stand-alone basis without any collaboration with other universities.
He said the medical degree would have the name of Newcastle University United Kingdom and the degree recognised by the British Medical Council (BMC).
"It is very significant in the medical fraternity as BMC has never recognised any British medical schools outside Britian,'' said Khairil.
Established in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1834, the university's School of Medicine and Surgery is currently ranked fourth in the Times Good University Guide 2009.
About 700 doctors practising in Kuala Lumpur and 7,000 others in the region are graduates of the university.
Khairil said it was cheaper for Malaysians to pursue medicine at NUMed in Nusajaya than in Britain.
Khairil said it cost Majlis Amanah Rakyat (Mara) RM1.2mil to send one student to study medicine at NUMed in Britain. For that amount of money, MARA could sponsor two students in Nusajaya.
He said IIB was focusing on certain universities to open their faculties in EduCity with disciplines that could relate with the Iskandar Malaysia's Comprehensive Development Plan from 2006 until 2025.
As such, IIB was now talking with several public universities from Australia and Europe interested to open their branch campuses offering hospitality, engineering and marine and logistics-related studies, he said.
He said for the second phase, IIB would be looking at language courses, fine arts and multimedia disciplines to provide support for the creative industry which was one of the new economic pillars in Iskandar.
On a move to attract one of the top China and Hong Kong universities to Iskandar, Khairil said IIB did not have any direct contact with them at the moment but if they were to come to Iskandar, IIB would encourage them to set up their branch campuses in EduCity.
He said unlike commercial investors, universities took a much longer time to come and open branch campuses. While they were here not to make money, they could not lose it.
Khairil said the most important issue for public universities was the market demand in terms of student enrolment and whether the revenue would be able to cover the operational cost.
On the other hand, commercial investors considered several aspects such as return on investment, various risk elements and business opportunities.
"When foreign universities want to open their campuses here, we help them as much as we can to provide the data and the information they need to prepare a solid business plan," said Khairil.
He said when universities decide to come, they would be here for the long term and the most important thing was to protect their brand name.