Thursday, January 08, 2009

USM Autonomy

This is pretty significant news for Higher Education in Malaysia. USM will soon introduce its own entrance exams. I'll post the full article below (for posterity) and then comment on the other side.

PENANG: USM will begin direct open intake beginning May this year instead of going through the UPU (Unit Pusat Universiti).

USM vice chancellor Tan Sri Professor Dato' Dr Dzulkifli Abdul Razak said the measure would be implemented beginning the new intake for this year and next year. Students can apply through the university's website at

He said so far 13,000 applications had been received while the university would take in only about 3,500 students.

Dzulkifli pointed out that USM would select only students that meet the requirements, one of which would be the "admission tests."

The direct intake policy will be a departure from the conventional UPU allocation system, and this should bring about far-fetching effects on tertiary institutions in this country.

Dzulkifli said students used to be admitted into USM through UPU allocation, but after receiving the APEX (Accelerated Programme for Excellence) status, the university had the privilege of conducting direct intake of students.

He said the university would use the admission tests to determine the allocation of courses for students, adding that the tests would be independently carried out by a professsional team with the Examinations Board, and USM would not have a hand in the tests.

He said such tests had never been carried out elsewhere in the country before, and USM would be the first to conduct the tests. The list of students failing the admission tests would be handed back to UPU for allocation to other universities.

USM's intake procedures are expected to be completed by early May.

USM would not have been able to do this without being given the status of an Apex University (the only one in Malaysia so far). It has been given a lot of autonomy by MOHE as a result. And the progressive VC at USM, Dr. Dzulkifli Abdul Razak is making full use of it to make sure that only really good students get into USM. There will also be a smaller intake commensurate with the decision to be more selective. Hopefully there will be little political fallout from this decision. (I can imagine that some quarters may be tempted to protest) I'm hoping that these people will see USM as an 'experiment' and basically leave it alone. And if USM succeeds, other universities may want to follow. Then, the protest voices may get louder.

I wish VC Dr. Dzul and his team at USM all the best. I hope that they will succeed in their endeavor to raise the bar at USM. For all our sakes.


John Lee said...

This is very exciting news. Kudos to USM!

Anonymous said...

This is a good move and I hope USM will be allowed to go ahead with this exercise without any interference by Umno.

Mathias said...

Salute to USM

I'm hoping to see the great success out of this.

Anonymous said...

I hope UITM will follow this mode of entrance examination :))

Anonymous said...

Sometime around 1969, UMalaya introduced an Aptitude (or BM?) Test as an add-on to the Admission Requirement. I believed that had ceased a long time ago.

I wondered whether the USM entrance exam is something similar to the Oxbridge entrance exams. Could it also be similar to the UMalaya entrance exam stated above?

Malaysia has many universities compared to the days of yore. Therefore, competition for student enrolments is there. This is not the same as competition to enrol.

In decision on choice and uncertainty, there is no need for decision if there is no alternative. Do we have an alternative if not admitted to the university?

The mental state of the populace would be: "Well, I could enter any other university; they are equally prestigious LOCALLY."

APEX may appear the desired thing in Malaysia. Would it cause significant changes in the attitude of acceptance vis-a-vis the job market, salary differentials and other local universities?

If yes, then we could be faced with the problem of NOT enough jobs for other local university graduates; employers would wait for the APEX graduates to come along yearly.

One needs not be the best in the world to earn a living; one needs only enough knowledge to survive well and also very well and excellently. This is a corollary.

Creating examinations in any form, variation and duplication should be carefully examined.

Malaysia appears to have the longest education and exam-oriented stay-time in the world.

It's has various implications; one being delayed employment to ease unemployment. However, it could be viewed as a waste of useful resources because it's labour lost when not used.

American system is rather straightforward. The universities accept TOEFL, SAT and or AT. Subsidies or grants are also afforded to the students. These grants are status-blind, thereby encouraging excellent scholarship.

One important fact: US has raised brilliant scholars and scientists whilst the sceptics may look askance at its education system and refuse to accord full recognition to her degrees.

Are we on the right path to education excellence? Or, are we parrots in the making?

Unknown said...

Will having their own entrance exams mean that USM can admit whomever they wish? I can't find anything that suggests that the test will lead to any significant changes. Will admissions now in fact be based on a meritocracy system or will racial quotas still apply?

I'd appreciate any information anyone has.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting news indeed, and possibly even good news. :-P

The present uni intake system is rigid and desperately needs to be changed, but it has the advantage that everyone is measured by the same yardstick (or rather the same two yardsticks, STPM and matric). Since an A is an A is an A, this precludes certain kinds of foul play and 'special favours' for people with connections. Many of you will no doubt remember the uproar when, for a short period, 'points' were given for extra-curriculars.

This new intake system could do a lot of USM and our country a lot of good if properly implemented and also has the potential to do a lot of harm if it is abused.

On the one hand, any 'subjectivity' in the admissions process might be seen as a way to admit otherwise unqualified students for one reason or another.

On the other, if admissions became a little more, say, 'American' (but not too much, I hope), this might force a change in emphasis in our schools away from rote memorisation and towards for example clear expression in speech and writing, and boldness in expressing (hopefully well-thought-through) opinions that differ from the mainstream.

I'm reserving judgment until it becomes clear how this is going to be implemented and after a few batches of students have been admitted. And yes, I hope others will do the same as well and that the experiment will be allowed to run for at least a few years.

Anonymous said...

Read today's Star.
ex UM Vc is now the vice chancellor of the International university College of Nursing

I am sure he will propel IUCN as the top 100 Universities through his experience with UM :)

Anonymous said...

Hmm...sounds interesting, and not so exciting. It's interesting when you think of the noble idea of introducing the test: to select the "apex" students to be admitted into "apex" university. But I would say It's not so exciting at all when you think of the implementation afterwards.

Why? Simply because we already have so many so called "good intention projects" but failing the implementation!

OK you might say I'm being sarcastic. But think of the following points:

1) OK firstly, you say you're going to conduct it by a professional team with the Examinations Board, just how "professional" are the team and with which exam board (oxbridge perhaps?) Why these sound like another "outsource project" that require extra funds?

2) OK I know Malaysian university have deep pockets, but academic wise if the test is a common test for all students, just how tough it's gonna be? Will the test questions are actually lowered to suit the failing standards of SPM and STPM?

3) Will it open up to ALL students of Malaysia, including those from Chinese schools?

4) THE MOST IMPORTANT: How can you make sure that the whole process is transparent and not another BLACK BOX OPERATION? If there's 13,000 applicants taking the test, can you make it public all the test results for all the 13,000 applicants and show that it's TOTALLY FAIR to accept the top 3,500 students?

Anonymous said...

You all should be aware of the application procedures for Korean Universities. It does not rely on grades but other factors and lot of essays to write so the universities made the right choice for candidates

Anonymous said...

If an institution believes that only examinations could create breakthrough students or graduates, then it could consider duplicating China's olden Imperial Examination.

The exam was a series of essays based on many objectives and subjective factors for entry into official positions with the court.

A peasant scholar Hung Siu Chuan failed seven times. However, he later became the Taiping Heavenly Emperor of China at Sichuan.

The exam was practical, tough and of excellent standards.

Proof: A failure Hung Siu Chuan effected a breakthrough and emerged as an Emperor of China!

Fikri said...

I think this could well be a step forward, but I'd like to see what kind of tests are to be done first, before making my mind up fully.

I do think, however, that giving universities more autonomy is a good move, and the USM vice-chancellor has thus far struck me as a man with a plan. He deserves a chance to succeed.

Ir. Dr. K.C. Ng said...

I hope the implementation would be transparent. Best minds for the best university.

Anonymous said...

There is much ado about nothing.

A repetition, a duplication and a waste of resources - time, money, anxiety and what you call?

If the BEST students from STPM have to take the new entrance exam (this becomes a resit coz STPM is not the entrance exam unlike previous years), there is a possibility that the lesser students would overtake the BEST STPM graduates.

This is tantamount to slapping the exam council's face.

It also means the university is proving STPM etc as unreliable?

Yes? Why waste the nation's time in setting STPM, MUET, HAHA, LOL, etc

It makes the Students look foolish to commit money, time and what you call?

Entrance exam could be levelled at education which is not similar to ours, but not our own exam.

We don't trust our own exams? Previous graduates are all what?

Anonymous said...

When the MEC was first set up for STPM to replace the Cambridge Higher School Certificate sometime in 1982, the Royal Prof was quoted as saying,

"If we are confident to award university degrees, there is no reason that we cannot trust ourselves with our own secondary school exams - STPM."

Many educationists and professors today were the products of STPM. The VC and many others could possibly be one of them.

Or, we need to improve with times? Then let the impending entrance exam be the rule for all local university admission. Scrap others - from UPSR upwards.

Now, is the logic withering?

Or, the VC must show some projects because suddenly he found himself with the APEX?

He could also chided the commentator with the same admonishment to Dr Toh KW:

"Don't meddle in our internal affairs."

For those who had forgotten, Dr Toh asked for mitigation when the VC wanted to punish some students who attended the Inter-Varsity Debate at SU on their own fund as they could not get funds elsewhere or what?

Now, a public university cannot be "the VC's own."

Withering the logic?

Agree? Yes, then TKW has a locus standi to defend the students in his usual honest 'bona fide' ways.