HEAD START: A new scheme allows Bachelor of Accounting students at University of Malaya to attain professional qualification before they graduate
JAKLING Tong Yan Ting, like many undergraduates on the verge of graduating, is anxious about entering the workforce.
While the final-year Accounting major at University of Malaya (UM) looks forward to carving out a career in the finance industry, she is worried about facing intense competition with other graduates for jobs.
The aspiring chief financial officer is willing to do anything to set herself apart from her peers — including sitting professional qualification exams while still in university.
Tong, 22, is in luck — a tripartite agreement between UM’s Faculty of Business and Accountancy, Sunway-TES, a subsidiary of Sunway Education Group, and Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) Malaysia signed in May now allows students pursuing Bachelor of Accounting at UM to attain an ACCA qualification through a fast-track programme.
Only Accounting graduates were eligible to register for the professional qualification previously.
Tong is among the 22 students — comprising third-year and fourth-year undergraduates — who have signed up for the scheme, which began last week.
“I am very happy that I can take ACCA papers along with my other subjects. It will make me a more competent employee in the future,” says Tong.
Students can take up to five papers — three core and two optional — in a span of two years before they graduate under the programme.
They will complete one paper per semester, and tackle two more while they undergo their six-month internship at participating accounting firms, which act as sponsors of eligible students.
As sponsors, the firms get to interview the candidates and pick those whom they feel are right for their organisations.
“This means that some students will have the opportunity to intern at the Big Four auditing firms and be employed by these organisations upon graduation as they are bonded for up to four years,” says Dr Nurmazilah Mahzan, deputy dean of the Faculty of Business and Accountancy.
It is hoped that this will remedy the Catch-22 situation which many aspiring accountants are currently in — employers look to hire candidates with professional qualifications but undergraduates cannot pursue those courses until they graduate.
In the long run, the programme will address talent shortages within the industry.
Indeed, there is a rising demand for certified accountants globally. Malaysia alone needs 79,000 qualified accountants by 2020. It now has some 29,000.
The timing of the course is perfect for Nurmazilah.
“Many students over the years have asked whether they could take ACCA while studying. One or two even took the initiative to enrol on professional training on their own. But naturally they were turned down as they had not finished their studies,” she says.
That is why the faculty was keen to work with Sunway TES when the latter proposed the idea for the scheme last year.
Sunway TES founder and executive director Teo Ee Sing says: “UM was very receptive to the plan and worked closely with us throughout the process — from mapping out the syllabus to finding the firms that would be interested to sponsor the students”.
But the course would not have materialised without the buy-in from ACCA, which must agree to provide conditional exemption for UM undergraduates to register as its students.
The two institutions’ sterling reputation, however, makes out a strong case for ACCA to make an exception.
Although UM does not offer the professional qualification on its campus, its Accounting graduates have recorded high percentage of passes in the ACCA exams throughout history.
Sunway TES, on the other hand, is a Platinum-certified tuition provider for the professional paper for eight consecutive years.
ACCA Malaysia country head Jennifer Lopez says: “Based on experience and track record, we know UM students can cope (with the modules). We trust that they will receive good tuition from Sunway and adequate financial support from the participating employers.”
Lopez notes that although the education model which combines the Bachelor’s degree and professional qualification is not new, it is not explored enough.
“Both routes (degree and professional qualifications) are important. University life equips students with a range of transferable skills on top of the basics of Accounting. Professional training, on the other hand, helps them think critically and solve problems.”
Merging the two components makes for work-ready graduates which employers seek.
As there is a big knowledge divide between the syllabus of a Bachelor’s degree and that of a professional qualification, Teo is certain that “the fast-track programme can bridge that gap”.
As far as Teo is concerned, it is a win-win situation all around.
“This partnership has enabled us, an 18-year-old institution, to be affiliated with UM, which is more than 100 years old. It also catapults UM’s Accounting programme to the global level, which will attract foreign students to its campus, besides creating a talent pool of qualified accountants in Malaysia,” he says.
To Nurmazilah, UM benefits in terms of branding.
“Producing marketable students enhances our name. When they become industry leaders, the public will identify them as our alumni.”
Juggling studying for university subjects and professional papers will be tough, but Tong is willing to give it her best shot.
“I would rather do it now than while working full-time; I’ve heard that people fail the papers because they could not cope with working and studying. Some actually take a year’s leave to finish all the five papers.”
If Tong ever doubts her decision when the crunch comes, Lopez has some words of encouragement: “I think students should have an early start (in taking up professional qualifications).”