Tak kenal maka tak cinta. Jom Kenali Universiti Awam (UA) Malaysia.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Of Professional Qualifications and Degrees

Posted by Alphonso Tan

I often come across this question, “Degree and professional (qualification), which one is better ah?” And my usually impromptu answer for that question is, “Of course is professional lah…”

I’m not so sure whether do you ever heard of the term ‘professional qualifications’, as I came along with this term 2 years ago only when I was doing some research for my tertiary education. It is not a new term, and some of the professional qualification examination bodies have history of more than 100 over years. Profession qualifications are not the same as normal university degrees and in fact, most (or all) of the professions possess a very much higher standard than the normal university degrees, and they are usually recognized by most of the country around the world.

What are actually professional qualifications? Professional qualifications are recognitions that required specialized and complex knowledge, trust from the public, and also the responsibility for the public. In another words, not every field has professional. For example, game designers do not need any trust from the public, and therefore, game designing does not have any professional examination bodies. Some of the fields that have professional examination bodies are law (CLP), accountancy (ACCA, CIMA, ICAEW), engineering (PE), doctors, business administration (ICSA). And that’s why when we are small, we were usually brainwashed by our parents that lawyers, accountants, doctors, and engineers can earn a lot of money! Due to their ethics and professions, they are usually highly demanded by the sectors.

Most of the professional qualificationss are to be taken only if you’ve completed your degree in related field. But very few of the professional qualifications (like ACCA, CIMA, and ISCA) can be carried on wihtout a proper degree, and they are mostly conducted by the universities (but limited), colleges or institutes (some can be found at a small edge along the Petaling Street), and you won't be surprised that most of the students are part-timers.

What are the differences between degrees and professional qualificationss? Basically, for university degrees (especially public), students have to do more assignments and conduct their own research based on the subjects; whereas, for professional qualifications, they are more on problems-solving skills and drilling into the subjects. Besides, the university exams are usually marked by the university lecturers themselves, and if you got your degree, you will hold it for your entire life. Whereas, for the professional exams, the papers around the whole world are marked by the professional examination bodies, and of course, there is a quota rate to pass the exam. After you have passed your exam, you will have to pay for your annual license or membership fees in order to maintain your ‘professionalism’. In case if you've leave a bad reputation while doing your job (manipulating accounts), your license will be tergantung, and you are not allowed to practice in the same field for your rest of your life.

Why most of the employers prefer professional qualifications? I don’t know, as I’ve never been an employer before. But somehow, most of the professionalqualifications are recognized by different countries around the world. You go to China, and they recognize CIMA. You go to Cyprus, they accept ICAEW. Even if you go to Bhutan, they will know ACCA. Unlike the normal universities, professional examination bodies are usually well linked to the countries around the world. Imagine if you possess a local university degree, and seek employment in UK, the employer might say this to you, “**** University? Hmm… Never heard of it before.”

In short, with a professional qualification certificate, a person is bound to be more flexible in seeking employments anywhere around the world, and also possess a higher advantage in local.

But everything has a price to pay for. I’ve heard cases that even smart students struggled every midnight in order to pass their exam, and I’ve seen cases that some students gave up after taking and retaking the exam for 7 years.

So, professional qualifications or degrees? It is actually up to you lah

*Kindly enlighten me, if I made any mistake in this post. Thanks.
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  1. Kudos for writing such an enlightening article, I'm sure many readers will benefit from it. I'd like to add some details to your great post.

    Lawyer Qualifications:
    Read here.

    Accounting Qualifications:
    AAT - Association of Accounting Technicians
    ACCA - Association of Chartered Certified Accountants
    ATT - Association of Tax Technicians
    CF – Corporate Finance Qualification
    CFE - Certified Fraud Examiner
    CIMA - Chartered Institute of Management Accountants
    CIOT - The Chartered Institute of Taxation
    CIPFA - Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy
    ICAEW - Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales
    JIEB/CPI – The Joint Insolvency Examination Board / Certificate of Proficiency in Insolvency

    Engineering Qualification:
    PE - Professional Engineer

    Doctor Qualifications:
    Read here for all doctor qualifications.

    Business Administration Qualification:
    ICSA - Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators

  2. tis post is damn gud. an eye opener to a lot of ppl out thr. double thumbs up!!!

  3. Umm, you need a degree first become you become a professional anyway. Rather than "degree or professional qualification" your title should be "what sort of degree".

  4. True, you need a degree to become a professional. Professional qualifications are a step further in the career world.

    It's just like students who opt for masters or doctorate degrees. Now, doctorate degrees portray professionalism in the academica world too. So, it's not just about lawyers, engineers, doctors or BMA.

  5. Dear all,

    Degrees consists of many different types of qualification.

    You have your most basic degree to the highest:

    1) Bachelor Degree
    2) Masters Degree
    3) Doctorate Degree or what we call Doctor of Philosophy, abbreviated Ph.D).

    However, the term professional are usually addressed to those who are undergoing their Postgraduate Studies (Masters) and above.

    This is because many professionals (those who have made their name in the industry but coming back to further their studies) or professionals-to-be are coming back for a more challenging and analytical syllabus taught in the Masters program and above.

    Thus, many universities, university-colleges, colleges as well as institutions will either continue using the usual identification of Degrees of they may opt for Professional Masters / Doctorate in the listing of programs.

    Perhaps, if there is someone who can correct me if I may be wrong in this case.


    1. True, academic degrees have different levels, but professionals are legally defined, meaning regulated under the laws- like Medical Act, Legal Act Engineer Act, Accounting Act etc. Irrespective of masters or PhD degrees, they are not professional, unless they are specific laws that defined the degree as such (professional). Professionals are regulated by the respective bodies under their respective laws.

  6. I read that professional degree is one with a governing body, and the 3 classical professionals were doctors, lawyers and well, preists.

  7. seriously, i think the term should be "professional qualification" than just a word "professional". as could be seen from the comments published above, ppl have misunderstood the phrases altogether.

    to be an accountant(which is a professional), students generally can take 2 pathways, a professional qualification such as CIMA, ACCA, etc, or the uni degree pathway, like a bachelor of commerce, bachelor of business majoring in accounting etc.

    professional qualifications are some sorta fast-traack but very specific qualifications that are narrowly created for a specific job. it is highly rigid, and its either you pass and complete all modules or you do not attain the qualification and left with nothing. degrees, however, say, a bachelor of commerce, have a few core courses and after that its basically up to you to match or add whatever courses to your liking. some ppl who have interest in finance might want to add finance related courses, some are into accounting, then they do more of accounting, some are more into international business, so they major in international business. its reaally your degree and your design really, that is the flexibility of a uni degree, if you are finding it a hard time in finance, you can always change your major to something else, say, human resource management. there are also options of doing double majors, or major minors, with lotsa choices to choose from, ancient history to political science, french to film studies, classical greek to computer science, of course, the availability of courses depends whether your uni provides them or not.

    professional qualifications like ACCA and the like are for those who are 100% sure of what they wanna study and are focused on the job they are expected to work in after they graduate, which is an accountant in this case, closing other doors or possibilities for exposure to other non-accounting courses.

    and no, you do not become a doctor, lawyer etc by taking professional qualifications, but with uni degrees-MBBS/MD for docs and LLB/JD for lawyers. after you graduate and join the workforce as the above professions, you become a professional. see, there is no professional qualification involved here.

    and no again, postgraduate degrees like masters and PhDs have no relevance whatsoever to professional qualifications.

  8. emogrande: Aha... Thanks pal. One word resolves every problem. =)

  9. emogrande said it best, but I'd just like to add my 2 cents worth.

    I'm a 'professional degree' student, and its my first degree. Why choose a professional degree? Merely thinking globally that is.

    I wanted to study abroad, but that was too costly. Malaysian unis were out of the question, due to quality issues and lack of global acceptance. Mainly, I wanted something that would hold if I decided to move abroad.

    Second is the perception that pro degrees are tough. It is. But in a world where everyone has a degree, you need to stand out, and this would give you an edge.

    Now however, there's one thing that pro degrees lack that emogrande highlighted. That is, uni gives you a holistic education. You do non major-related subjects, and have extra-curricular activities, and of course, the atmosphere of living in the campus bring about its own set of experiences.

    And so ultimately which is better? It all depends on you actually. Best thing would be a degree from an acclaimed uni abroad, but when that option isnt available, pro degree becomes an option.

  10. Chironjit,

    For cetain courses, you are not required to have a degree to be a professional; and for these certain courses, even though you have a degree, or even a master or a PhD, you are not considered a professional yet. For example, accounting, and business admin.

    If you think that a university is the one, and only the one which provides a holistic education, think again.

    In Malaysia, private universities and also public as well, were doublefolded for the past few years. And if you look at those universities, almost every one of them is providing accounting, or business admin courses as well. So, if you considered that every graduates from the universities are professionals (of course, not to remember that some lecturers in the universities provide tips for the exam. Holistic??), which means that Malaysia is going to be flooded by professionals? Every one can sign an audit report? Every one can be a company secretary?

    Of course, to be a professional for one of these courses, besides the local uni pathway (as what emogrande had said), you can choose to take and pass the qualifications listed in the first comment. Although it is more like a 100% based on the courses, but it also reflects the quality and also the effort in you. Bring your degree or your local university name to overseas, and see how much do they recognise it. Or eventhough you are studying abroad but at a not-so-famous university, let's say Liverpool John Moores University from UK, how much does it actually weights?

    Of course, professional degree is always the first option. However, if you think you are good enough, I think a professional certificate will more likely ensure you a job and a good prospect for your future. =)

  11. I would like to lay out some fields which require "professional certificate only" and also "degree-> professional certificate".

    Professional certificates only:
    - Accounting
    - Business Administration (for company secretaries)

    Degree -> Professional certificates:
    - Doctor/Medicine
    - Lawyer


  12. Touche Alphonso. While what I have said still holds true, you have managed to highlight the flaws that have come abt due to the over simplification of the issues I discussed:

    Effort and results always carry weight, and that is what everyone has to remember.

    Different unis do have different standing(including overseas one), so say having a degree from UM might actually be better from some chekai o/seas uni(even a UK one).

    Some fields do need pro degrees, while some dont(I'm doing accounting, and so that is one of the reason I choose a pro degree).

    A holistic education in uni would mean going thru the whole cycle of 3/4 yrs of study in campus,etc,etc. Those external/virtual uni courses doesnt count.

    At the end of the day, look at your capabilities, financial means and also, dont discount professional certificates simply because they're difficult. Tough does not mean undoable.

    p.s. good article alphonso
    p.p.s. in my comments, pro degrees mean the same as pro certificates.

  13. Do I consider as a chartered accountant if I follow this pathway:SPM-STPM-Bachelor of Accounting.Please tell me about this.Thank you.

  14. Heh there wat u guys wrote are true & great...
    erm i'm currently an SPM leaver and wish to persue accounting...
    Currently I'm not enrol to any uni yet..I'm confuse on which route shud i take:

    academic way:
    (foundation > degree in accountin & finance > ACCA [part 3])


    professional way:
    (CAT > ACCA) where after completing the ACCA part2 will be taught how to do a thesis and if manage to passed it wil obtain a degree in accountin from Oxford Brooke Uni.(Sunway Program)

    My opinion is tat the academic way wil giv me a more diversify choices later on where i can further on finance (perhaps Financial Engineering) when the worst come if i don't enjoy doin accountin. But still I find out that the degree obtain thru the thesis will still be relevant if i wanna find jobs in the accountin or banking field. But i dunno wheter is eay to pass this thesis thing or not. Erm my uncle whom is an accountant in singapore advice me to go thru a normal uni life which is by takin a degree 1st and enjoy it. He fels tat goin thru this I wil be able to know more ppl eg, from different falculties. But still by takin the professional way stil I can meet up ppl from other falculties just that this program wud b reli hectic as the time allocated to finish the program is so short. If i were to take this route I hav the confident to pass all the papers in 1 go just tat I hav to put it real lot of effort.

    So i really need some opinions from you guys whom hav more knowledge in this line..Which is the best route i shud take considering from all aspects?
    If any1 wud to advice me to take the academic way plz suggest to me which private uni in M;sia wud be the best...

    thanks a lot ya....

  15. To Gene and those who are interested to become accountant, please visit Malaysian Institute of Accountants ("MIA") web site at www.mia.org.my

    Accountants in Malaysia are governed by MIA as well as Accountant Act 1957. As such, if you are not registered with MIA you cannot call yourself as "chartered accountant" although you have completed your degree in accounting. I would say membership with MIA is a 'license' to act/practice/sign report as ACCOUNTANT (must get the membership no matter what).

    However, in accounting profession registered with MIA is insufficient (we call this as "accountant with no professional qualification"). In additioan to MIA, professional accountants are also member of professional body such as CIMA, CPA Malaysia, ACCA and ICAEW (this group is the group what we call ad "professional accountant").

    My advice are:
    Route 1 - get accounting degree from universities recognised my MIA. If you don't do that, you have to sit for special exam conducted by MIA, which is quite tough to pass, in order to be admitted to MIA.


    May 2008 - register as accounting student with UM
    May 2011 - completed degree in accounting
    June 2011 - work in a reputable audit firm and sign training contract for ICAEW or MICPA (ACCA does not require such thing)
    2011 - 2014 - sit for the exams (ICAEW/MICPA/ACCA/CIMA)
    2014 - completed 3 years experience post degree and eligble to register with MIA - become chartered accountant ("CA (M)")
    2014 - completed exam and training as well - become Certified Public Accountant ("CPA (M)")

    so at the end of 2014, you have these letters after your name BAcc (Malaya), C.A. (M), CPA

    Route 2 - You may choose to go straight to professional body such as ICAEW, MICPA, ACCA, CIMA but these bodies are specialised in accounting only.

    May 2008 - register with ACCA
    2008 - 2011 - sit for the exams
    2011 - 2013 - completed the exam and work in a reputable audit firm or business organisation
    2013 - since you have completed the exam and have the necessary working experience, you can register as member of ACCA (associate)
    2013 - since you are a member of ACCA, you can also register with MIA (ACCA is a recognised body by MIA)

    at the end of 2013, you have these letter after your name C.A. (M), ACCA (not sure about this)

    You can get ACCA membership thru MICPA and vice versa. Please visit their respective web sites for details.

    It is easier to get an accounting degree than professional qualification (judging by the rate of student passed in every sitting). However, accounting degree do teach you in non-accounting area such as biz admin, corporate finance, economy as well as law. Not only that, in university you can mix with non-accounting students such as law, engineering, IT, Economy or Art and this will expand your friend-networking...Networking is important to your working life later

    Make a wise decision..

    Thank you..


  16. Dear All,

    I would like to comments on the ACCA and whatever local uni offered Bachelor in Accounting course loop hole. Its kind of sad to know that our MIA is not doing professionally by simply allow their own kind to be member of MIA. Because they only said yes to, whoever took public degree in Accounting from local Public Uni is recognized by MIA.

    But its takes years for a fellow full/part timer to get full ACCA from UK. Because everyone know even the so called ACCA member of examiner, they said in their ACCA examination report....the student fail to understand the question, the student unable to answer due to the lack knowledge & so on. Making it tough to pass the paper. ACCA examiner is bloody protecting their own rice bowl. WHY coz the ACCA examiner is/are certified accountant!. Too many certified accountant will spoil their own business!.

    So, 2 thing here we need to adress, going thru ACCA is hell not going to make u a certified Accountant, but thru Local Public UNI u can. But remember the quota practice! 70% is BUMIS n the remaining is non BUMIS. How are we going to struggle to get admitted???

    Conclusion, go thru local public seem to be the viable option!. But remember, in overseas accountant association doesn't recognized our local uni Degree in Accounting. That means u r stranded in Malaysia! and become 1 MALAYSI!.

  17. hi,i have a huge problem...now im doing foundation in law,which i started to like but then suddenly i was offerred to study economy by JPA(Jabatan Perkhidmatan Awam) in the same university...i was very confuse because if i take law ,i'll be using PTPTN loan and if i take JPA scholarship,i have to change my course to economy...in your opinion which course is better and have huge job prospect?

  18. hello.. i have my cat qualification n currently persuing acca.. but suddendly i want to stop my acca because i didn't pass most of my papers.. so, i'm considering of taking degree in accounting.. where can i continue my degree if i don't have my diploma n only cat?

  19. if i'm not mistaken actuarial science also have professional qualification...

  20. hi guy, i from tarc student i will finish my diploma in business administration after 2mth but i still confuse which way i wan to choose after this.need some help and advise?

    i confuse about the ICSA cert and bachelor degree of business administration.can i know that which level is higher?and personally i more interest in finance and management,i will finish my study after get the ICSA cert or bachelor degree of business finance so can i know which way is better for mi to choose?

  21. hye guys...currently im doing foundation in business in a private uni,,,later i wanna do degree in accounting...but im confused a about the acca n mia...could anyone help me which one to choose and where to pursue my degree???

  22. I am also agree with that professional degree is better than the normal education. I have a target to do CFA (Chartered Financial Accountants). I love accountancy. Thanks for valuable info.

  23. CIMA is a professional degree as well. It's the most demanding qualification all over the world on Accountancy. Therefore, the cima certificate is highly valuable.


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