In February last year Malaysiakini exposed that a ‘premier’ private university, the Malaysian University of Science and Technology (MUST), is struggling to stay afloat in spite of receiving RM100 million in government grants from 2001 to 2006.
MUST was set up in 2000 by MUST Ehsan Foundation, headed by former cabinet minister Effendi Norwawi as a premier private university in collaboration with the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Three years earlier, MIT received US$25 million to establish MUST. However the MIT agreement lapsed in 2005.
Last year only about 200 students enrolled, far below the targeted 5000 students.
In response to the Malaysiakini expose, MUST President Dr Leong Choon Heng claimed that MUST was in the process of embarking on “aggressive marketing” including moving the campus from Kelana Jaya to the Strand, Kota Damansara.
Yet more than a year later, MUST is still struggling. The campus move has not taken place. More importantly, after a recent meeting with a group of MUST students and lecturers, they raised many pertinent questions about their welfare and future that they feel is not being protected by MUST.
We were made to understand that a batch of MUST Students were promised free accommodation yet PTPTN still deducted the accommodation charges from the students. It is reported that MUST has also been delaying payments to accommodation and enrolment agents up to eighteen months, resulting in students being moved around from one accommodation to another.
We were also made to understand that the first batch of foundation students that entered MUST in 2008 consists of only two students while the first batch of degree students that entered MUST in 2009 has only four students left.
We were informed that many lecturers are being paid late and have refused to teach until they receive their salaries, resulting in unnecessary stress and inconvenience for the students. We have also been informed that staff members are currently offered three-month contracts that diminish their morale.
A full and satisfactory explanation by the Ministry of Higher Education and MUST is required on the matter in light of the RM100 million taxpayers’ money having been invested and the plight of the students and lecturers of the institution.
It is sad to note that other MIT collaborations globally have been more successful – such as the Singapore-MIT Alliance (SMA) between MIT, the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University; and the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in the United Arab Emirates.
Ironically, SMA came about when the MIT team came to Malaysia to sign the agreement with MUST and had a stopover in Singapore. Yet, SMA has grown in leaps and bounds while MUST has floundered.