1 March 2016

Is your degree program accredited?

By Jefferson Sim Poh Thong

For most parents, providing their children with the path to earning a reputable degree is as vital as getting a reliable insurance – it helps to secure them with a better future.

According to statistics shared by the Prime Minister’s Department in May last year, there are approximately 161,000 graduates between the ages of 20 and 24 who have yet to secure a job six months after graduating.

With the unemployment rate in Malaysia constantly on the increase, there lies the pressing question: what makes a good degree? There are also more questions to consider, like how do you make the right choice of study? Who do you consult? Where do you find out about a particular course? What are the criteria that determine a good degree course?

But perhaps one of the most important considerations is whether the course is accredited. Not only will you have peace of mind when your son or daughter pursues a course that is accredited by a government, educational or professional body. Accreditation also ensures that they will employable and better-equipped for their future career.

So, what is accreditation? Defined by Oxford Dictionary as “the official certification that a school or course has met standards set by external regulators”, it is also “a formal, third party recognition of competence to perform specific tasks and provides a means to identify a proven, competent evaluator so that the selection of certification body is an informed choice” according to the United Kingdom Accreditation Service.

“Usually the reason for getting something independently evaluated is to confirm it meets specific requirements in order to reduce risks.”

From an educational viewpoint, accreditation is the technical term used to describe the approval process by the designated authority where the course is recognised as meeting the relevant quality assurance standards.

In other words, it means the course is good enough to warrant awarding a formal higher education qualification such as a bachelor, master or doctoral degree.

To put it simply, accreditation can be likened to quality checks done for products (degree) to ensure they are fit for consumers (students).

For example, Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus has been mirroring its parent university in Melbourne, Australia in awarding undifferentiated degrees, all taught in English. There is no difference in the value of the degree it awards with regard to each student’s campus of completion, be it in Sarawak or Melbourne.

As an Australian branch campus operating in Malaysia, Swinburne Sarawak is obligated to comply with the rigorous accreditation requirements of both countries. Its engineering programs, for instance, are reviewed by the Engineering Accreditation Council of the Board of Engineers Malaysia and Engineers Australia every few years to ensure they are up to the mark of industry practices.

At the same time, an institution of higher learning must comply with the standards imposed by the Malaysian Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE). Its stamp of approval must be obtained before a course can be offered to students.

The Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA), an agency within the MOHE, audits institutions on such areas as curriculum design and delivery, assessment of students, academic staff, program monitoring and review, governance and administration. Institutions that meet the criteria are awarded self-accreditation status, affirming that they are capable of implementing thorough internal quality assurance processes to ensure continuous maintenance and improvement of the quality of its courses. Swinburne Sarawak was one of the first to be awarded self-accreditation status in 2010.

In the case of Swinburne Sarawak, once granted a course accreditation approval by the Academic Senate at Swinburne Melbourne (in compliance with the Australian Qualifications Framework and the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency) and a course approval by the MOHE, the course is automatically awarded the Provisional Accreditation status under the MQA’s Code of Practice for Program Accreditation.

Upon having its first batch of graduates, each course will go through a full accreditation process to be awarded the full accreditation status (self-accredited by Swinburne Sarawak) and subsequently, listed in the Malaysian Qualifications Register for public access at the MQA website, www.mqa/gov.my/mqr/index.htm.

Thus, Swinburne Sarawak courses are recognised by the public and private sectors in Malaysia along with countries which acknowledge degrees accredited by the Malaysian and Australian governments.

Furthermore, available are accredited degrees that lead to professional qualifications and/or professional memberships. Accounting graduates, for example, could earn direct entry to the professional level of the Certified Practising Accountant (CPA) of Australia to become a Chartered Accountant, while engineering graduates have professional development opportunities as members of Engineers Australia and Board of Engineers Malaysia. These provide graduates with global recognition and mobility to establish a career anywhere in the world.

Conclusively, with accreditation, an institution is able to respond quickly to industry demands to its existing courses and/or offer new courses, allowing graduates to be relevant to industry and ensure their employability.

Jefferson Sim Poh Thong is an executive with the Policy, Planning and Quality Unit at Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus. He can be contacted at ptsim@swinburne.edu.my