How the SMU MPA transformed my career: From Communications to Policy Analysis
Febrin Low managed to change the direction of his career over the course of just a year. In 2018, Febrin was working in a corporate communications role in Singapore’s Ministry of Finance, but by 2019 he had transitioned into the Ministry of Health as a policy analyst, a more technical job that demands high levels of numeracy and requires him to understand the data underpinning healthcare strategies.
Febrin says he had the confidence to apply for the new position because by early 2019 he was about to graduate from Singapore Management University (SMU) with a Master of Professional Accounting (MPA). “As I didn’t have an accountancy background, the MPA widened my perspective and gave me the ability to analyse accounts, express my views in terms of figures, and spot the important trends behind the numbers,” explains Febrin, whose undergraduate degree is in sociology. “My career before SMU had given me good general soft skills, but now I’m equipped with the hard skills to drill down and understand what’s driving the data.”
When Febrin first applied to the MPA programme, he was delighted not only to be accepted, but to receive an SMU MASTERS ASEAN Scholarship. The university awards the scholarships to outstanding students from ASEAN countries who are pursuing a Master degree with SMU. The scholarships aim to increase the diversity and overall learning experience in SMU classrooms. “The scholars are chosen from people who apply to SMU programmes, so I was surprised, heartened and happy to be selected, because all my classmates were very talented,” says Febrin.
Febrin’s ASEAN Scholarship came with a S$10,000 grant towards his fees. “I was very grateful for the
financial assistance, and there were many other benefits. SMU organised networking sessions for me and scholars from other Master programmes, which was great as we came from various backgrounds and could learn from each other. We also got to network with faculty members and the Dean even took time out to meet us and make sure we were settling in well,” says Febrin.
Recipients of the scholarship are expected to be good ambassadors of SMU and to participate actively in student development and outreach activities. Febrin lived up to these expectations. Most notably, he was class president during the year he spent at School of Accountancy doing the MPA programme full time.
As president, he worked closely with classmates to organise events that promotes collegiality, cross-cultural understanding and student development through social and community service activities.
“We were a small group of around 30 people going through an intense course, so getting together outside of the classroom was an important and enjoyable part of the experience,” he says, adding that activities included a cookie-baking day at a charity organisation and visits to various Singaporean attractions, including the world-renowned Botanical Gardens. “We had classmates from China, India, Pakistan and several other countries. The local students like me showed them around Singapore, so they could get to know our country and the unique Singapore culture while they were studying here,” says Febrin.
His MPA cohort was also diverse in terms of work experience. “For example, there were lawyers and corporate restructuring professionals – it’s not just a course for accountants. Being in a melting pot like this adds colour to what you learn in class, because you’re getting so many different perspectives,” adds Febrin.
Classes at SMU are small, while the teaching style is interactive and encourages students to discuss and debate topics with one another, says Febrin. “You don’t just learn from textbooks; you can chip in with questions, speak freely, and disagree with ideas – that’s when the real learning happens,” he adds.
The MPA, which can also be done part time, is made up of 12 compulsory modules, internship, and up to two electives. Of the 12, six focus on core accounting subjects, while there are three modules each under the categories of business fundamentals and professional services. “You learn technical accounting skills as well as broader business ones – this keeps the programme varied and interesting,” says Febrin.
Management Accounting was Febrin’s favourite class. “It radically transformed how I see the profession. People think accounting is like counting beans, but this module demonstrated its widespread business applicability,” he says. “In one fascinating exercise, we created a mock company, and after the professor vetted our proposals, we used management accounting tools to analyse it and understand any inherent weaknesses. This is a good example of how accounting doesn’t just look at surface-level problems; it can reveal the underlying drivers behind the performance of a business.”
No matter the module, Febrin says the industry experience of the SMU faculty brought their lessons to life. “Because they’ve worked or are still working in their sectors, the lecturers can give real-life examples to support the theory and tell you how they handled tough challenges that you wouldn’t hear about in textbooks,” he says. “Their experience, for example in the Big Four accounting firms, also means they know about cutting-edge emerging trends. It was heartening to have professors teaching me to stay ahead of the curve rather than just keep up with it.”
The MPA curriculum is “vigorous, robust and fast paced” says Febrin. “Some students, like me, had no accounting background and were expected to pick things up quickly. But I’m happy that SMU didn’t compromise the quality of the course for us,” he adds. “To succeed on the programme, you must do more than just study; you have to engage with the professors and proactively ask questions to avoid falling behind. Most of all, I benefited from having a wonderful group of classmates who I could turn to for support. They helped me get through the programme, and many of us still keep in touch to this day.”