MALAYSIA: New term dates to aid internationalisation

The start of the term at all public universities in Malaysia will be changed from this year to coincide with the academic calendar of universities in the West and neighbouring countries in Asia, as part of the internationalisation of the higher education sector, the education ministry said this month.

However, the move to shift the beginning of the academic term from June to September took many vice-chancellors by surprise. Most institutions had only received notification in early December, they said.

Although the idea was first mooted by ministry officials in 2009, universities complained that little advance warning had been given and no preparations had been made for the change this year.

According to the official announcement, the academic calendar will be 'streamlined' in stages starting from July 2011, moving each term forward by two weeks during 2011, 2012 and 2013, so that by 2013 academic registration will take place three months later than now.

Higher Education Minister Mohamed Khaled Nordin said this would help "knowledge sharing" with the international academic community. As part of the internationalisation of higher education in Malaysia, local undergraduates needed to be exposed to other cultures, he added.

The minister pointed to the Malaysia-Indonesia-Thailand student mobility programme as "the best opportunity for our students to gain outside exposure". But students "have not been able to make use of this opportunity because of their different academic calendar from that of the two neighbouring countries, which begin their academic session in September each year, just like in developed countries".

Nordin said 'calendar streamlining' would bolster student exchange programmes and would also enable foreign "undergraduates from world-renowned higher learning institutions" to come to Malaysia and obtain a minimum credit transfer for one semester.

Deputy Higher Education Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said the move would also discourage the best Malaysian students from going to foreign universities, where the later start date means they have several months to pick an institution. "Ultimately they choose [institutions] overseas, particularly in Singapore," Abdullah said.

Local institutions also failed to attract foreign students as the current early term start was not aligned with the summer break semester system abroad, he said. Many foreign students had not yet received their high school examination results by the beginning of the Malaysian term.

Although universities welcomed the move, the announcement created some confusion including whether the new academic calendar affected just undergraduate students or both undergraduate and postgraduate programmes.

Ministry officials said the change would affect institutions as a whole, rather than groups of students.