Have Degrees Lost their Value for Today's Youth?

--- by Dr. Ali Khwaja, who appreciates skills and dedication more than qualifications, who believes more in life skills than in degrees or diplomas.

Sunil was a good student till he came to high school. Sports, friends and the computer overtook his interest in studies over a period of time, but with great pressure from his parents and teachers, he still managed to get over 75% in his tenth standard Board exams. In PUC his grades went all the way down, he started bunking college, and was finally debarred from appearing for exams due to low attendance.

Sunil did not seem unduly disturbed. He had developed an interest in computer gaming, and had already started programming his own action games. Soon he was glued to the computer, refused to continue with his studies, and started earning big chunks of money with his creative talent. His parents are still in a dilemma whether to allow him to continue in his vocation, or whether to pull him back and send him to college. Only time will tell whether his decision was right or wrong.

There are many intelligent and capable young persons like Sunil who are choosing to give up on traditional graduate studies, and pick up skills that will get them a good career. In an era of fast changing technology and lifestyles, it is yet to be seen what the future will be for people like Sunil. But one thing is certain – to keep abreast of advances, the current generation will have to keep up continuous education and learning, or they will be left behind. While a lot of the learning can take place on-the-job, some more will require formal training, either by taking an off from work and going back to college, or through on-line or correspondence courses. Without a university degree, higher education may be off-bounds.

Some professional bodies have actually started doing away with the requirement of a university degree – the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India being a prominent example. Now students who have completed 10+2 can start with the CPT (Common Proficiency Test) and move on to the Intermediate and Final exams of CA. In order to complete their computer and article-ship training, they need free time that would otherwise be taken away by college classes. Even though graduation is no longer a pre-requisite to become a chartered accountant, it is observed that most serious contenders for CA are continuing with their degree courses in the correspondence mode. This is because if later they wish to acquire dual qualifications like MBA etc., they will not be left behind. A capable youngster who combines qualifications like CA and MBA, will have a definite edge over others who have only completed their CA.

Similarly, there may be occasions when a candidate is competing with a colleague for promotion, and if both candidates have similar track record in work, the organization may promote the person with a degree superceding the one without graduation.

When it comes to degrees by correspondence, many students are apprehensive that they may not be given the same weightage as those who studied through regular classes. This is true to a great extent. But if the same candidate has spent his time wisely, acquiring experience in the field, then he will definitely have an edge over a fresh graduate who spent the past three years in the classroom. Incidentally, degrees through correspondence are considered sufficient for candidates appearing for IAS, Civil Services, and various other competitive exams. In fact, the person who studied through correspondence and spent his time preparing thoroughly for competitive exams, may have a better chance of getting in.

There are some students who wish to take a break after schooling and before going on to graduate studies. There is nothing wrong in that, provided they have a clear focus and determination that they will definitely get back to higher studies after exploring the practical world of work for a year. If they get lured by the easy money, move into dead-end routine jobs that pay well, and take up the attitude of "I'm earning more than graduates do, so why should I study?" they may have to pay a big price in later years.

For those seeking short-cuts and an easy way to finish studying and start earning, there is one point they need to keep in mind. In this generation retirement age is likely to go up to anywhere between 65 or 70. So a person who is around 20 years of age now, needs to plan 50 years ahead of him. The ease with which he can acquire a degree now, will not be so later. And if for any reason he realizes decades later that he is not progressing up the ladder of success at the rate he would like to because of lack of higher qualifications, then it may be too late to catch up.

Many students who have financial or academic difficulties are not aware that they can take the path of the three year polytechnic diploma after their 10th, and after gaining this basic qualification, build up their motivation and complete a B.E. degree in three years, without losing a year. Such "Lateral Entry" is now being offered by many universities in various courses.

While the three-year basic degree sounds the easiest and simplest, and longer professional degree has distinct advantages – even if one does not pursue the career in which one has qualified. Since many decades Engineering has been the foundation for successful careers in a wide range of fields. Not only do engineers constitute almost three-fourths of those who get into IIM's, they are also in civil and military service, banking, politics, creativity, communication, etc. Now the scope of professional courses has extended beyond engineering. A candidate can opt for professional courses in hotel management, medical, veterinary, pharmacy, law, paramedical sciences, architecture, and various others that drill a student through projects, group work, presentations, practical work, etc., and hence enhance his ability to take up challenges, build leadership skills, and be successful in any field he eventually chooses to settle in.

Since the largest employers now are the private sector, who are focused more on skills rather than paper qualifications, there is a strong lure to quit studies and start earning. Yet the fact remains that many of these jobs become routine and monotonous, and the candidates without degrees or higher qualifications find it very difficult to move to anything better, thus stagnating for long periods of time. A formal university qualification is an insurance against such a mishap.

Categorization of University Degrees:

In India, all recognized universities offer degrees after a minimum of 3 years study. For classroom and correspondence courses, one has to complete 10+2, while under the open university (distance learning) scheme, anyone above the age of 18 can enroll if he passes an entrance exam.

  • The traditional 3-year degree courses are BA, BSc and BCom. Later additions are BBM/BBA, BCA, BFA, and many others specializing in fields ranging from banking to social work, biotechnology to tourism and visual communication.
  • Four year professional courses include the most popular BE/BTech, paramedical sciences, hotel management, pharmacy, design, etc.
  • Five year professional courses are Medical, Law, Architecture, integrated masters degrees in science or social science, etc.

Many foreign university degrees are not recognized for higher education or government employment in India. Other than recognized universities, no other institution is permitted to award "degrees." One needs to be cautious of coaching centres that enroll students for degree courses. A university degree from India is generally recognized all over the world, and opens the doors for higher education, and better progress in one's career.

Career Guidance

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