Using practical experience to enter university

A YOUTUBE commercial on Malaysian higher education caught my eye recently.

In it, Michael Veerapen, the famous Malaysian jazz pianist, speaks about his 42 years in the music industry.

“People know me to be a performer and a practitioner of music, but I am very attracted to things academic,” he said.

He then expresses his interest to do a master’s degree in Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) “where they have a very good music programme”. However, Michael reveals that he doesn’t possess a university degree.

“At my age, I am not going to sit down and go and get a music degree (which will take about 3 years)”.

However, Michael learns from USM about an initiative known as Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning (APEL).

And it’s music to his ears. The APEL initiative enables him to use experience as a musician to directly pursue a master’s in the field, without having to do an undergraduate degree.

It’s a golden opportunity. So here, the quest for the best in one’s chosen beat is being paved with new input. How exciting to add on to one’s existing talent.

APEL was introduced by the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA) as part of the Higher Education Ministry’s push to encourage lifelong learning and to widen higher education accessibility to Malaysians.

I personally know of many individuals who, for various reasons, weren’t able to pursue a tertiary education in their earlier life.

Some never had the opportunity, some didn’t have the financial resources, some just didn’t feel like studying anything after more than 13 years of formal education.

However, after many years of work, or for further career advancement, or the love of knowledge and education, or just for the challenge of it, many are drawn to return to academia.

I know APEL will benefit people who have gained lots of experience, be it from the industry they are involved in, their travels, their hobbies and more.

Another interesting story is that of Raja Zulkarnain.

Formerly a teaching assistant in UPSI, he is a reputable gambus player (Google him). He not only performs but has also published books on the gambus (also known as “Oud”).

Just like Michael, he doesn’t have a university degree. Raja Zulkarnain had a diploma. He took APEL and is currently completing a master’s in music at Universiti Malaya.

Michael and Raja Zulkarnain are a few examples of individuals who have benefited from this APEL initiative.

In fact, there are two types of APEL.

The first is APEL Access or APEL (A), which recognises prior experiential learning to enable access or entry into higher education.

This initiative allows individuals without any formal qualification to pursue higher education up to a bachelor’s degree.

However, a person with at least a diploma/A-Levels/STPM or equivalent can go straight to a master’s, just like in Michael’s case.

The second type of APEL is known as APEL Credit or APEL (C), which grants credits based on experience.

APEL (C) is applicable only after an individual has enrolled in a programme. The credits granted under APEL (C) enable an individual to complete his studies in a shorter time-span.

Just like the “Pen Pineapple Apple Pen” song which went viral in cyberspace, the gist of the initiatives are:

Have experience, have APEL (A) = Access to university.

Have experience, have APEL (C) = Credits in university.

If you notice, I’ve not mentioned “work experience”.

This is because APEL assesses prior experiential learning, which is wider than just work.

It could be a hobby, or even a life experience. The MQA has come up with guidelines on how to apply both APELs and assess experience.

APEL (A) is administered by MQA while APEL (C) is administered by the respective institutions.

All institutions can accept candidates with an APEL (A) certificate but so far only four institutions have been granted permission to administer APEL (C), which are UiTM, Wawasan Open University, Open University Malaysia and INTI International University.

I’ve been informed that in 2016 to date, MQA has received 1,203 APEL (A) applications.

Clearly, this shows the eagerness of Malaysians to equip themselves with knowledge and to continue learning, without allowing age or qualifications to be a barrier.

Life is a learning experience. And one is never too old to learn. Heck, learning never stops.

Malaysia, with such encouraging learning initiatives, certainly provides the platform for interesting life journeys.

  • Danial Rahman has education close to his heart and welcomes feedback at The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.
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Opinion , Danial Rahman , columnist

Danial Rahman

Danial Rahman

Danial Rahman has education close to his heart. He tweets at @danial_ari and welcomes feedback at


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