In response to my query during the 2007 budget debate on the Higher Education Ministry in Parliament on December 5 last year, Higher Education Minister Datuk Mustapha Muhamad held up Malaysia University of Science and Technology (MUST) as an example of a successful “smart partnership” with an “international centre of excellence in research”, i.e. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Mustapha was clearly misinformed or he had misled Parliament, for a week later, he was reported as saying that the government was taking a hard look at the future of MUST, as the enrolemnt of the post-graduate university had dwindled and was operating with about 10 students left. MUST boasted research tie-ups with the world-renowned MIT when it opened in 2002.
I could not believe my eyes this morning when I read Mustapha’s reply to my question asking for the reasons for the failure of MUST despite government support, to the tune of at least RM100 million, and its “smart partnership” with MIT.
Mustapha’s reply raises the larger question as to what hope is there for the future of quality higher education in Malaysia when the Higher Education Minister is still stuck in denial – continuing to regard MUST as a successful example of international “smart partnership” when it is a major flop with MIT washing its hands of any “collaboration”!
This is Mustapha’s reply:
“Untuk makluman Ahli Yang Berhormat, Universiti Sains dan Teknologi Malaysia (MUST) tidak gagal seperti yang didakwa oleh Ahli Yang Berhormat Ipoh Timur kerana sehingga Disember 2006, jumlah keseluruhan enrolmen pelajar di MUST adalah seramai 69 orang.
“Daripada jumlah ini, sebanyak 13 pelajar telahpun menyelesaikan tesis mereka dan sedang menunggu pengesahan rasmi berhubung dengan tarikh graduasi daripada Lembaga Penilai Akademik MUST, manakala sebanyak 18 pelajar mengambil “leave of absence” (maksimum selama 2 semester) daripada pengajian. Sehingga kini MUST telah diberikan kelulusan untuk mengendalikan 9 kursus pengajian iaitu 7 program di peringkat Sarjana dan 2 program di peringkat kedoktoran yang merangkumi di dalam bidang kejuruteraan, pengangkutan dan bioteknologi
“Kementerian Pengajian Tinggi sentiasa memantau kemajuan prestasi semua institusi di bawahnya termasuk MUST dalam semua aspek terutamanya dari segi jumlah pelajar yang memohon mengikuti pengajian di institusi tersebut dan jumlah pelajar bergraduat.”
The prime mover behind MUST was Datuk Effendi Norwawi, whose private investment holding company, Kuching-based Encorp Group Sdn. Bhd. formed a consortium with the Selangor State Government to establish MUST Ehsan Foundation to enter into the collaboration with MIT to establish the post-graduate university.
MUST was conceived to create “a pool of technology experts, an essential ingredient to attaining the national objectives under Vision 2020″. It aimed to have 500 students in five years and 5,000 students in 10 years.
Instead, according to Mustapha, we have MUST which had a total enrolment of only 69 post-graduate students in the past five years since its establishment in 2002, and it is now left with 38 post-graduate students in nine academic programmes — a far cry from the target of 500 students in five years by 2007!
A full and satisfactory explanation on MUST by Mustapha is clearly warranted, and there is no better place for him to do this than during his winding-up next week in the current parliamentary debate on the Royal Address, when he should also explain the outcome of the “hard look” which he had asked a group of experts to undertake last year on the future of MUST.
Equally pertinent is also the future success of the Ninth Malaysia Plan, as Effendi is the Minister in charge of ensuring the success of the RM220 billion Ninth Malaysia Plan. It is horrendous to think what would happen if the Ninth Malaysia Plan goes the way of MUST!