I read a blog today, written by an academic from India, who discussed the role knowledge plays in university degrees in the East. Supriyo Chaudhuri claims that students in India attend university to gain a degree, rather than knowledge: they want employability, their parents want employability, and a degree is the route to this.
Employers are looking for motivation and hard working attitudes, work experience and a desire to succeed. Where does knowledge fit into this?
In England, higher education is considered amongst the best in the world. Traditional institutions such as Oxford and Cambridge have produced first rate graduates for hundreds of years, graduates who will have spent their years at universities furiously studying texts and coming out with respectable degrees in subject areas such as English.
With the current focus of graduates being on employment after university, academic degrees are losing their status. Students are increasingly being accused of taking ‘Mickey Mouse degrees’ in a world where practical skills are being sought, but lowering the importance of academic subjects means lowering the importance of knowledge for the sake of having knowledge.
The further the number of students taking vocational subjects at university increases, the further away we move from the traditional respects of education and the closer we move towards routes such as apprenticeships gaining respect beyond a traditional degree. And in England we’re quite fond of tradition.
Apprenticeships and vocational degrees are important in today’s economy, but the possibility that knowledge is getting left behind is worrying. Some argue that knowledge is freely available online, lowering the importance of academia further still, but the knowledge available in this format must be meticulously extracted from the mass of information which surrounds it.
The further degrees move in this direction, the less important they will become when faced with the experience of their non-graduate competitors. Resting safe in the knowledge that your degree will gain you a job after university may be reassuring, but for the sake of education and knowledge, and to ensure the world doesn’t fill up with graduates who couldn’t tell you who Che Guevara or Simone de Beauvoir are, try to open a book occasionally.