The perception of university degrees
It is no secret that degree holders tend to start their careers on a better footing than most. For instance, surveys show that the starting salaries of degree holders are higher than that of diploma holders. In many parts of the world, which university one graduates from also often ends up playing a part. These factors entrench the perception that degrees determine one's success, propelling students towards a pursuit of academic qualifications.
Recognising the complexities
The complexities of qualifications and one's employability must be acknowledged. The state of the economy, business requirements and the skills that employers deem valuable at the time determine which degrees and qualifications influence an individual's employability. In today's context, many pivot to job roles that have little to do with the degrees they graduate with. This should spur everyone to re-evaluate the true meaning of a degree.
Not to say that there is no value in a degree
The structured approach to learning that a degree offers is certainly beneficial especially pertaining to fields that require individuals to have a large amount of domain knowledge and to have gone through rigorous training.
A university education also provides opportunities to hobnob with academics and participate in debates with one's peers and professors, which can contribute to intellectual and creative growth.
Skills acquired through other means
However, can those without a degree excel in their fields and surpass degree holders in terms of competence? Employers in Singapore are certainly waking up to this. Academic qualifications are not the main consideration and employers are instead, looking for people with the relevant skills, work experience, soft skills and the right attitudes. There is also a greater openness to people who acquire skills through massive open online courses.
An age-old debate
The debate over the value of a degree is a long-standing one. In 2017, then Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung stressed that skills, rather than paper qualifications, are what carry a premium in the new economy. He said that there should be diverse paths for people to enhance their skills, such as through academic upgrades, apprenticeships, industry certifications, overseas experience or simply gaining work experience.
Vital skills that degrees don't teach
The last decade has also shown us that whether or not one has a degree, continual learning is imperative. In an age of massive unpredictability, both employers and job seekers concede that the knowledge and skills gained from a degree can become obsolete.
Instead of being fixated on academic qualifications, employers should test an individual's ability to learn, reason and think logically, and their willingness and ability to learn new skills.
Breaking old habits
What is troubling is that job portals still show that the prerequisite for many roles is at least a degree. There is a need to break these old habits.
While degrees are certainly not bereft of value, let's recognise that skills of the future can be acquired through other equally, if not more credible means. This means rewarding individuals for the value they bring to the job rather than the paper qualifications they have.