THE statement “Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) is an APEX (Accelerated Programme for Excellence) University” is music to the ears of its alumni. Alumni members in the east coast recently contacted Persatuan Alumni USM when they sighted a “white” bus displaying the university logo with the words “APEX University” across it. A few years ago, a billboard at the Yeap Chor Ee entrance to the university proclaimed the same, but it has since been taken down. 

Now with the “pronouncement” that USM is an APEX University by USM vice-chancellor Professor Datuk Dr Omar Osman in his interview with Learning Curve last week, the ante is up again — members want to verify the statement. 

There are a number of reasons for this verification, among which includes: It is on official USM record that the APEX initiative is undergoing a “second phase” from 2014 to 2019 (or 2025 — version 1.0, depending on the document one refers to) which could be translated to mean that the “process” of turning USM into an APEX University is still in progress. 

At best, USM is an “APEX status university”, which former Higher Education Ministry Secretary-General Tan Sri Zulkifli A. Hassan insisted on until the ministry deems otherwise. Has that situation arrived? 

When USM was awarded the status on Sept 3, 2008, it was a matter of “protocol” (and pride) for the ministry to do so since the APEX initiative is a unique programme conceived under the Higher Education National Strategic Plan (2007 to 2020). It was launched by then Prime Minister Datuk Seri (now Tun) Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on Aug 27, 2007 under the “education revolution” tagline. 

Similarly, one would have expected the same this time around when an “APEX University” comes to fruition under the new tagline: “Soaring upwards” — and deservingly, too. In the absence of such events, some asked the familiar question: “Where is the ‘birth certificate’ of the APEX University?” Without one, the “birth” is at best pre-mature, if not “stillborn”. 

But more than just this technical-cum-bureaucratic issue, is an academic one, namely the definition of a “global university” in the context of an APEX University.

A Google search of the two terms turned out 204,000,000 results, indicating that there is indeed a rich diversity of the terms.

And trying to articulate the terms can be daunting. 

The way the APEX concept has been crafted — based on an intense scenario-planning for USM in 2005 (admittedly a rather rare exercise undertaken by a higher education institution), supported by the tailor-made USM Blue Ocean Strategy — is at once global, but in a unique way as the so-called “global university”. This is spelt out even more vividly in USM’s mission statement: A pioneering, transdisciplinary research-intensive university that empowers future talents and enables the bottom billions to transform their socio-economic well-being. 

This is more about the substantive issues of knowledge — its co-creation, convergence, delivery and impact in a holistic manner, rather than just forms and structures as most discussions tend to revolve around. Overarching it is the vision: Transforming Higher Education for a Sustainable Tomorrow — reaffirming its uniqueness globally within the context of a “sustainable tomorrow” which the APEX initiative is tasked to deliver, founded on the APEX core values of quality, equality, availability, accessibility, affordability and appropriateness that form the bedrock of the future global university. With the worldwide undertaking of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the start of this year, the APEX initiative is even more aligned with its vision, mission and values. The SDGs are taglined Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The articulation of a global university in the context of the APEX initiative should leverage on this. We can only hope, if it is indeed “USM is an APEX University”, that these crucial finer points of making a tranformational difference will not be missed. Then, we are proud to welcome the country’s only APEX University. The writer is president of Persatuan Alumni USM (AUSM aka “awesome”). Email him at

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