Gabazira's blog

The Effectiveness-Lab

Why a degree no longer guarantees individual prosperity 2 of 2

At the Effectiveness lab, we premise most of our discourse on the hypothesis that what is both effective and efficient, ultimately brings efficacy to what we do. But apparently, the education industry may be losing the plot. The academic degree is no longer the cure-all that it was, once upon a time. There are apparently better ways to acquire skills and still be prosperous, if not wealthier.

Degrees – no longer a table d’hote affair Credit: Wikipedia

In economies like the UK, there is even talk of jobs that are well paying but don’t require a degree. HR practitioners, please watch this space with concern.

All along – it has been effective (maybe not always efficient) investing your money in a clear education pathway that would guarantee an excellent academic degree at the end. It has been considered effective and efficient to attend the K-12 school system, university – and at the end of the cycle attain some kind of degree. A degree is an ultimate gift that we all long for as it sort of guarantees individual prosperity.

In the under-developed world, certainly at Nakabugu village in Uganda, the degree is the proven route to breaking the poverty cycle; walking the full education pathway is poverty-bursting efficacy at its best! Well, no longer the case

So how and why should a system that has served so many, and so very well, become so ineffective? Why is the degree suffering rising disdain all of a sudden? If this were to be looked at through the demand and supply lenses, it appears like demand for the degree is on the wane

If the market is on the wane, should we then consider this a supply challenge? Series 1 talks to a few hard realities:

  • All of a sudden – many Z-generation kids are shunning the traditional ‘bums on seats’ approach to college education.
  • The traditional academic degree model may not be suited to a generation that is talent driven – and knowledge-oversupplied.
  • Even more worrying for the universities and parents, employers are increasingly choosing to train their labour on the job, than at universities where the students don’t always graduate with the right skills.
  • The whiz kids are increasingly opting for stuff they have a personal interest in and makes them happy
  • The whiz kid may not always need a university to learn and prosper after all
  • There is one thing we are sure of at the Effectiveness lab – the Z-generation kid won’t without questioning, add to the statistic of students at universities, investing time to get qualifications regardless of relevance to employers and themselves.

Well, if you are looking for indictment, don’t you have it right here for the academic degree?

What is killing the academic degree and what can we do about it?

The killers:

It seems, from where we stand, that skills acquisition and supply isn’t any longer driven by diktats from a university, but one’s passion and interest as well as market realities. Generally, universities continue to offer extremely structured and rigid courses when the generation that is coming of age is looking for a cocktail-of-skills that match what they are passionate about. Whiz kids don’t want to study a psychology course merely because they are reading a liberal-arts undergraduate degree at university. They want to cherry-pick what they study; it must keep them happy and prosperous. It’s increasingly becoming a cherry-picking game and universities have to get used to supplying course-cocktails within a very flexible eco-system. It’s like going to a meat-bar where you pick what type of meat you want to eat and not have things dictated to you table d’hote style

Yes, universities no longer enjoy the monopoly of creating, owning, and controlling the supply of knowledge. They aren’t knowledge hyper super-markets anymore. Like Amazon and e-Bay have disrupted the retail industry, Google and the oversupply and fragmentation of knowledge are disrupting, and pretty fast at that, the academic degree industry. Universities are yet to come up with a strong alternative to this disruption. You can study the full HR degree online, without ever setting foot in a classroom, and become as skilled as the university educated HR practitioner.  You may, for those of you running family businesses, simply acquire the knowledge without certification by a university.  It’s all available online.  So why should you pay for a university degree unless it’s packaged differently? For example, should the woman/man hours, spent at work, not count towards degree grades? Are universities underestimating a partnership with industry that could bring them millions and guarantee them a sustainable future?

The constricted jacket approach to education, efficient as it has been for the last 100+ years is being challenged as at times irrelevant and inefficient. Going through the full K-12 and subsequently, tertiary education may not always be the magic path to skilling in the world. Yes, kids should undoubtedly do the K-12, and we very much encourage parents to ensure this leg of the skilling journey is walked; but there are big decisions to be made when it comes to considering opting out of tertiary education and choosing to do an apprenticeship. Or just starting to do what kids like doing on their own. Could this be part of the answer to the constant drop-out challenge in Nakabugu Village (due to lousy economics in households), if it’s structured and managed well? After all, it’s not that knowledge acquisition ever stops under this new dispensation of skills. It’s an era of life-long-learning (LLL), and you can learn as and when you need knowledge. It’s no longer the case that once the knowledge hyper supermarket (read: university) is closed, you can’t get knowledge anymore. Not at all, knowledge is available 24/7 on Google and many other platforms

The skilling certification nomenclature – is the degree not a composition of several smaller courses or course modules? So, if we are to consider the above cocktail approach to skills acquisition, should universities not be looking at different ways to sale their knowledge/skills certification product? Does it have to be a degree, diploma, or certificate? What else could be used to define and award papers that confirm skills mastery other than the three types outlined here – the so-called ‘DDC’ nomenclature? After all, skills life cycles are becoming ever shorter and LLL rising in prominence


Well, the answer is simple – but too simple that even us wonder if it’s the ultimate solution.

It’s about understanding that university education products should be shaped by demand and situational-reality as opposed to the traditional supply forces. And recognizing that like all other industries, education is undergoing disruptions and those in the industry and at the forefront of thinking different and taking the risk to change, will stand in good stead – they will come out the winners.

Now, we know that you don’t just wake up one morning and ask ‘les professors’ to change – they have owned knowledge definition and supply for too long – but might this be about to change forever?


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About Me

Apollo B. Gabazira is an Ugandan OD. junkie fascinated by matters that render organisations/individuals effective or not. He blogs on effective leadership and management. He is a devoted green-farmer and breeds the Ayrshire cow at Nakabugu, Luuka district, Uganda. Apollo is quite effective at what he chooses to do.


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