With MUST regarded as success, what hope for future of quality higher education?

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!

  1. #1 by Loh on Wednesday, 28 March 2007 - 3:22 pm

    ///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!///

    Yes, MUST has not attained the enrolment target envisaged in 2002, but it has not used the old NEP formula to fill the vacancies, and for that we should congratulate MUST for accepting only the qualified candidates. Having said that, the Minister would be failing in his duties for not inforing the Parliament why MUST has failed in recruiting the planned number of candidates. Were there conditions which had prevented the intake of qualified candidates, or was it a failure of the education policies which prevented higher institutions in the countries to produce the required number of candidates for MUST?

  2. #2 by azk on Wednesday, 28 March 2007 - 3:57 pm

    It failed bcuz government was pissed off there was no mandatory graduation quota for BUMI in MUST.

  3. #3 by azk on Wednesday, 28 March 2007 - 3:59 pm

    Had MUST taken the footsteps of UM in giving “free CGPA upgrade” to maintain number of Bumiputera graduates, it could have survived today, although not visible in any ranking.

    As for the MIT link, we will still be permitted to boast about it if we pay them few millions of tax payers’ money each year.

  4. #4 by kurakura on Wednesday, 28 March 2007 - 7:08 pm

    “Applicants are expected to have a minimum Upper Second Class degree or a Master of Science degree in a relevant field (or an equivalent qualification) from a university of acceptable standing, to qualify for the MSc or PhD programme respectively”

    I quoted this from the MUST website’s admission requirement.

    If this standard really adhered to, there is no surprise in the low enrollment of Postgrad students because chances are those who have such qualifications will apply to more prestigious universities and probably secure a fellowship or scholarship.

    However, I doubt that’s the core problem…it must be something else that is impeding its growth.

    Also I must add that a large pool of quality undergrad students is usually required to sustain a respectable amount of postgrad students. Even so….the thesis/work the postgrad students must be of quality and on par with the change of technology and not just another piece of paper for the sake of it.

    Just my opinion though.

  5. #5 by 4th_wife on Wednesday, 28 March 2007 - 7:45 pm

    No hope, simply no hope…this is bolehland, bodohland in the making. What do you expect?

    Believe it or not even diplomas and degrees from our local Tunku Abdul Rahman College (TARC) which has been established for many years, and accepted widely by the Malaysian private sector, is not recognised by Jabatan Perkhidmatan Awan (JPA). Hence any TARC graduate seeking employment with the civil service will be rejected outright.

    Can the Government will take immediate actions to rectify the wrongs and demonstrate that the Government has no intent on marginalising Malaysians of non-Malay descent?

  6. #6 by ENDANGERED HORNBILL on Wednesday, 28 March 2007 - 8:31 pm

    How I wish the problem with Malaysian tertiary education is only MUST and that the problem stays with MUST and ends with MUST.

    Truth is the problems are so pervasive. If anyone asks me for my honest opinion, I would confess that I would not send any of my children to any local public university even with a full scholarship! Why? Only one reason: I don’t want them to lose those 4 very pliable and formative years under some lame masters just to get some junk degree. These are crucial years & one does not repeat the same degree twice. So one should study under the best masters because they shape and mould you in their best traditions. Everybody must pick their masters and universities subject to the usual constraints…but, neither MUST nor MU or UPM or whatever local univ. would rank anywhere in my preferences.

    Sorry, this is ONLY my personal opinion and does not apply to any one else. You are free to disagree and to scream your head off.

    AS for Mustapha’s defence of MUST, ha, ha…have you ever seen a drowning man clutching a straw? You haven’t? Then picture Mustapha struggling to stay afloat with a bundle of straws in his hands.

    The other imagery you can think of is to picture Mustapha trying to build the foundations of our universities on straws….real lightweight stuff. I think AAB’s 2057 target is for all these people.

  7. #7 by hasilox on Wednesday, 28 March 2007 - 9:05 pm

    If this is success, then, the sole objective of MUST was to fail. MUST has failed terribly. Therefore, it is a success!

    We have education minister of such quality. What hope can we have for bolehland’s education?

  8. #8 by Kingkong on Wednesday, 28 March 2007 - 9:30 pm


    You said it right straight to the face and have my support. I’ll never send my children to such junk universities to learn all the wrong things.

    You want to be good in your trade you go and search for a good master, a good teacher.

    A good master trains up all the good apprentices, and students of high achievement reflect how good a university is! Unemployable graduates reflect that they have received training from the goons.
    The half past six government reflects the poor prime minister, and only a half past six head could train up a team of half past six people.

    As a result the whole country is half past six, and it is true as you can see it at every corner of the country.

  9. #9 by toyolbuster on Wednesday, 28 March 2007 - 10:57 pm

    government support, to the tune of at least RM100 million, and its “smart partnership” with MIT.

    It is indeed a very smart partnership, but with the other MIT (Minister’s Interest Toll). In the name of creating a genius society, spending 100mil, who would protest. And thats another cool xxmil into their coffer.

    Building the world biggest court complex costing 290mil , with only 20odd million population. Who would protest. Pingggg. another xxxmil in the coffer.

    Building a new istana costing some 400mil when Malaysia still takes great pride in the existing one. who would dare to protest. pinggggg. another xxxmil into a much bigger coffer.

    ok lah cukup. we know now its not a Half Past 6 gomen. It is indeed a Half Part 6 parasites.

  10. #10 by smeagroo on Wednesday, 28 March 2007 - 11:02 pm

    their standard is much lower just like their towerings quality is sub-standard. people aiming for 6′ they are happy with 4′ + stilts aka crutches.

  11. #11 by sheriff singh on Thursday, 29 March 2007 - 12:10 am

    If I am not mistaken, MUST is on a recruitment drive for new students. Heard their ads on Light and Easy radio I think, these past few days.

    Looks like there is a little life still there but for how long?

  12. #12 by chongwah on Thursday, 29 March 2007 - 1:35 am

    Malaysia always like to boast on something, especially, whenever a collaboration that could be tagged to some established ‘brand’ like MIT. Great idea, but idealess implementation as usual.

    We used to have a branded U too. ‘UM’! As long as the politics soaks in, never dream of bringing back the glory day…

  13. #13 by sotong on Thursday, 29 March 2007 - 7:21 am

    People are more educated but also more divided, let alone the many unemployable graduates.

    This is a result of decades of failed and grossly ineffective education policies.

    The innocent people are paying a heavy price for these narrow, discriminative and short sighted policies of the incompetent leaders/education ministers.

  14. #14 by Maddresearch on Thursday, 29 March 2007 - 8:20 am

    The public tertiary education system is bad because it was messed up by policiticians since 1970 (using the quota system).

    Now the private tertiary education is worse becuase it messed up by the politicians who set up funny policy (such as if you are malaysian you must pass bahasa and studying LAN subjects) together with the greedy businessmen who wanted their bottom line and ignored the welfare of the academic staff.

  15. #15 by ENDANGERED HORNBILL on Thursday, 29 March 2007 - 9:06 am

    Over the last week I’ve agreed to 2 young Malay graduates of our local universities to give them FREE English language tuition….once, maybe, twice a week. Let’s see. They read some ENglish but are too diffident to speak the language…tongue-tied.

    I’m no bloody racist. I hate racism and racists regardless from which country or colour. Personally, I like many of the Malays and have many Malays for my friends. They are nice people on an individual basis. It’s their politicians who are bloody corrupt. These hypocritical politikus have hijacked, plundered and squandered the country’s resources under the guise of NEP etc… That’s why they are ‘politikus’ because they gnaw away at the fabric of society and create gaping holes in the harmonious structures that bind our country so that they can ‘divide and rule’ through their policies of fear much like what they accused the Britiish of doing pre-Independence.

    Back to the Universities fiasco, Mustapha should just walk across the causeway & see some examples of the way those guys manage their collaboration with foreign universities. Bukannya susah. And it’s not even rocket science. And the beauty is you don’t even need a first class honours Economics degree to see the true picture unless you want to be an ostrich or a ‘katak dibawah tempurong’. I mean all those hot air about uplifting the quality of universities year in and year out…..your Professors at Melbourne (or was it Monash?) would be thoroughly ashamed of your report card!

    Hionestly, I can train someone with a good general degree to perform better. Nothing magical….just use your head, mate.

  16. #16 by Ah Hong on Thursday, 29 March 2007 - 9:08 am

    just been to kalana square yesterday, again MUST at the ground floor and all the labs, lecture halls on upper stairs seem like Ghost Building….. what a failure….

  17. #17 by Bigjoe on Thursday, 29 March 2007 - 9:10 am

    Can anyone really remember a time where the BN actually admitted it failed at something?

    They are politicians. If they don’t lie, we are already ahead of the game.

    The issue is does MUST failure have anything to do with where the rest of education is going. Sdr. Lim argument is that they lie about MUST, they will lie about the rest of higher education and then the result is the same.

    Maybe. OK. Big Maybe.

    Its not necessary because MUST is small. The rest is bigger and the statistical probability that everything will fail is must smaller. BUT its a Big Maybe that very few will actually not be mess. Which means the benefit of our education system will be disporportionately elitist. This itself is a natural tendency but what it will mean is that, given our size and resources poured, the elitism will actually be highly unfairly worst.

    Its actually about UMNOputraism more than anything else.

    The greatest untold caveat about the NEP is that the only way that it will lessen the divide between bumiputras and non-bumis is for the elitist bumis to be so far ahead of the elite non-bumis. This is because the differences between the UMNOputras and the rest is only going to get worst precisely because they can’t tell the truth about this kinds of issues.

  18. #18 by pulau_sibu on Thursday, 29 March 2007 - 9:25 am

    No one paid attention to MUST because it was the product of Mahathir. Abdullah would look after his own creations so that he will gain credit. Why should he do the work and let Mahathir get the credit? There is no need to argue about this kind of issue from a different angle. Just change the name to AUST instead of MUST

  19. #19 by Unladen Swallow on Thursday, 29 March 2007 - 9:44 am

    As pointed out by kurakura, this could be one of the reasons why the enrolment numbers are so low. Granted, they’d have to follow the standards of MIT in order to obtain the best of the best, the cream of the crop, whatever you want to call it. But even then, standards could be lowered a little, to lets say a Lower Second Class (GDP 2.0) to allow more students in, yet keep its level as an associate institution.

    The IELTS/TOEFL requirement could be another factor (albeit annoying to those who are already proficient in English), but it’s one that I recommend be kept, for the sake of both the institution and the graduate.

  20. #20 by shortie kiasu on Thursday, 29 March 2007 - 10:08 am

    The power that be should admit the failure and wind up MUST to prevent further bleeding of taxpayers sweat money. After 5 years in existence, the minister should know well it is a total failure, targeted 500 againt 69, the shortfall is unpardonable.

    We can’t hold anybody in power responsible for any failure, so just close down and be done with it rather than continuing to pump good money into the drain.

  21. #21 by ENDANGERED HORNBILL on Thursday, 29 March 2007 - 10:44 am

    Actually, the problems with tertiary education including MUST began way back the pipeline in the education delivery system…(i.e. to bring it within the hype about public delivery systems.)

    Now, Kerismuddin has added another 2 sen of hot air to his ten sens’ worth so far:

    Hishammuddin Wants Religious Schools To Be On Par With Best In The World

    KUALA LUMPUR, March 29 (Bernama) — Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein Wednesday said that he wanted to see religious schools in the country to be among the best in the world.
    “There is no reason why they (religious schools) cannot be at par with the best in the world, including schools in the United Kingdom. It can be done,” he said.
    To another question on the involvement of teachers in politics, he said that they should not have a place in the nation’s education system.

    “Teachers must place importance in educating their charges above their personal interests, because with only 15 years to go before Vision 2020 (Malaysia’s goal to attain developed nation status by 2020), we do not have much time to produce the human capital needed to face the intense competition that will be prevalent in the world by then,” he added.

    Seems like Kerismuddin does not know that it’s no more 2020 but 2057, so he has another 50 years to screw the goals, if he doesn’t move the goal posts by then!

  22. #22 by jango ang on Thursday, 29 March 2007 - 12:40 pm

    I have said it before and I am reiterating it – our education system has long gone to the dogs. even the dogs wont go near it. the only salvation is to bring back english as the co-national language of education. anything less than that is unacceptable. Can you just imagine, i read most of the top scorers scored 1A in SPM english. this is scandalous. and most of them won’t even get a pass in the paper if they were to sit it in the sixties and seventies.

  23. #23 by k1980 on Thursday, 29 March 2007 - 1:14 pm

    Does an enrollment of just 10 students justifythe enormous costs of hosting such a large facility? This is like opening an new 100 hectare zoo and then keeping a couple of monkeys and a dozen rabbits in it

  24. #24 by sotong on Thursday, 29 March 2007 - 1:24 pm

    If one is responsible, one is accountable.

    So far, no leader/minister had come forward to accept responsibility for decades of failed policies.

  25. #25 by undergrad2 on Thursday, 29 March 2007 - 9:14 pm

    HORNBILL: Honestly, I can train someone with a good general degree to perform better. Nothing magical….just use your head, mate.

    The difference between the ‘general degree’ holders and the ‘honors degree’ holders (never mind the ‘first class honors’ degree holders since they are in a class of their own – unless, of course, they come from local universities after the mid 70s and you may want to take a closer look at them) in most cases, is not the lack of knowledge but in the ability to use the knowledge they have and how they express themselves. It is a skill which can be acquired – but admittedly only up to a point. I have among my friends three first class degree holders from foreign universities. It is true first class degree holders are in a category of their own like the cigarette advertisement some time ago of DuMaurier, ‘the one that stands above all others’. They have a bit of that something that most of us don’t.

    Ph. D holders are bad communicators (poor communication skills) and do not work well as a team. I should know since my superior has Ph.D. He is better off doing research and development. The same argument could be made against ‘first class’ degree holders. Generally, they do not make good workers but are excellent researchers.

    This is not to disparage the ‘general degree’ holders but they are actually graduates with conditional passes. But among them are people who would make good employees. Exams do not tell us everything since there are some among us who just do not do well in exams but are reasonably intelligent, hardworking and exhibit good people skills. If you apply for a middle manager position in my organization – and if I happen to be the interviewer – given the choice between a first class and a general degree holder, I would take another look at the general degree holder.

  26. #26 by sheriff singh on Friday, 30 March 2007 - 12:03 am

    Who says Malaysian Universities no standard huh? Even the little red dot wants our graduates. Well, at least some.

    “March 29, 2007, 9.49 pm (Singapore time)
    M’sian-trained docs to practise in Singapore

    MALAYSIA-TRAINED doctors can now practise here more easily, with the country’s two premier universities getting the nod from the Health Ministry (MOH).
    The first Asean universities to make the grade, they are among 20 newly accredited institutes which will help alleviate the shortage of doctors here.

    The Universiti Malaya and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia are among the most prestigious institutions in the country. Aside from these two, the other 18 are from Canada, China, India, Pakistan, South Korea, Sri Lanka and the United States.

    With these latest additions, doctors with degrees from 140 universities throughout Europe, Asia and North America are approved to work here.

    In a statement, the MOH said recognising the additional universities would help hospitals recruit good doctors to meet rising demand.

    As at end-2006, there were 250 positions for doctors waiting to be filled in public hospitals.

    Singapore currently has 7,611 registered doctors, including 2,286 who were trained in foreign institutions. The Singapore Medical Council currently has 86 Malaysian doctors on its register.

    Universiti Malaya sees between 150 and 160 medical graduates each year. Since 1969, there have been 5,000 doctors graduating from its medical faculty.

    The other Malysian university could not be reached for comment.

    Non-specialist doctors from the newly-recognised schools will be able to practise as fully-registered doctors after four years of supervision. Previously, they had to work under supervision in an approved institution for six years.

    Foreign specialists have to work under supervision for three years.

    Since 2003, when there were 20 recognised foreign schools, the Health Ministry has gradually opened the door to an increasing number of them.

    Hiring foreign doctors moves the country closer to its goal of having one doctor for each hospitalised patient in public hospitals, as the local universities cannot meet demand fast enough.

    Currently, the ratio is one doctor for every two hospitalised patients.

  27. #27 by grumpy on Friday, 30 March 2007 - 12:40 am

    Hi Endangered Hornbill:
    You mentioned in your 9:06 AM posting:
    …”your Professors at Melbourne (or was it Monash?) would be thoroughly ashamed of your report card!”
    Can you please tell me what that Melbourne/Monash thing is about? Thanks.

  28. #28 by grumpy on Friday, 30 March 2007 - 1:00 am

    Sheriff Singh:
    That is like an additional 4 years of housemanship. Not a very good deal after scrutiny. But better than none for most of these imported doctors.

  29. #29 by ENDANGERED HORNBILL on Friday, 30 March 2007 - 9:05 am

    grumpy Says:

    March 30th, 2007 at 12:40 am

    Oh, Grumpy – Mustapah, the Higher EDucation Minister, is a graduate with a first-class honours degree in Economics from one Australian university. I’m just saying he is intellectually bright enough for a first-class honours but not independent enough to write and speak honestly and stand up for the Truth. And do something more drastic to pull up the horrendous standards of our universities. (By the way, I was walking past the library of one of our so-called premier universities and I was shocked to overhear two girls, one Chinese and one Malay speaking audibly to each other. And the Malay girl said: “I is…..”. My mind almost collapsed but it did go into a tailspin!

    Undergrad 2: I think it is quite possible in the examination-style of the 6o’s and 70’s to get first-class honours degrees largely through rote-learning. I’m tempted to think (and, hopefully) that today’s first-class honours would emphasise more on independent thinking. I think there isn’t that much research at undergraduate levels, that’s more like at Masters and Ph.D levels.

  30. #30 by pulau_sibu on Saturday, 31 March 2007 - 4:00 am

    Chinese tend to look down at bumi students. But if we do a survey, I afraid there are more bumi who hold a PhD comapred to non bumi. Non-bumi are good in only studying the books, and when coming to doctoral level research, there are not too many. of course, the NEP created more PhD bumi by sending them overseas to get the degrees whereas non-bumi wealth has been used up after finishing the first degree.

  31. #31 by grumpy on Saturday, 31 March 2007 - 5:31 am

    I thought this is about MUST..
    But anyway, to counter your argument, you don’t need wealth to do PhD. That is a misconception that I have been trying to tell Malaysians. If you are well qualified, US universities will support your PhD until completion by allowing you to work as teaching or research assistants. Do you realize some graduate students in the US drive better Japanese cars than some of their professors? Only people who fail to get these assistantships will enter as paying graduate students. In the US, if you meet minimum qualifications, you can enter their graduate programs (initially a master degree but will be transferred to PhD if you pass general doctoral exam, which can be a killer). Anybody will be allowed to do that. But if you want admission WITH financial support, then that is more competitive. In your case, if the Malaysian govt wants to pay for their PhD students, the US universities will be more than glad to take them. That doesn’t mean they are better than others because the better ones get assistantships. Note that to get an assistantship is a worldwide competition because it is a dream of every undergraduates around the world to go to the US for graduate studies with financial support.
    As for the greater number of bumi PhDs, I am not sure but let’s say you are right. Ask them where there are now and where are the non-bumi PhDs now? I won’t be surprised the non-bumi PhDs are presently doing outstanding research outside Malaysia whereas the bumis are just relaxing in the public universities in Malaysia. Just remember that it is the survival of the fittest out there. The non-bumi PhDs have to work hard to survive out there in the world or they have to come back. Pure and simple.

  32. #32 by dawsheng on Saturday, 31 March 2007 - 10:08 pm

    This is another one of those special cases.. isn’ it? Old story. This one is old. You see, some people; never change. There is this type of people in our country, and everyone know, and not surprisingly being very aware themselves, is simply amusing. This is wonderful.. I must tell myself that this is wonderful… This is lalaland.. What do you expect?

  33. #33 by Maddresearch on Monday, 2 April 2007 - 8:58 am

    According to ENDANGERED HORNBILL on 30th March 07

    We shocking as our YB Mustapah, “the Higher EDucation Minister, is a graduate with a first-class honours degree in Economics from one Australian university”.

    We would like to seek advise from YB when he was studying in Australia, did he require by Australia government to have Australian studies, Australian Moral Studies, Australian Civilisation studies, Christinity studies?????

    Or if you are an overseas graduate, please tell us you are “force” (Compulsory) to study subjects by the local education governing authority other than subject specific areas!

    If not why our higher education authority imposing all these (LAN Compulsory subjects) extra studies on our tertiary students???

    All these studies like ethics, corporate govenance etc etc, were incorporated in the subject specific areas, so is there a need of time and money be wasted by our tertiary students on those compulsory subjects!!!!

    Is this another “Malaysia Boleh” situation!!!

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