Sunday November 20, 2011
Maintaining the edge
By RICHARD LIM
Despite the many challenges in the world of IT, Malaysia’s first private varsity continues to pride itself on producing employable graduates.
STARTING first isn’t always an enviable distinction.
Fundamentally, it isn’t quite the same as finishing first and at times, the first mover tag may actually pass as a disadvantage, as there is often increased attention and the weight of expectation.
And as far as private higher education institutions are concerned, the first mover must maintain its competitive advantage and justify its billing.
All this – and more – is constantly on Prof Datuk Dr Muhamad Rasat Muhamad’s mind.
As president and chief executive officer of Multimedia University (MMU), Malaysia’s first private varsity, Prof Muhamad Rasat is tasked with the responsibility of charting a significant epoch for the varsity and its 21,000-odd students, of which around 20% are international students.
Aware of the task at hand, the CEO has warmed to the challenge of ensuring that the institution, first established as the Institute of Telecommunication and Information Technology by Telekom Malaysia in 1994, remains a preferred choice for students.
“MMU has long been associated with premier performance and we must ask: where do we go from here?” he says.
“Technology changes very fast and it is challenging to maintain what we have done and do it better.”
Emphasising the fact that MMU was never a comprehensive university, Prof Muhamad Rasat says the trick is to expand the varsity’s niche areas in line with advancements in technology.
“MMU has adapted successfully to recent innovations and this has been seen from the early days when the varsity first offered business, management and law programmes,” he explains.
“Today, we are venturing into new fields of creative media and cyber law and this is a good challenge as the field of IT and telecommunications is very competitive not just in the country, but in the region.”
However, having the right syllabi and tweaking it consistently – like how the university keeps abreast of pertinent IP laws – is only one box checked and for Prof Muhamad Rasat, the endeavour has to be achieved without compromising the institution’s focus on industrial needs.
There is no point, he says, in producing graduates that need further training before impacting the workplace and the varsity is committed to maintaining its reputation of grooming workplace-ready individuals.
This is trickier than it sounds, as the needs of today’s businesses need to be balanced with tomorrow’s potential.
“We are not training our students for the current workplace but for the one they will enter in four to five years’ time,” he says.
“This is tough to comprehend if we lose focus and we must equip each and every student with the right theoretical and practical base to be ready for technological changes, say, five to 10 years down the line.”
To better prepare its students for any eventuality, MMU has roped in many industrial partners – something the varsity has traditionally done well – and multinational corporations have a strong presence on campus.
Microsoft, Linux, Huawei, Cisco and Juniper Networks are some of the many big names and their contributions are pivotal to ensure that students are exposed to the latest technology, as well as the right bases in knowledge and application.
“By exposing students and staff to the latest industry-grade technology, we are creating interest that often has positive correlation with performance,” says Prof Muhamad Rasat.
“Lecturers then bring that technological orientation into the classroom and this gives lessons new meaning as they won’t be based purely on textbooks. There is a real problem-solving focus.
“It is worth noting that many of our educators have experience in consultancy and have trained with various companies. By solving industrial and production line problems, they inculcate the right elements and drive at MMU.”
The industry-centred approach seems to be paying off — according to Prof Muhamad Rasat, approximately 30% of MMU’s students receive job offers before they complete the course and around 30% receive offers within three months after their final exams.
In fact, the varsity’s 2010 statistics show that around 94% of its students are employed and many of those who are unaccounted for are running their own startups.
Although the statistics paint a rosy picture, Prof Muhamad Rasat stresses that MMU can never afford to rest on its laurels and the varsity is constantly looking at new ways to promote creativity and innovation.
The varsity also provides avenues for creativity and students are encouraged to explore and push the boundaries of conventional wisdom.
“At MMU, we believe that it is important to create interest amongst our students,” says Prof Muhamad Rasat.
“If they find learning interesting, they will aspire to go beyond what is taught in class.
“Sound knowledge and exposure to the industry are important, but so is the ability to follow and initiate change. We seek to inculcate this in students through unique opportunities to pursue industry-centred projects and research work at modern labs and programmes.
“We are conscious that we must be flexible as creativity is often compromised if one is too systematic.
“We are moving on from lower-level training to independent learning. To me, this is important if we want to stay ahead of the competition like how we started,” he says.
Multimedia University is a contributor to the Star Education Fund.