Thursday, October 31, 2013

To Degree Or Not to Degree? That is the Question

Well, here is the thorny issue of whether one should get oneself a better education and degree qualified in order to compete in the workplace and stand out from the crowd. It's a tough market out there and it's an employers' market - they can pick and choose who they want and, increasingly, they are opting for graduates.I'd just like to comment on a couple of people who I've worked with over the years; both of which were degree qualified. One of them had two degrees in fact; neither of these degrees in subjects that I'd ever heard of or subjects which she used in her occupation. She readily admitted that she couldn't remember any of her course material and that she could also not spell or punctuate a sentence correctly. She was also lazy and frankly not a great advert for higher education. The second person was degree educated in animal care. This person thought that having a degree rendered her middle class which opened up a whole other debate. She was also pretty useless at her job and had about as much common sense as my nan, god love her.What does a degree prove I ask people? Does it make someone more intelligent than their peers without a degree? Does it give them a badge to wear, a belonging or added gravitas? I think some people see it as a status symbol which puts them in an elite group; a cut above the mere plebs who didn't get the chance to go to University or who deliberately chose to go to work. I have had conversations with people who feel that, because they have a degree, they are far superior to those without. Someone said to me recently that being degree educated means that you can have a better class of conversation with people who are equally qualified and that you have a common bond.In my opinion, professional qualifications are far more important and, accompanied with experience in a role, they far outweigh anything that anyone could achieve on paper in the form of a degree from any higher education organization. Professional, competence-based qualifications prove that you are competent at the tasks you perform in your job. They are skills-related and they demonstrate to people that you have 'proved' your worth in that field.On the grounds of the 'degree makes you a cut above' argument, if I'm a project manager and have a degree in leisure studies, does this mean I make a better project manager because of my degree than someone with a PRINCE2 project management qualification? If I have been doing the job of a qualifications' manager for ten years but seek a promotion and can't make it because I don't have a degree, would going out tomorrow and getting a degree suddenly enable me to do that job more effectively? I would argue 'no' to both questions.I have been involved in recruitment and I have interviewed those with and without degrees. I can honestly say that, for the types of roles for which I have interviewed, there has been absolutely no one who has ever impressed me with their degree over and above someone who has experience and a proven track record of being good at what they do. If someone was applying for a job as a forensic scientist, then of course you would expect them to possess a qualification which demonstrated their level of intelligence and knowledge of the complex subject matter; the likely scenario being that they would need a degree in a related field. But if someone was applying for a job as an events' manager, then why would a degree be required? I could find you thousands of qualified and experienced people who could manage events who have never been near a University and who don't need a degree to do their jobs effectively.If, in ten years time, 50% of the population of the UK is going to be degree qualified, does that not devalue the degree to the extent that it's just not worth the paper it's written on anymore? Is it not the same principle as the GCSEA grade, which seems to be more and more the norm and makes you question its worth?I'm also a believer that there are degrees and then there are degrees. Someone in my family has a Masters in Physics from Durham and a Theology degree from Oxford. You cannot possibly tell me that this can be in any way compared with a third in tourism. I just won't accept it. It's a nonsense to even begin to compare them.And do people put on their CVs, "yeah I got a third in sociology and messed about for three years"? Of course they don't. They embellish their degree or they hide the real truth because the word 'degree' on its own seems enough to pull the wool over a lot of people's eyes. I think it's such a shame that the genuinely intelligent people out there who have worked extremely hard for their degrees and have gone on to use them wisely and paid back their fees should be up against those who went to Uni for a bit of a laugh, larked about for a few years and walked out with the bare minimum at the tax payer's expense but who then have the audacity to expect the right to a better job on the back of it. I would go so far as to say the latter category of people infuriates me.So what's the point of this ramble? Well, if having a degree makes people so superior, then why can a huge proportion of graduates neither spell nor punctuate correctly? Basic functions which intelligent human beings should be able to carry out don't necessarily seem to follow in the degree educated. Why is their general knowledge so embarrassingly poor? What has University taught them? What has the tax payer's money provided them with?In this nationwide attempt to show equality to all and allow more and more people the right to a University education, we are allowing people to take degree courses who have no intention of using the knowledge afterwards and probably just didn't know what to do after school. And if you must do a degree for the sake of something to do, then please don't look down at others who don't have one. Having a degree does not give anyone the authority on a particular subject. It means they passed a series of written assignments and studied a subject for a period of time. Lots of very intelligent people don't have degrees but have immense knowledge and intelligence in a particular area.And to all those who have gained degrees and used them wisely to obtain jobs in related fields where the degrees mean they can do their jobs much better than those without degrees, and who are genuinely intelligent and deserve their qualifications, that's fantastic and is surely why degrees were developed.Let the debate go on!