Do we need a college degree to be successful?

It is true that skills, and not degrees, take us far in life. But it is also true that we need degrees to enter into the job market in India and in many other countries. This debate of “whether we really need a degree” is also common to other countries, even to the USA. In the present scenario, to be eligible for a professional job, it is a must to have a degree to back your credentials as it supports the job applicant’s resume. Certain professional fields which are too much subject-specific such as law, medicine (MBBS, MS), academia (teaching) necessarily require a degree and it is not possible to embark on such professions without them. While certain other professions such as public speaking, entrepreneurship, sports, do not require educational degrees as such.

Only 2 per cent out of the 15 million workforce which is added per year is job-ready. Other than the problem of an ever-increasing population, a big part of this problem lies with our education system. Since school we are taught and encouraged to be hard-working individuals who can add to the workforce of the country, and not so much on creativity, entrepreneurship and innovation. The reason why creativity and innovative thinking are not encouraged in our school and university education can be attributed to the following reasons. One, students in schools (especially after entering secondary and senior-secondary classes) are under a constant pressure to perform in regularly-conducted tests and assessments. Two, teachers in private and government schools and colleges, many of whom are disinterested in their professions, are not periodically evaluated and assessed so that they can be trained on their teaching skills (communication skills, audio-visual presentations, conducting smart classes, etc.) which they might be lacking in. If a university teacher is disinterested in teaching or considers her profession as a burden which is to be transferred onto the students, or is lacking in communication skills, how can she motivate and generate interest among the students to think outside the box? Encouraging thinking outside the box will lead to innovative ideas, some of these ideas will be acted upon and that will lead to job creation. Three, tendency to streamline the system by laying over-emphasis on grades. Students end up studying just for marks with little guidance by parents/teachers to help them see the bigger picture.

Parents, in turn, just reciprocate what our education system demands. Every other parent wants his/her child to go for engineering education so as to be able to secure a well-paying job which indicates their concern borne out of insecurity for livelihood and sustenance. As an example, engineering education has failed terribly in India because of its degrading quality and low-quality output. Too many entrants has lead to too many colleges compromising the quality of engineering education. Engineering colleges have ended up producing generalists instead of specialists – how much of these generalists are job-ready?

To tackle unemployment, other than job guarantee schemes like MNREGA, the government has focused on imparting job-specific skills (eg. schemes like Skill India). Entrepreneurship, which does not require educational degree and which can create multiple jobs at a time, has also been encouraged through schemes like MUDRA and Startup India. Renewable energy sector, especially the solar energy sector, has seen an amazing growth in Asia since 2011. Around 60 per cent of global jobs in renewable energy sector have been created in Asia, with China topping the list.

Degree’s role is limited to validating skills and ensuring eligibility for a particular set of jobs. Job-specific skills, and not degrees, will help us in progressing in our careers. As students, one way to ensure our future in this insecure world is to work very hard on our skills, both the soft and the hard ones.


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