THE purpose of a university education is to gain the appropriate knowledge and skills in a certain field of study leading to a recognised qualification that will pave the way for gainful employment or to kick off a start-up business.
In a competitive job market, a bachelor’s degree appears to be a basic requirement to join the workforce. But will a double degree provide the edge for job seekers or budding entrepreneurs?
Pursuing a double degree course involves studying for two degrees at the same time and completing both in a shorter duration than it will take to complete one after another.
The course usually takes a year longer than the standard three- or four-year bachelor’s degree programme. Students will be awarded two degrees on completion of the course.
Some argue that with knowledge in any field easily accessible at one’s fingertips through digital channels, there is no clear advantage to the pursuit of a double degree course at university. Not only is it more demanding to pursue two degrees at the same, there are also the additional time and cost to consider.
But in a world where multidisciplinary skills are fast becoming the norm at the workplace and in life in general, a double degree can be a relevant differentiator.
DOUBLE DEGREES, DOUBLE BENEFITS
WHEN a student is considering the pursuit of a bachelor’s degree, he needs to do several things: embark on a detailed market survey to gauge whether there is an industry need for job candidates with the particular qualification, the requirements of the particular profession, where the prospective student sees himself in the future, and how he can contribute to the industry.
Monash University Malaysia’s School of Business senior lecturer and undergraduate studies director Dr Adnan Trakic said a double degree makes a compelling case for prospective students to consider.
“Sometimes they are not sure of the degree programme to study as they may have interest in two fields. Pursuing a double degree gives an option to venture into both fields concurrently.”
A double degree programme promotes multidisciplinary learning — the studies are complementary in nature and share common ground. “It offers the chance to master two completely different disciplines and that exposure is priceless,” Trakic said, adding that it gives the student added value to future employers.
Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) academic affairs division’s curriculum affairs director Associate Professor Dr Sharipah Ruzaina Syed Aris echoes Travic’s point of view, saying that jobs in the future will require a combination of skills.
“The curriculum of the future will no longer be fragmented but will reflect multiple disciplines to produce a multi-skilled and multi-talented workforce. We have seen the emergence of inter-disciplinary fields such as engineering with medicine, engineering with arts, and arts with technology.
“This can produce graduates who are able to deal with unforeseen challenges of the future. Taking into consideration future demand for graduates with multi-skill sets, there is a strong case for double degree programmes,” she said.
Professor Lee Miin Huui, who is dean of the Faculty of Business, Design and Arts at Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus, said that while better job prospects are a significant advantage of double degrees, there are other benefits.
“Double degree students embark on two programmes that they are passionate about, without sacrificing the potential in either. They are more competitive with dual competencies and broader scope of skill sets, lending flexibility to traverse across and integrate different disciplines in the industry.”
With wider areas of expertise, it is easier for those with double degrees to make a career change or career shift.
“Pursuing two degrees at once will enable students to expand their networks crucial for future career development.”
A full-time double degree programme comes with a heavier workload. While it entails multiple assignments due at the same time and extra reading lists, the subjects taught by two faculties enrich the student with different perspectives and breadth of knowledge.
Monash University Malaysia’s School of Business combines business studies as well as the arts in its Bachelor of Business and Commerce and Bachelor of Communication and Media Studies double degree programme. The business and commerce degree provides high level skills in a range of key business disciplines while the communication course develops knowledge and skills in the use and effects of traditional and new communications technologies.
Trakic, who is also course director of the Bachelor of Business and Commerce programme at Monash University Malaysia, said: “Students from this double degree programme, who join the business industry, have gone through rigorous report writing classes and are able to communicate and express themselves effectively, and have strong 21st century skills such as navigating social media.
“Communications is very important but it is very hard to teach quantitative minds the skills. A double degree in business and communications will certainly offer an edge.”
The university’s School of Business in Australia offers more double degree combinations such as law and business, engineering and business, law and engineering, and psychology and business.
“These areas of study are a natural fit and make powerful combinations.”
At Swinburne, double degree programmes are offered by the Faculty of Engineering, Computing and Science, and Faculty of Business, Design and Arts. The two faculties also jointly offer cross discipline double degrees such as Bachelor of Engineering and Bachelor of Business; Bachelor of Engineering and Bachelor of Computer Science; and Bachelor of Business and Bachelor of Information, Communications and Technology.
Faculty of Engineering, Computing and Science dean Professor Su Hieng Tiong said entry into double degree programmes is based on single degree programme entry requirements, whichever is higher.
“From next year, the faculties plan to broaden double degree offerings to cover more majors and disciplines under engineering and computer science, for example majors in Internet of Things and cybersecurity under computer science in response to the state government initiatives in digital economy and
global industry trend moving towards Industry 4.0, bringing together computing, automation, robotics and machine learning to produce highly efficient and integrated cyber-physical systems,” he added.
He stressed that a double degree enhances students’ skills and knowledge, and enables them to work across multiple disciplines and industries with ease. “A double qualification ― in what may take as few as an additional year of full-time study ― will help students stand out from other graduates in the job market.”
UiTM will be offering double degrees from March next year, said Sharipah Ruzaina.
Four faculties are involved in the initiative: the first partnership is between the Faculty of Applied Sciences and Faculty of Art and Design, and the second collaboration is between the Faculty of Computer and Mathematical Sciences and Faculty of Business and Management.
An example of a double degree from the first partnership is the combination comprising Bachelor of Science (Honours) Textile Science and Fashion Technology and Bachelor in Textile Design (Honours).
“Graduates from this programme gain knowledge and skills in textile technology and the art of textile and fashion. The double disciplines are developed to complement one another in producing multi-skilled graduates in the field of fashion and the textile industry. The course does not only enhance knowledge in fashion design but also the sciences behind the textile industry,” added Sharipah Ruzaina.
The second partnership will offer Bachelor in Science (Honours) Management Mathematics and Bachelor of Business Administration (Honours) Business Economics.
“This double degree programme is not only aimed at increasing job opportunities but also at nurturing economists who have a strong background in mathematics. It also produces economists with competencies in big data and analytics, as well as strategic analysts and data mining analysts with predictive skills.
“More than 30 takaful industries, insurance and inventory management entities have given positive feedback on the proposed double degree programme and agree that economists should also be able to analyse data related to business.”
While the importance of education qualification in gaining employment cannot be denied, other factors such as work experience and skills also count.
JobStreet.com Malaysia country manager Gan Bock Herm highlighted that to be more employable and relevant, graduates need to ensure that they upgrade their skills set to keep up with the demands of the job market.
“Based on our survey among employers, we find that work experience has a higher influence in recruitment. Most prefer to hire graduates with some form of work experience ― this includes work experience related or unrelated to the role and internship experience.
“Based on the findings, it is evident that a candidate’s employability is significantly influenced by their core competencies, attitude, communication skills and experience.”
LEANING AND INTEGRATING
LIKE many school-leavers, Catherine Grace Chin Xai Fern had no idea on the course of study to pursue at university initially.
She finally decided on civil engineering as she felt it would be a useful course. To keep her options open, the 18-year-old student at Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus also opted for a business degree.
“I decided to do a double degree comprising Bachelor of Civil Engineering and Bachelor of Business as the two are complementary. In the business degree course, I learn about management and marketing, and integrate them into the civil engineering course in relation to project management. I also learn business law, organisational behaviour and how proposals work to navigate red tape,” said the second-year undergraduate.
Chin added that studying for a double degree is not much different from pursuing a single degree.
“Both ways, you sign up for four units per semester. It just takes longer to get your qualification and you have fewer elective subjects, focusing on the core units of each degree.”
She sets a specific time for studies and allocates particular subjects for particular days. She follows the schedule, does assignments ahead of time and keeps track of exam dates.
“In my first year in 2017, I joined the Aikido Club and the Swinburne Sarawak Student Council. It was a busy year with a lot of events to organise and collaborating with student clubs.”
She believes that upon graduation, she will have gained a better idea of both fields and will be able to better decide on her career moves.
“At the moment, I’m thinking of a career in civil engineering and focusing on either geotechnical, road or construction engineering.”
On pursuing a double degree course, Chin advises choosing degrees which complement each other.
“Make sure you sign up for all the correct core units for each degree. Participate in extra-curricular activities and find your own comfortable balance between studies and your interests.”
Lim Sheng Feixiang, 28, graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business and a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from Monash University Malaysia in 2012.
“My four years of pursuing a double degree course gave me the best experience. It taught me to view the world from two very different perspectives. The lecturers and many people I managed to connect with further opened up my horizons to what’s in the world.
“More than just exams and assignments, it was the building of relationships and facing the challenges that came with them that shaped my attitude and passion to do great work, regardless of the industry,” he said.
Lim spearheaded the first Monash Entrepreneurship Forum with Monash Business Club, which was a great introduction to organising a large scale event that added value for more than 200 attendees. “Conceptualising and coordinating a start-up accelerator programme with Monash Entrepreneurship Club was another feat that exposed me to the world of start-ups and entrepreneurship.
“Starting my film crew, The Weekend Projects, alongside my Monash comrades with the support of the School of Arts and Communications was a fantastic project that escalated my career growth.
“The school also organised a study trip to Vietnam where we were tasked to document the journey in various formats ― written word, pictures and video. This turned out to be one of the best experiences I have to date. These opportunities, which were seemingly small at the time, were just part of the overall picture of invaluable experiences that allowed me to accelerate my footing into the workplace.”
Lim is now in streetwear fashion with Major Drop — a multi-brand streetwear store that curates exciting labels from across Southeast Asia and the world.
“In essence, my role is to lead 15 people in growing this business into Southeast Asia’s leading streetwear destination store.”
For Lim, it was a rewarding four years of studies. “Being able to study on campus is something that people often take for granted. Getting to interact and build relationships with friends from abroad was a great way of expanding my international network.
“In relation to the course, the syllabus is relevant to this ever-changing, fast paced world. The lecturers know how to teach well, which is a trait that’s difficult to come by today. They know how to inspire, shake things up a bit and challenge your thinking.”