Viva Voce Session
|Information for International Students|
About Universiti Malaysia Sarawak
Established in 1993,Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS) is the first public university in the State of Sarawak. It has eight faculties and four research institutes with a total student population of more than 5,500. The university campus is set in an area that has been especially designated as an ‘academic township’ in Kota Samarahan. It is about 15 kilometers from the city of Kuching (population 458,300), the state capital of Sarawak, Malaysia.
The campus has a peaceful country resort feel and is set among lush tropical greenery. The ultra modern campus with its trademark white concrete and green glass panels has excellent public transport connections to the urban attractions of Kuching. UNIMAS offers academic excellence across a wide range of subjects from the creative dimensions of performing arts, music and industrial design, to the highly technical skills of medicine, engineering and information technology,and the intellectually demanding fields of the social sciences.
The university constantly upgrades campus facilities to create a vibrant, social, culture and sporting life for the leisure activities of the campus community.
Sarawak, also called ‘The Land of the Hornbill’ is located on the island of Borneo, immediately north of the Equator. Sarawak, with a population of 2.2 million people is one of the fourteen states and is separated from Peninsula Malaysia by the South China Sea. With an area of 124,449 square kilometres, Sarawak is the largest state in Malaysia, making up some 37.5% of the country’s entire area. Sarawak has a tropical climate. It is hot and humid throughout the year with an average daily daytime temperature of 25-30°C . Sarawak is eight (8) hours ahead of GMT and 16 hours ahead of U.S.Pacific Standard Time.
Kuching is one of the most attractive cities in Southeast Asia.It is a city rich in history, which has state's delightful old-world charm, yet is modern and cosmopolitan. In the Malay language, ‘Kuching’ literally means cat. Kuching thrives on tourism and visitors flock to attractions like the Sarawak Cultural Village, Damai Beach Resort, Bako National Park and the numerous excellent golfing facilities. As the capital city of Sarawak, Kuching is the seat of the Sarawak State Government. The city centre contains a number of attractions within walking distance of each other. The Kuching Waterfront is a 1km long esplanade that incorporate designs into its mosaic floors, numerous sculptures, an open-air observation tower, musical fountains, museum, wharf and various food stalls. The impressive-looking palace (called the "Astana") sits across the river from the Waterfront.It was built by Sir Charles Brooke as a bridal gift to his wife Ranee Margaret. It is the official residence of the Gabenor,the Yang Dipertua Negeri Sarawak.Fort Margherita (named after the Ranee Margaret), was originally built to monitor pirates. It now houses one of Sarawak’s seven museums, the Police Museum.
Islam is the official religion. There are several magnificent mosques with traditional Moorish designs scattered across both banks of the Sarawak River. There are also churches for Christians, temples for Buddhist-Taoists, Sikhs and followers of various traditional beliefs. Freedom of worship is respected throughout the State and the country.
Sarawak is a land of myriad festivals, thanks to its diverse and multicultural population. From Chinese traditional festivals to the Harvest (Gawai) celebration of the indigenous Dayak people to religious festivals such as the Muslim Hari Raya Aidilfitri, the variety and frequency of Sarawak’s cultural celebrations are breathtaking. If you’re here during the Chinese New Year, Hari Raya Aidilfitri or Gawai Dayak, don’t miss the open house tradition when those who celebrate these festivals open their houses and offer local delicacies to friends, relatives and more often than not, complete strangers. Other festivals to watch out for include the Mid-Autumn Festival, the Hungry Ghost Festival, Wesak Day, Thaipusam, Good Friday and many more. Some non-traditional festivals include the month-long Kuching Festival in August ending with the National Day celebrations on August 31. During the Kuching Festival, food fairs, art exhibitions and cultural shows are aplenty to be enjoyed.
Cultures of Malaysia
In Malaysia, general customs and practices arise from a mixture of different ethnic groups and as such apply to all races, particularly in showing respect to elders. Other common Malaysian customs which visitors are advised to observe are: Greetings/introductions When introductions are being made, the older person is named first. If the older person being introduced is a woman, it is best to wait and see if she offers her hand to shake. If she does not extend her hand, a polite nod and smile will suffice. Elderly Malays will be delighted to be greeted in the traditional Malay fashion that is a light clasping of the palms, using both hands and then bringing them to your chest. This signifies that you are greeting the person from your heart. The traditional way to greet an elderly Indian would be to put both palms together raising them to your face whilst bowing your head slightly. When arriving or departing, it is best to avoid kissing and hugging amongst any of the races.
If a Malaysian extends his business card, receive it using your thumb and index finger of both hands, and similarly when presenting your own card. The same would apply to the giving and receiving of money. It is considered bad manners to receive or give things with your left hand, as traditionally this hand is used for hygienic purposes.
It is not common for Malaysians to touch during conversations, especially if the other party is a member of the opposite sex. Malaysians consider it exceptionally rude to pat or tap someone on the head. If one needs to point , it would be polite to gesture with your thumb instead of your index finger. Similarly, when summoning a person, it is more preferable if one did so using all of four fingers on an upturned palm as opposed to a crooked finger.
When attempting to purchase gifts for Malaysians, in order not to offend, it is worthwhile to note the following taboos for each of the races. Malays being Muslims would find any gift containing pork, alcohol, dog or anything that is related with these connotations as extremely offensive. The Chinese believe clocks, straw sandals, sharp objects and handkerchiefs are bad luck and should never be offered. Should the gift comprise many little gifts, the total number given should be even, this being a sign of happiness. However, the number four (4) symbolizes death – and should be avoided at all costs. Red is always a good colour as the Chinese believe it ushers good luck. Indians, being Hindus, do not eat beef. Hence anything with cow connotations should not be given to them. Unlike the Chinese, Indians consider odd numbers to bring good luck.
It is interesting to note that Malays don’t actually have surnames or family names. Instead, they adopt their father’s first name. For example Salleh bin Ahmad literally translated will means Salleh ‘son of’ Ahmad. On all occasions he should be called Salleh and never Ahmad. The female version will be binti or ‘daughter of’. Adding a prefix or title to this name can be rather tricky. The title Encik (Mr) is for formal introduction while Pak Cik (uncle) is for a much older man. Similarly, Indians do not use their family name, but their father’s first name. An example would be Muthu son of Raja, denoted by the s/o (or d/o for ‘daughter of’). The Chinese do have family names, which are placed before their first names. For example, Mr. Ah Fatt from the Tan family would be named as Tan Ah Fatt. If Mr. Tan is a Christian, his Christian name will be placed before his surname. All male Sikhs have the name ‘Singh’ whilst the females adopt the name ‘Kaur’.
Many members of society have been conferred titles by any one of Malaysia’s Sultans, such as a Datuk (Datin for women) or a Tan Sri. To be conferred a Tun is the highest honour possible. This is equivalent to being knighted by the Queen. Muslim men and women who have performed their pilgrimage to Mecca would be titled Haji or Hajjah, respectively. In normal conversations these people are referred to as Haji,Hajjah, Datuk, Tan Sri or Tun.
It is the norm to remove one’s shoes before entering a Malaysian home. At the dinner table, it would be more appropriate for the house owner to sit at the head of the table. Food is consumed by the visitor only when the host has started to eat.
Language, Food and Clothing
Bahasa Malaysia or Malay is the official language of the country. Apart from this, Malay has several local dialects depending on the different States within Malaysia. Since Malaysia is such a multiracial country, various other languages are spoken such as Chinese,Tamil,Iban and Kadazan. English, the second language is taught in schools and is used widely across the nation.Sarawak has a large variety of local ethnic groups such as Iban, Bidayuh and Melanau - each with their own language. Other indigenous groups are called ‘Orang Ulu’ which literally means ‘Upriver People' who live deep in the intriguing Sarawak forests. Totaling about 21 groups, the Kayan, Kenyah, Penan, Lun Bawang and Kelabit are among the main groups.
Cheap, abundant, diverse and tasty - that describes the food in Sarawak. The streets are filled with coffee shops, restaurants, hawker centres and food peddlers. In hawker centres and other more casual places, order from the stall of your choice and tell them where your table is. You pay when the food is delivered to you. At coffee shops you pay when you're ready to leave. Normal rules apply in restaurants. As a general rule of thumb, if there are lots of people then the food is probably good although there are peak hours for eating out as well! Just remember to say "jangan pedas sangat" or “kurangkan pedas” if you have a sensitive tummy and are unable to take spicy food. If you like it hot, just say you want it to be "pedas".
Visitors should bring light comfortable clothes. Light clothing is best suited for Malaysia’s equatorial climate. A jacket and tie or evening dress may be required for formal wear, but only in an air-conditioned venue. Take note that the university has its own dress code that needs to be observed by all students especially during lectures, at the library and when dealing with academic matters during office hours. Shorts and bermudas may suit a stroll on the beach or for sports related activities, but are best avoided if you are invited to visit your local friend’s home.
Bicycles are a great way to move around either in campus or town.These are cheap and easy to store. If you wish to drive a motorbike or a car, you should check with the local transport office known as Jabatan Pengangkutan Jalan (or JPJ) whether your license is valid for this country.
Taxis can be hailed along the street or you can find them queuing at major hotels. Short trips around town may cost you around RM5 or more. Currently, local taxis do not use tariff meters, so please check and agree to the charge for your specific destination. A taxi counter is available at the Kuching Airport where you can purchase a trip-coupon before queuing up for a taxi.
Buses are cheap and are a great way to see the town if you're not worried about creature comforts. Routes can be complicated for the uninitiated so ask the bus conductor if it's the right bus before you get on. Check out our complimentary city maps to find the main bus stations in each town. Fares start from as low as 40 cents. Comfortable intercity air-conditioned buses are available for long day or night trips across the state and to neighbouring Kalimantan,Indonesia.
Boats powered either by long twin oars or small engines are a convenient and nostalgic transport for crossing the Sarawak River. These boats with their curved roofing can be seen at piers on the Kuching Waterfront. In the absence of modern bridges, ferries still serve to carry automobiles across rivers.Intercity Express Boat services are also available.
Small airplanes (twin otters or sky vans) or helicopters are suitable for long trips across Sarawak. These may be quite expensive but since they fly rather low, you get to see the greenery and coastline of the state.
Immigration, Passport Control and Student Pass
At your port of entry, you will need to go through normal immigration and passport control procedures. You are required to present the official Letter of Offer from UNIMAS and Approval for Foreign Student to Study in Malaysia to the immigration officer. In most cases, you will be given a social visit visa valid from two weeks to two months, depending on your country of origin.
You are required to obtain your Student Pass from UNIMAS. For this, you are required to submit two (2) certified photocopies of all pages of your passport and five (5) passport-sized photographs. Please note that a penalty (or Journey Performed Visa) of RM500 (USD162) payable to the Immigration Department will be levied on students entering Malaysia without the Visa Approval Letter. A levy of RM60 (USD25) per year is charged for the Student Pass.
Students who have previously registered in any institution of higher learning in Malaysia and who possess a Student Pass from that institution are required to get a letter of release from the said institution in order to cancel the previous Student Pass. Without which, your application for the next Student Pass cannot be processed and this may delay your registration into UNIMAS. Please note that students who enter Malaysia on a Social Visit Pass without all the necessary Letters of Offer and Approval for Study will not be allowed to register as a student.
Students are required to undergo a thorough medical check-up upon arrival in Malaysia. The report of this Health Examination must be submitted to the University’s Health Centre for endorsement prior to registration. No vaccinations are required unless you have been in a yellow fever area (eg.Africa,Latin America) within the last six days. The local overall health situation is praiseworthy with the eradication of most infectious tropical diseases.If you are in doubt, please consult any physician or practitioners, available at any private clinic or government hospital. Clean and efficient clinics are found throughout Sarawak. In contrast to most western countries, your prescriptions will be given to you from any private clinic and hospital thus avoiding the trouble of going to the pharmacy to purchase your medication.
All students, international or local, can apply for hostel accommodation prior to or upon registering with the Centre for Graduate Studies, UNIMAS (for students at Kota Samarahan Campus only). The university provides a well-equipped international student hostel so international students can enjoy a pleasant home while staying in Malaysia. The cost is RM15 per day, inclusive of utilities such as bathroom, household appliances,cooking facilities and TV room. Please note that acceptance to any programme does not automatically entitle a student for University Accommodation.
Living costs will depend on your choice of accommodation and your lifestyle. It is recommended that international students allow between USD5,500 to USD6,500 a year for food, clothing, books, transport, entertainment and accommodation costs. During the first few months, you will require additional funds to cover some extra expenses, some of which are detailed below.
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