Dr. Elizabeth Lee Fuh Yen
Senior Executive Director of Sunway Education Group
Born in Singapore, raised in Malaysia, educated in America, and trained in the UK, this recipient of India’s Visionary Women Leadership Award is a history-maker with lessons to teach. Deborah Joy Peter takes notes.
When contemplating the multifarious choreography indicative of Dr. Elizabeth Lee Fuh Yen’s passage through academia, the 1995 hit Ironic comes to mind. Absent ripped jeans, ombre vibe, and beanie on head, she is no Alanis Morissette. Yet, the multi award-winning Sunway Education Group (SEG) senior executive director, having by now tucked about 30 years under her belt, is by every stretch of the imagination, some indelible version of a rockstar.
Exposed to the field at a time when teaching was considered a white collar job with blue collar pay, she could have steered clear, but didn’t. Told that the profession was befitting of a lady just because the hours were short and its nature family-friendly, the career chaser should have reconsidered; instead she stood her ground. When the offer to practice in the United Kingdom was extended, it made sense to accept only she wouldn’t.
“I wanted to be involved with something rooted in multi-cultural studies, and therefore opted to major in English. It allowed me to return to Malaysia and serve my country by bringing the language home. That much was clear. I wanted to come back although I had something called a DES number and still do, which permits me to teach in the UK,” the SEG veteran explains, adding that infusing passion into teaching has been an endless pursuit.
Is there anything to suggest that the virtuoso described above isn’t every degree of audacious? Whether it was admirable persistence or sheer stubbornness only she knew, but when it came to crucial life decisions, Lee always chose going against the grain. Perhaps, being Singaporean-born had something to do with it, but the Kuala Lumpur raised educationist turned administrator is nothing if not a woman on a mission to revolutionise an entire industry.
Herself a Bukit Bintang Girls School alumnus, the Doctorate of Laws holder-an honorary title granted her by Nottingham University to mark the industry’s highest tribute-has been instrumental to Sunway’s evolution from a college to a full-fledged education group. Having served with the marque since 1992, she has spent more than two decades carving out its niche as one of the most prestigious institutes of higher learning across the world stage.
“We have different education institutions now. We have Sunway University and Sunway College. They are very separate. Next, we have Sunway Le Cordon Bleu, our institute
of culinary arts. It is the Le Cordon Bleu of Paris. Then, we have the Sunway International School. Also, recent years have seen truly rewarding partnerships forged with numerous globally-acclaimed institutes like Monash and Cambridge.”
In fact, Sun-U brought the Oxford Symposium to Malaysia in 2015, where for first time the conference was hosted in the heart of Southeast Asia, reeling in the participation of a great multitude of students and teachers. In the same token, the 2014 Asia Leadership Camp aimed at impacting young leaders that rolled out in collaboration with Harvard proved a momentous feat for the brand as well.
“My credo changes every day. It’s never the same thing. You know those Keep calm and … expressions? It’s very fitting, I think. Sometimes, I tell frustrated parents that the children will grow up. They do grow up. So it is this idea of keeping calm and letting the moment pass.”
While she began as associate director before being named executive director some time later, in her current and latest capacity, her myriad of duties includes looking at strategy in terms SEG’s positioning, direction, and next phase. Sharing in chairman and founder, Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Dr. Jeffrey Cheah’s vision, Lee opened up about the group’s ultimate goal to emerge as the ‘Harvard of the East.’ But what does that mean exactly?
“It basically means that Sunway University will become a force to be reckoned with in education, so that it is recognisable and internationally renowned. Over here, when Harvard is mentioned, everyone knows. So if we’re over there and Sun-U is mentioned, everyone will know. That’s what we mean by Harvard of the East—that we’re a credible institution marked by our stamp of distinction,” Dr. Lee reveals while gleaming in sheer excitement.
“我想扎根于多元文化的研究工作，因此选择英语专业。当我回到马来西亚，也是将语文带回家与报效祖国。我想回来，虽然我有所谓DES number(师资培训)在进行中，这能让我在英国教学。” 她补充说，把热情投入教学一直是她无止境的追求。