Curtin University Sarawak


An Australian campus in an exotic Sarawakian setting

It has often been described a piece of Australia transplanted in Sarawak. Many equate it to stepping into another world. Thus is the uniqueness and allure of the campus of Curtin University, Sarawak Malaysia (Curtin Sarawak) in Miri.

With the opening of the impressive 300-acre campus in the suburb of Senadin to the north of the city in 2002, Curtin established a firm foothold in Malaysia. Prior to that, for some three years, the fledgling campus occupied temporary premises at a secondary school in Riam in the city’s southern outskirts.


Students find the campus environment tranquil, inspiring and conducive for studying

Developed as a joint venture between Western Australia’s Curtin University and the Sarawak state government, it was Curtin’s first offshore campus and one of the first foreign branch campuses to be established in the country. In the years hence, it has become the largest of Curtin’s branch campuses spread across the Asia-Pacific region.

Set in the midst of open flatland that stretches all the way to the Baram River, Sarawak’s (and Malaysia’s) second-longest, where the Trans-Borneo Highway and the ASEAN Bridge links Miri to neighbouring Brunei Darussalam, the campus is surrounded by lush greenery as far as the eye can see.

Interspersed within this expanse are wetlands, including Sarawak’s first wetland recreational park just completed this year by the state government, as well as man-made lakes and canals that attract a variety of migratory and water birds.


A variety of birds and other wildlife can be found in the campus vicinity

Such scenery reflects Sarawak’s environment of constant greenery, water and bountiful wildlife, which many find truly fascinating. Coupled with Miri’s famed sunsets and Senadin’s location away from the bustle of the city, the ambience of the campus is one Curtin Sarawak’s students find tranquil, inspiring and conducive for studying.

The Curtin Sarawak campus – or rather, the first two phases of a planned RM400 million campus – is regarded as one of the most modern and unique in the region. As one walks through the campus, it is evident considerable thought and meticulous attention to detail was paid by those who designed it.

According to Chief Operating Officer James Ng, its planners and architects took note of the site’s natural features, then planned buildings and structures around them, making sure they complemented, and in some instances enhanced, the environment.

Recreation and Event Centre Lakeside Apartment overlooking the lake

To reflect the fact that Curtin is an Australian university, they did a splendid job of transplanting the Curtin architectural model to Sarawak. However, this was not done wholesale as they sought to combine the Australian architecture with traditional Sarawakian elements for a hybrid look that is distinctly Curtin Sarawak.

“The concept imports all of the key elements of Curtin, but the aesthetics and appearance are contextualised to Sarawak. It’s an interesting hybrid of Sarawakian and Australian concepts,” said Ng.

He pointed out that, while the buildings’ elements draw heavily from Curtin traditions, the campus is landscaped according to the local style and aesthetics to fit in with Sarawak’s tropical climate.

Reiterating this, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive Professor Ian Kerr remarked, “Despite its Australian look, the campus is very much designed for the tropics, such as the numerous covered walkways and shaded areas to provide respite from the sometimes harsh tropical weather.

We’re also very big on landscaping, planting a variety of trees and shrubs to green the campus and create more shade amidst the warm climate. Having such lush, green surroundings present a unique sense of place and a relaxing environment for our staff and students to work and study.”


Buildings incorporate passive solar design to take advantage of the environment

Kerr said the planners also sought to amalgamate modern technology with the campus’ unique architecture and traditional flavour. Buildings incorporate high-tech materials and passive solar design to take advantage of the environment, and at the same time, are oriented to give the campus the overall appearance of a pua kumbu, Sarawak’s traditional woven fabric.

The combination of Australian and Sarawakian elements extends to the facades and interiors of buildings as well. Sarawakian indigenous art is prominently featured in hallways and waiting areas, and glass doors and partitions etched with tribal motifs can be found in buildings across the campus.

The use of modern technology on the campus is also very extensive. According to Kerr, Curtin places great emphasis on utilising technology to support teaching, learning and research. Significant investment in computing and networking facilities continues to be made to ensure facilities are state-of-the-art.

The campus currently has 14 computer labs with over 400 PCs for student use in addition to terminals located in the library that provide access to the library’s online databases. Furthermore, sophisticated IT linkages provide access to the online resources of Curtin’s main campus in Perth.

As research activities are an essential component of academic excellence at Curtin Sarawak, the campus boasts a number of state-of-the-art science and engineering labs, including Chemical Engineering, Geotechnical Engineering, Structural Engineering, Electrical Power, Electronic and Communication, Embedded System, Networking, Renewable Energy and Geophysics labs.

Film and television students, meanwhile, can count on a custom-built Film Lab and Editing Suite equipped with the latest broadcast-quality film-making equipment and software.

Realistically, students at Curtin Sarawak can find everything they need on the campus. In addition to the library and laboratories, there is The Learning Centre for academic support, study areas, a choice of food outlets, student lounge, banking facilities, campus bookshop, convenience store, health and first aid centre, surau and public transport.

Lush, green surroundings present a unique sense of place and a relaxing environment Students can find everything they need on the campus Shaded areas provide respite from tropical heat

They also have access to recreational facilities such as the multipurpose Recreation and Event Centre which houses an indoor basketball court, badminton courts and gym facilities, as well as a football field, rugby pitch, outdoor basketball court and volleyball cum indoor soccer court.

As the campus has grown well beyond its original confines, and consequently finding one’s way around the place become more complex, the campus was recently ‘re-aligned’ into six precincts. For easier identification, the precincts are named after birds found in northern Sarawak, with associated colour codes and signage. All the precincts are linked via an extensive system of covered walkways.


Outdoor basketball court

A large man-made lake is the focus of the campus around which all the core buildings are strategically aligned. Notwithstanding rumours of crocodiles lurking in its waters, the lake is an integral part of the campus landscape and provides an ideal backdrop for photo shoots, garden events and lakeside leisure activities.

Curtin Sarawak is now entering its next phase of development spanning the next five years, during which its student population is expected to surpass 5,000. Currently, the campus has some 3,000 students from over 40 countries.

Significant infrastructure development to match the growth is on the cards, including a RM10 million state-of-the-art chancellery scheduled for completion by the end of 2012. It will be a signature work of architecture and new campus landmark, and with the incorporation of a 400-seat lecture theatre, cultural centre and meeting and training facilities, herald an enrichment of campus life and the student and staff experience.


A large man-made lake is the focus of the campus

Other upcoming projects include the Miri Bio-Park being developed with the Sarawak Ministry of Industrial Development and housing the Curtin Sarawak Research Institute (CSRI); a refurbished Library and Resource Centre; a multi-purpose teaching block; an additional student accommodation block; an Islamic Centre; a gymnasium and tennis courts.


RM10 million state-of-the-art chancellery scheduled for completion by early 2013.

According to Kerr, Curtin Sarawak’s new phase of growth will be in line with Curtin’s vision of becoming an international leader shaping the future through its graduates and research and positioned among the top 20 universities in Asia by 2020.

He said all the new infrastructure will incorporate contemporary and original architecture and the latest building concepts and technologies to reflect Curtin’s commitment to innovation and excellence, and also continue to feature Australian and Sarawakian characteristics.

The chancellery will feature a spacious open-air concourse with interior landscaping, providing an inviting environment for rest and relaxation. The building’s unique high arching roof will provide sufficient shade to keep the building cool throughout the day, while strategically placed pane windows around the building will allow natural light to penetrate its interiors and thus help to save on lighting costs.

The CSRI complex, meanwhile, will feature high-tech laboratories for biotechnological research for industrial and environmental applications. Being the first of its kind in Sarawak, the facility will provide a significant boost to research and development, knowledge accumulation and industrial development in the state.

Twelve years on, Curtin Sarawak’s magnificent campus proudly stands as a tribute to the bold vision and determination of those in Malaysia and Australia who believed a world-class campus could be built in Miri, and moreover, be the outstanding success it is today.

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