Skills Matter More Valuable Than University Degree, According To Education Analyst

Every Singaporean going through our education system knows about the paper chase: the constant reminder that you have to go to a particular top university for a good job and comfortable life.

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So it must come as a little strange when a man like Andreas Schleicher, a top analyst from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), comes along and chides Singaporeans for their obsession with obtaining paper credentials.

We should question the value of a university degree

Mr Schleicher, who is a veteran analyst of education policy, explains in his interview with The Straits Times that it is common for employers, both here in Singapore and elsewhere, to assume that having a degree means a person is ‘smart’ and therefore skilled at a job.

Mr Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director for Education and Skills
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The reason why many employers internationally prefer graduates from top universities like Cambridge or Oxford is because when they’re hiring new employees, they often receive too many applications for them to examine each applicant in-depth.

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Employers, however, know that elite universities do have the time to look over every applicant they receive.

They also know that elite universities are very strict with the type of students they admit. Only the best of the best get in.

So instead of assessing the merits of their applicants themselves, they are happy to use university degrees as a measure of skill instead.

After all, by their logic, if you’re good enough to get into Harvard, you’re probably qualified for the job. Except this probably isn’t true, Mr Schleicher claims.

Having a degree doesn’t mean they possess relevant skills

Having a degree does not automatically mean that one is good at their job, or even that they have valuable skills.

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Mr Schleicher cites the example of US employers who can better identify useful skills and utilise them more effectively than the Japanese.

This advantage makes the US economy more vibrant despite having less ‘educated’ workers.

A degree only shows what someone has done in the past, not what they can do in the future. Skills learned in university can become obsolete quickly in a fast-paced, technology-reliant economy.

Someone that wants to remain employable and relevant should therefore, according to Mr Schleicher, continue to learn new skills and update old ones.

Degrees are no longer guarantees of quality

With Google providing all the answers, knowledge alone isn’t enough. Mr Schleicher claims that using what we know to solve new problems is more important, and something not necessarily taught in university.

He expresses particular admiration for Singapore’s SkillsFuture movement, which he says is an excellent initiative to keep the workforce here in good shape.

However, it will be most effective if we learn how best to employ our skills and talents.

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Four years for a degree, a lifetime of learning

Mr Schleicher predicts that the four-year university degree model is going to become outdated soon. If that becomes a reality, we will have no choice but to embrace lifelong learning.

Someone else out there will always be hungrier than us. It is our job to make sure that we can compete. Getting a degree isn’t the endpoint, but the beginning of a long journey.

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And, as it turns out, there might not be an end to that journey after all.

Featured image adapted from TODAYOnline and SIT.