by a Malay accountant in London
Dear Uncle Lim
I am called to write to you following your post (Have MARA run out of funds…) on your blog.
First of all, I admit that the whole scholarship system is flawed and needs to be overhauled. Scholarships should be awarded on merit, and if at all, certainly not to rich students. However, asking for such a radical change from a half-past-six administration with no balls is almost futile, or as we Malays say, ‘anjing menyalak bukit’.
My letter today is to focus in prioritisation of issues within the existing framework. Today, I would like to focus on MARA and JPA scholarship for professional courses.
With all due respect, I firmly believe that these schemes are a total waste of taxpayers’ money, especially in the recession. I will outline my reasons, with focus on the ACCA programme.
ACCA is a world-recognised professional qualification in accountancy (and finance), and is the key to membership with many professional accountancy bodies worldwide (in Malaysia, MICPA). Past leaders were correct in identifying this programme for Malaysians to pursue if we ever want to move towards a knowledge-based economy, since it covers the area of accounting, finance and management.
However, in formulating the policy, I have identified many flaws that in my opinion, could have been easily identified if the officers/thinkers involved have done further research, particularly seeking a third party opinion, before coming up with the policy. A blatant example would be that many years back, JPA used to send students here for 10 years to do ACCA, without any foundation course whatsoever. Only over time they realised that the ACCA programme has got a higher pass rate if the candidates actually have a diploma or a degree! This is rather obvious because ACCA assumes that their candidates are working professionals that seeks to become qualified accountants rather than greenhorns in their wet pants!
The policy has much changed since then, although part of this policy is still being carried our by MARA/UiTM. UiTM still enroll students to do Certified Accounting Technician (CAT) qualification (http://www.accaglobal.com/students/cat/) before they move on to the next level. Although this is a recognised route, UiTM is treating ACCA like an alternative to their diploma course, which in my opinion, is terribly wrong! An academic qualification is meant to test a student’s academic capability, and a university course is meant to also incorporate other elements such as soft skills into the students. A professional qualification is simply meant to test a candidate’s professional knowledge! This logic is simple yet very few seems to get it!
The good part of the policy, which rationale behind it I duly recognise, is that people with a degree can apply for financial assistance to do the ACCA programme in UiTM (previously, or at other recognised institutions). The part that I refuse to recognise even now is that both MARA and JPA are giving out scholarships for people to go and do their ACCA abroad!
Perhaps I should also explain their ‘rationale’ behind this. They claim that these programmes are critical to produce more accounting professionals because our people would otherwise will not be able to become accounting professionals. I will refute this claim as below:
1. Even after finishing all the exam course, candidates (now carrying the title ACCA) will still have to do a 3-year training contract to actually qualify as a professional accountant (carrying the title CCA). Without finishing this chapter, the said candidate is not a professional accountant. Many ACCA return to Malaysia and did not pursue this path but simply choose another career option. This is their choice, but then again, a lost opportunity, and it costs taxpayers a lot of money while the original objective was not achieved.
2. Many ‘scholars’ come here for 2 years, and could not even finish their studies. Again, this is a wasted opportunity.
3. This is a professional course, and it is mostly offered on a part-time basis. A popular choice amongst students would be to go to a 3-month ‘intensive’ course. Given that the other 3 months are not quite occupied with other programmes, students have 6 months per year off for themselves (in the 2 years of the scholarship). Assuming that they receive £900 per month (RM 4,500) for cost of living allowance (CoLA), they are getting paid higher that most of our junior civil servants! That’s RM 54,000 of free money on holiday for a year! I find this amount unjustified.
4. The ACCA programme is offered in Malaysia, and one reputable institution is Sunway College. While ACCA restricts its exam centres (due to our own misguided policy), ACCA tuition can be given by many qualified professionals, serving and retired. The same is also true for ICAEW and CIMA and other qualifications. Why waste money sending students abroad when we can pay tutors (even from the UK) to teach in Malaysia?
5. There are claims that the ACCA programme being offered in Malaysia is below par, and the pass rate is low. This is not something surprising. If our authority in higher education is more obsessed with sending students (their children) abroad (on taxpayers’ money), there is little fund for investment in local education system, isn’t it? Improvements come with enough investment over time, not by waving wands and uttering ‘hocus pocus’!
6. The money is better off spent in Malaysia on many other students, like the chap who sent the email to you.
I also recognise the fact that there are other pressing issues facing our country now. However, since the scholarship issue by MARA has been brought up, I felt that I need to put forward an area which I think is not critical to our nation’s development and can be axed immediately with a viable alternative already available in out homeland. Scholars who are studying abroad now can finish their ACCA programme at lower costs back home, or even in Singapore. This programme, in my opinion, is better abolished altogether because it causes so much strain on our financial resources, denying local students from their much-needed financing, and does not bring any benefit, let alone multiplier effect, to the local education system.
If there is a programme that must go in the recession for the benefit of more Malaysians, particularly bumiputras if MARA is concerned, this can be one.
In the long run, however, we should ponder a more serious effort to shore up our professional qualification standards. 50 years after merdeka, we still send out students to do ACCA, RIBA and whatnot abroad! I remember it was only last year that our government unveiled a bill to found a professional body for geologists! This is very late indeed for a country that wants to build a knowledge-based economy.
I believe that you can bring forward this issue and seek for a resolution sooner rather than later.
1. On the loans/scholarship to do professional qualifications abroad: This programme can at least be frozen for now. For programmes that are available locally (eg: ACCA), it can be abolished and the money can be invested to improve education standards in Malaysia.
2. For programmes that are not available locally, efforts must be made to establish the respective professional body so that our professionals can be trained locally. This includes architecture (in the UK: RIBA), geology, public administration, secretaries and administrators, etc.
3. Existing professional qualifications (eg: CLP) must be made accessible to many, including those without a degree but with the relevant work experience. If the Bar Council, Law Society and ACCA can do this, for example, why can’t we do the same? Datuk Zaid Ibrahim was correct to have proposed reform measures for the CLP but sadly he left early. If such qualifications are hard to obtain, then Bar-at-Law and other foreign qualification will still gain popularity amongst aspiring Malaysians. I certainly do not blame them.
Thank you for listening. I will try my best to help if you need any on this issue.