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LETTER | Flexible pathways needed for registration as graduate engineers

LETTER | It is urgent that the engineer registering authority in Malaysia initiate a review to provide more flexibilities and possibilities to assess the knowledge base and attributes of qualified Malaysian engineers for appropriate registration instead of denying them.

Alike other regulated professions such as medical doctors, it is mandatory for engineers to register with the Board of Engineers (BEM) to practice engineering in Malaysia. Unfortunately, the conception of the general public has always been that registration with BEM is only necessary if you are performing engineering jobs/services which are related to government or government-linked companies. 

This isn’t true especially with the revision to the Registration of Engineers Act made in 2015 which resulted in mandatory registration with BEM in order to perform engineering services in Malaysia. 

Today, registration as a graduate engineer has even been made a compulsory criterion in many jobs’ advertisements/vacancies. Unable to register as a graduate engineer indeed causes a loss of job opportunities in Malaysia.

Since BEM became a signatory of the Washington Accord (WA) in June 2009, BEM only recognises overseas degrees which is WA recognised for registration as a graduate engineer. For graduates with an overseas degree that is not WA recognised, BEM classifies them as a non-recognised degree. 

The majority of these graduates with a non-recognised overseas degree are graduates with British engineering degree (BEng) qualifications. Despite the three-year UK BEng is fully accredited by Engineering Council United Kingdom (ECUK), the UK BEng is not WA recognised beyond the year 2000. 

As a result of this, we are looking at not less than tens of thousands of Malaysians having this non-recognised overseas degree issue considering the tendency for Malaysians to pursue British engineering degree as an alternative to Malaysian degree.

Having known the huge number of affected graduates, what is the solution offered by BEM? Based on the policy announced by BEM in July 2021, BEM offered two solutions. Either to complete MSc by coursework only (research-based not accepted) by enrolling before Dec 31, 2021. Or, by completing two years special engineering top-up which runs between Jan 1, 2022 and Dec 31, 2023. 

Beyond Jan 1, 2024, BEM no longer provides any pathway to recognise these graduates for registration as graduate engineers. BEM further stated in the same policy that neither of these solutions would be guaranteed to be accepted and it still would be on a case-to-case basis. 

Is this the best solution BEM can offer to these graduates considering the pandemic which we are going through, where many engineers are suffering reduced income or even up to the extent of a job loss? Let’s look into the issue in a deeper context to better understand it.

WA is an educational accord initiated by the UK, established to promote mutual recognition of substantial equivalence of engineering degree for registration as professional engineer among participating members known as the signatory. 

During the establishment of WA, the required academic qualification of the participating countries for registration as a professional engineer was used as a guideline for determining a WA degree. In this context, prior to 1999, three-year UK BEng was the required academic qualification for registration as Chartered Engineer. 

Beyond 2000, ECUK raised their required academic qualification from Bachelors to Masters level to align themselves with European countries for registrations as chartered engineers. 

Let me stress this again, a Masters level does not necessarily mean formal education which results in an academic accredited Masters degree only. Instead, Masters level can even be achieved through experiential work-based learning. ECUK also accepts further learning such as MSc or PhD by research to attain Masters level.

However, when ECUK raised their academic requirement from Bachelors to Masters level (eg BEng to MEng), BEM assumed that the Malaysia BEng is equivalent to UK’s MEng. Certainly, this is not the case. 

The UK’s MEng is a level 7 academic qualification equivalent to level 7 UK’s MSc. The Malaysia’s BEng can be considered of equivalent academic standing to UK’s level 6 BEng. Notably, BEM’s academic requirement for professional engineer registration is Bachelors level and not Masters level, like ECUK. 

It is understood that through the WA, UK’s MEng should be directly recognised by all WA signatories. But, when BEM’s academic requirement is Bachelors level, why the UK’s BEng cant also be recognised by BEM?

By comparing the three years UK BEng to four years Malaysia BEng, UK BEng consist of 120 equivalent credits while Malaysia BEng consists of 143 credits. However, 22 of the 143 credits in Malaysia BEng consist of non-engineering modules such as Islamic civilisation, Malaysian studies, entrepreneurship, English, information literacy, social engagement, co-curriculum and electives from other faculties which do not add value in terms of engineering knowledge. 

Subtracting these 22 credits of non-engineering modules from Malaysia BEng, both the UK three years BEng and Malaysia four years BEng has similar 120-121 credits of engineering modules. So, why BEM refuses to recognise the UK three years BEng despite it is equivalently equipped as the Malaysia four years BEng?

Moving on, referring to the two years special engineering top-up which BEM requires the UK BEng graduate to complete in order to register as a graduate engineer, what modules does BEM wants these graduates to complete when they have indeed completed all the core modules and an equivalent number of engineering modules/credits as the Malaysia four years BEng graduates? 

On the other hand, for the top-up by MSc, why do you want these graduates to have Masters level academic qualification when BEM’s academic requirement is Bachelors level? 

In addition, since the WA degree refers to acquired learning outcomes instead of the modules completed or the program delivery, why BEM being a WA signatory only accepts MSc by coursework when MSc by research has identical learning outcomes as outlined in MQA document? 

Notably, PhD has learning outcomes beyond MSc level. So, why can’t BEM also recognise further learning of MSc or PhD by research as top-up of the UK’s BEng?

Even more surprising is that BEM even recognises the Marine Certificate of Competency Class 1 or Aircraft Certificate DCAM Category C holders who do not necessarily have an engineering degree to register as a graduate engineer. 

These group of people might have progressed to obtain these certificates from with Diploma qualification. However, by mapping the combination of education, training and practice undergone by these professionals to obtain the Certificate of Competency (COC) Class 1 or DCAM Part 66 Category C, BEM has deemed it to be substantially equivalent to a BEng degree.

So, when BEM can even allow non-graduates (without engineering degrees) to register as graduate engineers by recognising their combination of education, training and practice, why graduates with accredited UK BEng are not even recognised to register as graduate engineers with BEM? 

Or why can’t BEM recognise the UK BEng plus training and practice these graduates undergone while working for registration as graduate engineers? 

Even more frustrating is that, many UK BEng graduates who have even gained chartered engineer registration upon completing further learning such as MSc or PhD plus a certain number of years of engineering practice, are also refused by BEM for even graduate engineer registration.

BEM being the engineering regulatory body in Malaysia should provide more flexibilities, possibilities and routes to assess the knowledge base and attributes attained by engineering graduates through combination of education, training and practice to provide appropriate registration levels instead of not recognising and denying them.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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