A veteran in the field of accountancy, Professor Ng Eng Juan, at the SUSS School of Business (SBIZ), was recently profiled in the International Teachers' Day tribute of IS Chartered Account Journal's October issue. We catch up with the prolific educator to share his thoughts on his teaching career which spans three decades.
What are your thoughts about being selected by members of the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants (ISCA) to be featured in its International Teachers' Day profile story?
When my HoP requested that I put up my name for the selection, I thought why not? It will do the SUSS Accountancy programme a lot of good if one of its academics is featured in the ISCA journal. It will at least create some publicity for our new programme.
Frankly, my selection did not come as a big surprise for me, because I have an "unfair" advantage. I have been in academia for about 30 years, and some 18,000 accounting graduates have gone through my classes, and that constitutes approximately 50% of the ISCA members. Also, many ISCA members have been attending my CPE courses commissioned by ISCA.
How did you start having an interest in accountancy?
During my time, there was not much career guidance. I was just going with the flow. For an arts stream student with good HSC (the Singapore equivalent of A Level) results, the natural progression was to enrol into the Economics Faculty at the University of Malaya. After the first year of study, the natural choice for those with good grades was to go into either Accounting specialisation (for those who were more quantitatively savvy) or Business specialisation (for the more business-savvy ones). So, yes, I was just following the usual path and ended up doing Accountancy, and fortunately things had worked out nicely for me.
Looking back, the first time I committed myself to do well in accounting was when I was told that I had topped the mid-term test in Introductory Accounting (out of some 600 students).
It also definitely helped that I had a very good Introductory Accounting professor, who went on to teach us Intermediate Accounting in Year 2 and Accounting Theory in Year 3, which gave us a very good foundation in accounting.
What made you decide to pursue teaching as a career?
After I graduated from University of Malaya, I won a scholarship from the newly established Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM – National University of Malaysia) to further my studies in the United States. When I returned, I joined UKM as a lecturer.
UKM had a very small intake of accounting students, each cohort comprised about 40. The environment was very friendly and cosy and I was often invited to students' activities, both on- and off-campus. I also enjoyed my classes, and students told me they liked my classes. But I was feeling very inadequate. What I did, due to a lack of practical experience, was just to make summaries of what were in the textbooks and deliver them in class. I knew that was not the way to teach accounting. To teach accounting well, one would definitely need to have some practical experience. So, immediately after I had served my contract with UKM, I left for a Big Four public accounting firm, even though that meant taking a 50% cut in my salary.
I learnt a lot and enjoyed what I was doing during my 4.5 years with the firm. But deep down, I knew that teaching was still my first love. So when Nanyang Technological Institute (the predecessor of Nanyang Technological University or NTU) advertised to recruit academic staff for its accounting programme, I applied and was accepted.
Over the years, students have told me that I am a good teacher, and that makes me think I am good at teaching, and so I have continued teaching. I taught at NTU for almost 30 years until the end of my tenure contract. Despite my age, I still have the passion for teaching. So I joined SUSS after my retirement from NTU. Hopefully, I will continue to make a positive contribution to the students' learning experience in SUSS.
As you can see, I am a lucky guy. Things have always worked out nicely for me. I am of course very grateful for all the nice things that have happened to me.
What has been the most rewarding experience/aspect in your teaching career so far?
Probably the most rewarding aspect, to any teacher, is to know that your former students have been doing very well in their personal and professional lives and have been making positive contributions to society.
It also makes my day whenever former students acknowledge me when we meet, either while attending a conference in town or while jungle tracking in the Bukit Timah Hill area, and we have a little chit-chat and share some of the jokes I had made in class. Somehow, many of my former students remember the jokes I made, but not the technical stuff I taught!
How can education contribute to the future of the accountancy profession?
Technical competency is a given. Soft skills are becoming increasingly more important under the integrated work environment. Accounting educators should therefore endeavour to equip accounting graduates with both the technical and soft skills.
Professional ethics should also be an integral part of an accounting student's curriculum. Ethics should not be taught as a separate standalone module. Instead, it should be integrated into each and every accounting module.
With constant changes and disruptions in the future, it is also essential that we equip students with lifelong learning skills. In my view, SUSS is doing a wonderful job in this respect.