Altered Aspirations and Frictional Encounters at a Mainland Chinese University Branch Campus in Malaysia

Dr Sin Yee  Koh2

2School of Arts and Social Sciences, Monash University Malaysia, , Malaysia

Malaysia aims to be an international and regional higher education hub. It currently ranks number three globally (after China and Dubai) in terms of hosting international branch campuses (IBCs). Xiamen University Malaysia (XMUM), the first branch campus of a mainland Chinese public university, is the latest addition to Malaysia’s IBC landscape. Based on ongoing research since 2018 involving interviews (with students, faculty and administrative staff) and on-site observations, this paper examines XMUM as an educational socio-spatial bubble that is host to intersecting institutional, staff and student mobility aspirations. The paper finds that there are distinct mobility aspirations amongst different user groups (mainland Chinese staff and students, local Chinese-Malaysian students, “other” international staff and students). However, after landing in XMUM, these aspirations become altered or curtailed as students and staff run into frictional encounters with university and broader institutions as well as with “others” on campus. Drawing upon these narratives of frustration and disenchantment, ignorance and ambivalence, as well as acceptance and resilience, this paper offers a glimpse into the complex and contradictory lived experiences at this IBC. This paper calls for critical attention to the disconnect between institutional educational aims and the lived realities of consumers and users of higher education.


Sin Yee Koh ( is Senior Lecturer at the School of Arts and Social Sciences at Monash University Malaysia. She is a human geographer working at the intersections of migration studies, urban studies, and postcolonial geography. She is author of Race, Education, and Citizenship (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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