Sunday April 1, 2007
A pioneering success
By SIMRIT KAUR
Multimedia University was the country’s first private university. Ten years on, it has become a model for others.
MULTIMEDIA University (MMU) president Prof Datuk Dr Ghauth Jasmon could not say no when he was given the opportunity to lead a new university in December 1996.
He then set about translating his vision of what a university should be into reality.
Key among them was making English the medium of instruction at MMU, recruiting the best staff regardless of race or nationality, and setting high entry requirements for students.
“We realised that to be a true destination for higher education, only the best standards would suffice,” says Prof Ghauth.
One of the first people he convinced to follow him was MMU vice-president for R&D and academic development Prof Datuk Dr Chuah Hean-Teik.
Prof Chuah was a lecturer at UM’s engineering faculty and one of Prof Ghauth’s former students.
He became the founding dean of engineering at MMU.
“I was doing well at UM but left to be part of an exciting experiment, namely to find out whether a private university in Malaysia could survive and do well like universities in the United States and South Korea,” he says.”
“I was given the opportunity to shape a faculty the way I think it should be, a rare opportunity for any academic.”
AT MMU, Prof Chuah helped establish several new programmes, some of which were offered for the first time in Malaysia, such as optical engineering and nanotechnology.
A national mission
This year, MMU celebrates its 10th anniversary.
The theme is Brains, Knowledge and Wisdom: 10 Years and Beyond to reflect MMU’s dedication towards knowledge creation and dissemination over the past 10 years
Prof Ghauth says that MMU was the guinea pig to test whether a private university was viable.
“I wanted the curricula of all programmes to be designed to meet the needs of a competitive work environment.
“I also wanted the syllabus reviewed and updated every academic session to meet current trends.”
One of the areas MMU is noted for is entrepreneurship development.
“I have been encouraging the university to go on the path of commercialisation and entrepreneurship through various programmes that we have developed.
When MMU was first set up, the aim was to produce graduates competent in IT and multimedia so that it could be a catalyst for the development of the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC).
It was then known as the Information Technology and Telecommunications Institute (ITTM) and served as a training base for Telekom Malaysia Bhd (TM) staff.
In October 1996, when then Education Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak invited TM to set up the first private varsity in Malaysia, ITTM became known as Universiti Telekom.
With an initial funding of about RM750mil from TM, two campuses were built in Malacca and Cyberjaya.
To coincide with the opening of the Cyberjaya campus, it was renamed Multimedia University in 1999.
MMU currently offers courses in engineering, information technology, management, law, accounting, business studies, economics, finance and creative multimedia.
From less than 1,200 students in its first intake, MMU now has a student population of 21,000, including over 3,000 international students from 81 countries.
Its location within the MSC allows MMU to capture and capitalise on technology transfer from industries, and to create new inventions, innovations and technology to benefit the nation.
MMU students also have direct input from key industry players including visits from key personnel at Microsoft and IBM.
They regularly give insights into industry practices.
Prof Ghauth is pleased that MMU became self-sustaining after only three years in operation.
“We are entirely self-funded. We fully financed our second phase, which cost RM150mil, and will channel all excess excess funds into further developing MMU.”
Prof Chuah lists several factors that have contributed to MMU’s success, such as setting high targets for the staff, practising transparency and meritocracy, and being able to adapt to market demands fast without compromising fundamentals.
MMU also has good networks with almost all the big players in industry, enabling it to produce graduates who are highly desired.
Prof Ghauth adds that MMU’s programmes aim to develop the students’ entrepreneurial spirit.
“Our vision is to develop a critical mass of MMU students, graduates, and staff who become successful entrepreneurs and are job creators instead of job seekers.”
The teaching of entrepreneurial skills is incorporated into the syllabus, in a compulsory two-credit course for all students.
In addition, MMU’s Centre of Commercialisation and Technopreneur Development (CCTD), which was set up to nurture the entrepreneurial spirit among staff, students and alumni, provides funding and expertise to current and former MMU students. The centre also helps them establish start-up companies.
On future plans, Prof Ghauth says MMU will devote its efforts to becoming a research and entrepreneurial university.
“We want to excel in R&D. We plan to upgrade some of our 25 Centres of Excellence to institutes, especially in key areas such as photonics and e-learning.
“We want to be a truly international university and aim to have 30% international students by 2010.
“We will also expand into the life sciences such as biotech, bio-engineering and bio-informatics.”
MMU facts and figures
· RM1bil total development cost
l RM44mil external R&D funding
· 21,000 students
· 3,100 international students
· 13,000 graduates to date
· 115 approved programmes, from diploma to doctorate level
· 25 Centres of Excellence (COE)
· 96% of its graduates employed within six months
· 30% of IT graduates obtained jobs before their final exam
· Sponsored 46 different start-ups, 22 of which are still active