PETALING JAYA: He spent five years slogging as a part-time student, targeting for a business degree.
When he eventually graduated from the private institution, he got a job at a bank.
A week before he was supposed to start work, he was told that his degree was not recognised in Malaysia and Singapore.
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He ended up having to use his SPM qualification to look for employment, taking on jobs as a security guard and call centre operator.
Sin Chew Daily reported about the plight of this unidentified man, who has since embarked on an online degree course from an accredited university.
The man’s dilemma is a cautionary tale of how students must check the accreditation of a course to avoid future complications.
To know a programme’s accreditation status, UCSI University vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Siti Hamisah Tapsir said students should check with the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA) website, which lists accredited programmes.
Prof Siti Hamisah, who is also the former Higher Education Ministry director-general, said unaccredited programmes are often offered by companies under the guise of higher education institutions (HEI).
“If a programme seems too easy to attain or too good to be true, it probably is.
“Programmes that promise a credential in a matter of weeks, involving minimal studying or none at all, and offer a degree in exchange for payment should be avoided,” she said.
While accreditation is not mandatory, she said students who pursue unaccredited programmes would face problems when they seek employment or further their studies.
She said the Higher Education Ministry will only issue licences to accredited programmes.
The Public Service Department (JPA) and the private sector will refer to the Malaysian Qualifications Register for service appointments, she said.
As for the National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN), it will only provide loans to programmes that receive full or provisional accreditation, she added.
“Leading companies conduct rigorous pre-employment verification exercises and those with unaccredited degrees will be at a disadvantage as the legitimacy of their credentials come under scrutiny,” she said.
However, she noted that more employers now favour growth mindsets, adaptability and skills over credentials when it comes to hiring, citing Google, Apple and IBM as among the companies with positions that do not require applicants to possess a degree.
Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman’s vice-president for Internationalisation and Academic Development Prof Dr Goi Bok Min said students should always look for the MQA approval code in choosing a course.
He said all approved and legitimate HEI have approved registration codes by the government.
“These codes should be displayed on the institution’s website and programme promotional materials,” he said.
As for overseas programmes, he said students should always ask for evidence of approved programmes by the respective government before enrolling.
“Check their websites for evidence,” he said.
Prof Goi said students and parents should also visit the campus to view its facilities before enrolling.
“Speak with university staffers and request to see approval codes or evidence before enrolling. And speak with academics, if possible.”
Sunway Education Group chief executive Prof Datuk Dr Elizabeth Lee said such graduates could check with the ministry to understand whether their certificates obtained could be accredited.
Lee, who also served as MQA council member for six years from 2016, said MQA has now enabled Accredited Prior Experiential Learning or APEL, so those who had undergone courses that were not accredited or recognised might be considered for credit (APEL.C) or for admission (APEL.A and APEL.M) to higher education, or even be given formal higher education qualification (APEL.Q).
“The APEL process is not used to gain access to employment but, rather, higher education.
“However, it shows the flexibility that MQA and the ministry allow to recognise experiential learning for higher education, which includes non-accredited or recognised courses or programmes,” she said.
While all academic programmes must be accredited by MQA, Prof Lee noted that the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) programmes could be accredited by MQA or the Skills Development Department.
“There are also some practice-based certifications offered by international organisations that are sometimes internationally regulated.
“Some of these programmes and certifications cannot be accredited by MQA because they may not be offered through an institution of learning but should have gone through equivalency check by MQA and can be recognised by MQA and considered for higher education pathways,” she said.
She said the public must not confuse accreditation with attestation of certificates, which the ministry does for those certificates of programmes which are accredited by MQA.
Asia Pacific University of Technology & Innovation senior director and registrar Dr Teh Choon Jin said it could be hard to tell between accredited programmes and non-accredited programmes in terms of entry qualifications.
Teh, who is also the National Association of Private Educational Institutions (NAPEI) secretary-general, said students pursuing qualifications might become unwitting supporters of colleges that offer non-recognised qualifications.
He said the institutions should be upfront on whether their offered are accredited or otherwise.
“There is a need to review the laws in this area to better protect students,” he said, adding that one law that protects students in such issues is the Consumer Protection Act.