A distinction in education and development

This article first appeared in City & Country, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on November 6, 2017 - November 12, 2017.

Sunway University, along with Sunway Education Group’s other institutions, bring footfall and vibrancy into our developments.” — Tan

Sunway Bhd senior general manager property division central region Chong Sau Min (third from left) with The Edge Media Group publisher and group CEO Ho Kay Tat, City & Country editor Rosalynn Poh and EdgeProp.my managing director and editor-in-chief Au Foong Yee

Sunway University’s RM350 million campus comprises academic and sports facilities and residential blocks

The campus has 24-hour security and WiFi across its classrooms, lecture halls, cafeteria, library concourse and open areas

Its 3-floor library spans 72,000 sq ft

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Diversifying to Education  | Sunway Bhd | Sunway University

The concourse of Sunway University’s main building is a hive of activity on the day of our visit. Students are using the oval courtyard as a meeting place, to have coffee together between classes or to plug in their laptops to catch up on some work. Others are engaging in sport activities at the football field.

Sunway University’s facilities are conducive to student life, and one of several reasons it is a recipient of The Edge Malaysia Pioneer Development Award 2017.

“Sunway University has a good mix of connectivity, convenience and safety. We place great emphasis these factors. The university, along with Sunway Education Group’s (SEG) other institutions, bring footfall and vibrancy into our developments,” says Sunway Bhd deputy managing director of property development division for Malaysia and Singapore Tan Wee Bee.

Commenting on the university’s winning formula, he says, “We are passionate about nurturing our talents.” He gestures to an intern who is also present at the interview. This is a common practice at Sunway Property — most interns are encouraged to take part in media events and get involved in other administrative matters.

“It was important to not just build a physical building [for Sunway University] but to look into the needs of the community, aligned with the vision of Sunway Bhd founder and chairman Tan Sri Dr Jeffrey Cheah,” says Tan.

Sunway University is a private university located in Sunway City, Sunway Bhd’s maiden township. Over the years, it has become an integral part of the township and is now renowned for its learning excellence.

“Almost 30 years ago, the then-Sunway College was one of the pioneers in twinning programmes, making quality education affordable for Malaysians,” says Tan.

The campus, and its facilities

Spanning 22 acres next to Sunway Lagoon theme park and Sunway Pyramid shopping mall, Sunway University’s RM350 million campus comprises academic and sport facilities and residential blocks. The main building was completed in 2014, a 12-storey facility with a 2-level basement car park and a total of 880,000 sq ft that can accommodate up to 9,000 students.

Facilities include a 3-floor, 72,000 sq ft library; study zones; group project rooms; personal study spaces and viewing rooms. It has dedicated IT zones, computer labs and industrial incubators. Facilities also include science laboratories and psychology observation rooms. The Hotel, Restaurant and Catering section has kitchens and training restaurants while the Music (Audio Technology) department has its own recording studios. There is a fine art gallery as well.

The building has 24-hour security and 24-hour WiFi across its classrooms, lecture halls, cafeteria, library concourse and open areas.

Sunway University first opened its doors in 1987 as Sunway College. In 2004, part of it was separated and the Ministry of Higher Education declared it a university college. It achieved full university status as Sunway University in January 2011. It was then able to provide its own programmes, which are validated by its partner, Lancaster University, a Top 10 university in the UK.

The university offers foundation programmes, diplomas and degrees in accounting and finance, American degree transfer programmes, business studies, actuarial science, financial economics, interior architecture, biology with psychology, marketing, performing arts, culinary arts, English and many others. It also has postgraduate programmes in business administration, biology, computing, information systems, psychology, computer science and life sciences.

“Sunway University is fully accredited and is compliant with Malaysia’s regulatory and quality systems. All of our courses are registered and adhere to government compliance standards,” says Tan.

Sunway University is one of 16 institutions under the Sunway Education Group, which is owned and governed by the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation.

Sunway Education Group, The Jeffrey Cheah Foundation and its vision

“Education has always been a passion of Tan Sri’s [Cheah]. Growing up in the small town of Pusing, Perak, he saw that many of his childhood friends and neighbours never got the chance to fulfil their potential due to a lack of resources and opportunities. Sunway University has always been his ultimate goal,” says Tan.

With the setting up of the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation, the ownership and equity rights of SEG’s 16 learning institutions — including Sunway University, Monash University Malaysia (jointly owned by SEG and Monash University), Jeffrey School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Sunway College, Sunway TES Centre for Accountancy Excellence and Sunway International School — have been transferred to the foundation, which is valued in excess of RM1 billion.

The non-profit foundation aims to safeguard the institutions in perpetuity by ensuring that the assets and operating surpluses are used to provide and to sustain quality education for present and future generations of students. It continues the mandate of the Sunway Education Trust established in March 1997.

“To date, the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation has disbursed more than RM330 million in scholarships to tens of thousands of students,” says Tan, adding that Cheah’s goal is to donate over RM1 billion in scholarships in his lifetime.

Key milestones include the foundation’s collaborations with international partners. Last year, the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation entered into a partnership with the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network Association (SDSN) and renowned economist and director of SDSN, Professor Jeffrey David Sachs of Columbia University.

The partnership signifies a commitment focused on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to develop the global expertise needed to move Malaysia and Southeast Asia forward in the area of sustainable development. The partnership also established the Jeffrey Sachs Center on Sustainable Development at Sunway University.

The ‘Harvard of the East’

In a separate interview, senior executive director of Sunway Education Group and Sunway University, Dr Elizabeth Lee, describes how Sunway University began and how it complements the business portfolio of Sunway Group and its developments.

“We are a firm believer in sustainability and building sustainable townships. The sustainable way to the future is via education. It makes sense to add education to Sunway Property’s townships and developments.

“Tan Sri [Cheah] had thoughts about establishing an educational institution at Sunway City in the mid-1980s, and the idea finally came to fruition as Sunway College in 1987. It was a big risk as it was a time of recession and it definitely ate into his investments. However, it was needed and filled an important need because many parents could not afford to send their children overseas at the time. The twinning programmes offered by Sunway College at the time reduced the financial burden of the students.

“We aligned ourselves with the Ministry of Education’s mission and the national vision to make Malaysia a regional education hub. Certain Acts were reformulated to allow private universities and branches of foreign institutions to be established. In 1998, Monash University was set up in Sunway City, which was another milestone for the Sunway Education Group.”

According to Lee, Sunway Bhd’s diversification into education brought many challenges. “Private education had the stigma of being a place for students who could not make it into the local universities. People often questioned the legitimacy of private institutions as their scale was more like tuition centres at the time. People would question whether these were fly-by-night operations,” says Lee. “In fact, people also asked why Sunway Bhd, as a construction company, was branching into education. Tan Sri’s [Cheah] commitment to education was questioned as he was seen as a business person rather than a serious educationist.

“A lot has changed. Parents and students now know and trust ... both public and private institutions. And Tan Sri [Cheah] is renowned for his philanthropy and contributions to education in Malaysia.

“Going forward, our ultimate vision is for Sunway University to become better known internationally. Today, we see more collaborations between local and international universities. Tan Sri [Cheah] regards Sunway University as the the ‘Harvard of the East’. Harvard University is a top international university and we aspire to bring this level of education [and facilities] to this part of the world.”

Tan, meanwhile, has a positive outlook on future developments in education. “We recently opened Sunway International School in Sunway Iskandar. The first intake was in January and we now have 250 students ranging from pre-school to Grade 11. Sunway International School is the only institution in Malaysia that offers the Canadian (Ontario) curriculum.

“Sunway University recently introduced Sunway iLabs, which is an incubator and accelerator set up through a partnership between Sunway University, Sunway Ventures and Sunway Group. We believe the property market will regain its lustre in the next couple of years, barring external shocks. Education is one of the more resilient asset classes, as it is a true-blue business,” he concludes.