Two Newcastle University medical students have been stabbed to death in Borneo following reports of a row in a bar.
Fourth-year students Neil Dalton and Aidan Brunger, both 22, were on the Malaysian part of the island on attachment to a hospital in Kuching, the university's acting vice-chancellor, Professor Tony Stevenson, said.
KILLED: Aidan Brunger
Reports from the island claim the Britons were attacked and killed in the street by a gang of four local men after a row in a bar in Kuching early this morning.
Professor Jane Calvert, Dean of Undergraduate Studies for Newcastle University Medical School, said the pair were "excellent" and "highly committed" students who were doing well at their studies.
She said: "We heard this morning about the tragic death of two of our students who were working out in east Malaysia.
VIDEO: Team mates of Neil Dalton chant his name as part of a competition between National Association of Medical Schools football teams to post the best football song online
"They were doing what thousands of medical students do every year, they were on an elective to experience clinical practice in a different setting, to learn from that and enhance their practice when they came back.
"I didn't know them personally but they were well known by the programme director and teachers on the course and we are all so shocked and saddened by this.
"They were excellent students, they were doing really well with their studies, they were highly committed and coming back next year to work as doctors.
"Aidan was aspiring to do some medical research on his return, Neil was going straight into his final year and it's such a tragic thing to occur."
The Malaysian state news agency Bernama reported that the attack happened at 4.15am in the Jalan Padungan area of Kuching in Sarawak province, in the west of the Malaysian part of Borneo.
Sarawak deputy police commissioner Datuk Dr Chai Khin Chung told the agency that the fight broke out after an argument in a bar over the students being too noisy.
He added that the Britons had been due to finish their training at the local hospital on Friday and four suspects are in custody.
Prof Stevenson said in a statement: "We were informed this morning of the very sad news that two of our fourth-year medical students working at a hospital in Kuching, Borneo, have been tragically killed.
"Neil Dalton and Aidan Brunger, both 22, were on a six-week work placement, along with five other medical students, to put the skills they had learnt during their time here at the university into practice.
"This has come as a huge shock to us all. Our thoughts are with their families and friends at this very difficult time.
"Two of our members of staff are flying out to Kuching as soon as possible and we are working closely with the British High Commissioner to support the other students and to co-ordinate their return to the UK."
The Foreign Office said it was aware of the deaths and was providing consular assistance to the men's families.
Aidan Brunger in an image supplied by his family
Prof Calvert said she had been on holiday to Kuching herself earlier this year and was particularly shocked that something like this could happen there.
"I don't think it related to the fact the students were in this particular location, it was just a very, very unfortunate occurrence," she said.
"For all our students going on elective, all the risks are looked at and we're very careful not to let them go to places that are known to be of high risk.
"Where they were working is a very nice place. I was there myself earlier in the year and I was especially shocked to hear it had happened there."
Mr Brunger ran the Great North Run last September, raising nearly £400 for charity.
Andy Sallnow, head of events at Prostate Cancer UK, said: "Aidan ran the Great North Run for Prostate Cancer UK last year and he raised several hundred pounds for our work to beat prostate cancer.
"We are very saddened to hear news of his death in such devastating circumstances. Our sympathy goes out to all his family and friends."
Both the men's families declined to speak to reporters today.