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Tuesday, August 10, 1999
Malaysia's stalled MIT-led varsity may be revived
KUALA LUMPUR--A stalled project to create an elite research university for Malaysia's brightest science, engineering and technology graduates may be revived by end of this month.
Professor Fred Moavenzadeh of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who is an advisor to the project, said he was told the government is willing to foot half of the RM200 million (US$52.6m) needed to finance the project for five years provided the private sector contributed the other half.
"The Cabinet is expected to act upon the government funding by the end of August. Should that funding be approved we will be able to go ahead at the expected pace," he said.
Prof Moavenzadeh added MIT has an understanding with mobile phone-maker and chip giant Motorola that they will match the government contribution.
Modelled after the prestigious MIT, the Malaysia University of Science and Technology (MUST) was to be a private teaching and research university to overcome Malaysia's lackings in technological research.
It was to have been built on 40.5-hectare site in Ulu Bernam in the state of Selangor allocated by the Selangor State Development Corporation.
MIT was providing its expertise to set up the academic, research and management structure of the new university under its global Technology Development Program, while the new MUST-Ehsan Foundation was set up to head the project.
A US$25-million agreement between MIT and the MUST-Ehsan Foundation was signed in January 1997, after two years of negotiations, and witnessed by Education Minister Najib Tun Razak.
A pioneer batch of students was supposed to have commenced post-graduate courses as early as September 1998.
Professor Moavenzadeh said the plans to build the new varsity "significantly slowed down" due to the financial crisis and downturn in the economy. "Its initial backers from the private sector were not financially capable to meet their commitments," he explained.
Malaysia suffered its worst recession in a decade last year and is only now showing signs of recovery.
In addition to the US$25 million, Malaysia was expected to donate a "gift" to MIT to endow chairs, fellowships and programs that support the institute's international mission.
Prof Moavenzadeh confirmed that this "gift" exchange never took place.
He said the original Selangor site has also been dropped in favour of one either within Malaysia's new high tech zone, the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC), or Penang.
"In either case, we need to start our activities in temporary locations until the campus is built," he said. MUST had a prior arrangement to use the premises of Sirim Berhad, a government-funded standards and industrial research institute, which is headquartered in Shah Alam in Selangor, as an interim campus.
Prof Moavenzadeh said, regardless of its location, MUST has been given MSC status which entitles it to various incentives including tax-breaks, duty-free import of multimedia equipment, and a flexible policy to hire foreign knowledge workers.
He said MUST is expected to initially offer programs in four areas: information technology; chemical and biotechnology; systems engineering and operation; and transport and logistics.
Prof Moavenzadeh was optimistic that if the new plans are confirmed, MUST will have its first batch of between 80 and 100 students in November, 2000.
MIT's involvement in MUST included developing academic programs; assisting in its organization and structure; collaborating in an active research agenda; and establishing a viable industry-government-academic collaboration.
"We have been assisting MUST in recruiting faculty members and establishing criteria for the admission of students. We have also adapted an administrative structure similar to that of MIT, controlled by a Board of Trustees, an executive committee, a president and a Provost appointed by the Board," he said.
MIT faculty members will not be seconded to MUST but provide support through distant education, he added. "However many of them have been to Malaysia for short visits and will continue short visits during the term of our contract," he said.
Prof Moavenzadeh, who is also the director of the Technology Development Program, said MIT has similar commitments under the program in Egypt, Lebanon, East Africa, Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica and Thailand; and a small involvement in Japan.
MIT also had other major programs in Singapore and China, he added.
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