The Odd Culture of Obsessing over Degrees
I encourage you to look around you: How many jobs really require a university degree?
I used to think it was only limited to Nigeria until I started working and leading teams of people from other countries.
Early this year, we were short on personnel on a project in the Netherlands. Through a referral, I took on someone who is yet to finish university and spent a total of 10 hours with her on Zoom to bring her to speed on what is expected.
Over the months, I have looked at her and wondered if she knows that her zeal, proactiveness and communication are at par with almost every junior staff I have worked with. I wonder if she knows that the only thing those who earn more than her have is more time on the job.
She represents any youth across the world that has three things:
- Can read
- Can write
- Willing to learn
That’s all anyone needs to function in this global village.
Not a degree.
Degree matters but only to the extent that it helps the recruiter weeds out the competition. If you need one out of 10 people you are unfamiliar with, a degree may help you sort. But only to the extent that you won’t do more work, not for the sake of picking the most competent person.
But even this fixation on paper degrees works in a market where demand overwhelms supply.
I have had the opportunity to analyze job vacancies in developed and developing countries. What is obvious is that when you look at comparative jobs in both markets, those in the developing markets almost always want someone with a Master’s, while it is difficult to see that requirement for those in the developed markets.
And why not? The unemployment rate in Nigeria is 35%. It is 3.5% in Australia.
As I write this, I did a quick job search on Indeed in both countries for Project Managers.
For Australia, salary is AU$165,000 a year ($9,625/month). There is no educational requirement. It asked if you are self-confident, intelligent, and a lover of facts.
For Nigeria, the salary is N800,000/month ($1904 using the CBN rate or $1200 using the market rate). A Master’s is effectively required to get the job.
Italy has a tertiary education attainment rate of 17%, but its literacy rate is 99%. Despite this, its unemployment rate is just 9%. This pattern is consistent across all countries you call developed.
There is a lesson in this for policymakers in our education sector.