Issues in changing starting date of semester

IN response to the Higher Education Ministry’s decision to review the starting date of the second semester for universities due to the current Covid-19 situation, I would like to express my opinion as an academic and coordinator of a post-graduate programme.

After the movement control order (MCO) was implemented in March 2020, tertiary education institutions converted all teaching and learning to the online format. Semester 2 of the 2019/2020 session was completed successfully despite some hiccups.

The current semester (Semester 1, Session 2020/2021) is being conducted much more smoothly. Students with problems accessing the Internet in their hometowns are allowed to stay in campus and carry on with online learning.

Universities are now confident of their capability to conduct teaching and learning via the online platform in most disciplines, the exception being some clinical and hands-on teaching involving mechanical manipulation, chemical and biological specimens.

However, arrangements can be made to deliver the theories online while the Covid-19 situation is bad, and once it is under control, students could be allowed to return to campus in small groups to complete their hands-on learning.

Therefore, I do not see the reason for delaying the starting day of Semester 2 for the current academic year. The Covid-19 situation should be the basis for considering if face-to-face learning is to be resumed. Most established universities in the West have decided to carry on with online teaching for this whole academic year as they foresee that the Covid-19 pandemic may not be controlled completely during this period.

As such, delaying the starting day for the second semester may still not make it possible for face-to-face learning to resume. Therefore, the Higher Education Ministry should not be making decisions based on the very unpredictable Covid-19 situation. From our observation, Covid-19 infections will continue to occur in waves before vaccination is widely available to the people.

Changing or delaying the starting date for Semester 2 will pose problems to existing students, especially those on study leave who would have to complete the semester based on the current academic calendar before returning to work. Students taking study leave to join programmes in Semester 2 would also have already confirmed their leave from work based on the available calendar.

Furthermore, changing the starting date will affect not only the semester concerned but also the dates for future semesters. I hope the Education Ministry will consider these concerns when making decisions that will affect thousands of undergraduate and postgraduate students in both public and private universities.


Faculty of Medicine

Universiti Malaya

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