Just how important is a university degree? It depends on the field of study and who you ask.
Wamda posed this question to employers, students, graduates and job seekers at the sixth edition of online career network Akhtaboot’s job fair in Amman, which drew about 80 recruiting companies and about 20,000 job seekers.
The event was part of Akhtaboot Cares Initiative, the company’s CSR program.
Orange Telecom assisting job seekers at the sixth Akhtaboot job fair in Amman. (Images via Tala el Issa)
Responses varied according to job sector. Some argued that the absence of a certificate means the absence of an opportunity, while others were more accepting of university dropouts.
Is a degree an indicator of skill?
Yacoub Rashid, HR manager at renewable energy company Spectrum, believes that university is essential for teaching the basics.
“The university degree does not give everything, but it’s the first step,” he said. “I will not recruit an applicant who does not hold a university degree… the degree is the standard.”
Unlike Spectrum, Media Plus multimedia company is open to recruiting university students and even high school students.
“We are looking for talented people and so I don’t care about university,” said Zaidoun Karadsheh, managing director. “What I care about is the talent to fit the workflow. We look at portfolios before we look at CVs. If the result suits us, we will recruit, and the degree is the least of my concerns.”
However, Karadsheh points out that he does not expect other sectors like medicine and engineering to follow the creative industry’s recruitment model, because these disciplines need intense studying.
Academic qualifications do not determine work performance, he continued. There are dropouts whose work sometimes even exceeds that of a graduate.
Ahmad and Mohammad al-Ashkar, and Mohammad Abu-Saab pause briefly from their job search at the Akhtaboot job fair.
Is a degree an indicator of effort and commitment?
Rawa Qahwaji of Marka VIP says that the company used to hire dropouts but stopped doing so because “it is not fair for college graduates who have worked hard to obtain their degree and a high GPA, to be paid the same amount of a dropout” and so “we now prefer to hire graduates who have high GPAs”.
Similarly, Basim Ahmad of Hello Food’s HR department believes that university is a prerequisite to recruitment.
“University is essential 100 percent because it’s an important experience that teaches the student how to deal with people...and how to stick to deadlines. To me, university represents commitment.”
On the other hand, Carol Jadoun, the principle of Alliance Academy, chose to recruit a Jordanian diploma graduate over an American Masters graduate, and for the same pay rate.
“The salary is not for degrees but for humans,” she said. The most important qualification for Jadoun is the applicant’s ability to learn.
Rather than an indicator of carelessness, she believes that dropouts are indicative of an academic system that does not cater to different learning styles. What needs to be changed is not the dropouts but the system, she said.
If education was fair, Jadoun continued, degrees would be akin to a unified currency with which recruiters can evaluate applicants. That is not the case.
What does university mean to drop outs?
“What if school was more about learning and less about succeeding in a system?” he said in a Ted Talk he gave last February. “Imagine a school where kids don’t get punished for failing”.
Not all dropouts are entrepreneurs like Kawas, and not all of them quit school willingly.
Raghid Batous for example, could not afford university due to limited finances.
Although money was the main obstacle for Batous, he is also not confident in the current academic system.
He believes that university does not add to the student’s development because “whoever wants to learn is able to learn whatever and whenever he or she wants in whatever way they prefer… I for example have turned to books, the internet and people for an experience that a university can never grant me”.
The emphasis on degrees frustrates Batous, because it shuts the door on many dropouts who can benefit society, possibly even better than graduates. Still, he believes that it’s up to employers to reconsider their qualification standards. The only reason he would seek a degree in the future is to make his life easier in a society that does not accept university dropouts.
Optimal Technology Solutions recruiting at the job fair.
If Gates and Jobs are dropouts, does that mean I should quit school?
Many dropouts view Mark Zukerberg, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs - all university dropouts - as role models. They believe that if Jobs was able to achieve massive success without a formal education, then the current system is obsolete.
However, Larry Smith, Economics professor at University of Waterloo, countered that argument in a Forbes interview: “What about ‘John Henry’ and the 420,000 other people who tried ventures and failed?” he said. “It’s a classic case of survivor bias. We make judgments about what we should do based on the people who survived, totally ignoring all the guidance from the people who failed.”
Some entrepreneurs are addressing the shortcomings of traditional education with their own initiatives.
Those initiatives include Uncollege, Waldorf Education, Hackschooling, Thiel Foundation, Co-op Programs, and Learn Capital, a venture capital firm that invests in creative academic solutions, like Minerva and Coursera.
While a university education was once the only option to get ahead, technology and fast-evolving market needs mean that recruiters need to reevaluate their recruitment standards. And as more people turn to these new educational methods, the less important a university degree will become.