The ONLINE EDUCA debate: down with degrees and diplomas!

Recent developments in course provision and technology, alongside increasing youth unemployment, are challenging the current system of diplomas and degrees. Some argue that the current system is no longer fit for purpose: it is failing students, undermining good teachers and letting down employers. But what are the alternatives? Don’t we need a tried and tested assessment system to underpin our education system and provide a benchmark for students? The stage is set for a major battle between educational traditionalists and radical modernisers as this year’s ONLINE EDUCA debate discusses the motion that “a ban on diplomas and degrees awarded by schools and universities would have a positive impact on competence development and lifelong learning”.


Chaired by former British MP Harold Elletson, the ONLINE EDUCA debate on Thursday, November 29th will see Jef Staes, author of My Organisation is a Jungle, Belgium and Donald Clark, University for Industry, UK wage war on diplomas and degrees, while Sue Martin, SAP, Germany and Kirstie Donelly, City & Guilds, UK will mount an impassioned defence.


According to Donald Clark from the University for Industry, “there’s been more pedagogic change in the last 10 years than in the last 10,000 years”. The advent of the Internet and increasing use of technology in the classroom are changing the way we learn. Teachers have never before had such a vast array of teaching methods available to them, and students have a wealth of information available at their fingertips. Yet our approach to accreditation remains largely unchanged. Clark sees higher education as being stuck in a bubble: “the price keeps on rising but the product remains the same”. He adds: “education sticks with knowledge, not skills, because it’s easy to test”. But is this knowledge on which students are measured really relevant in today’s workplaces? Do diplomas and degrees reflect the acquisition of the skills that are necessary in the modern labour market?


The increasing rate of youth employment suggests otherwise: it stands at 23% in Europe, 17% in the US and 20% across the G20 economies.[i] More and more graduates are finding that their university qualification does not necessarily qualify them for entry into the workplace.


Jef Staes argues that the educational structure was “created in an era of information scarcity. Knowledge was the privilege of insiders, the rich, the smart, the powerful. This knowledge reinforced their status within society and within this structure.” Nowadays, thanks to the Internet and advances in technology, information is becoming democratised and “these foundations are slowly crumbling”.


But assessment is such an integral part of traditional educational systems: from a very early age, assessment is used to dictate what and where students may study, and provides the key benchmark for entry into the employment market. According to Sue Martin, SAP, Germany, “the importance of sound and reliable competency benchmarks for industry” cannot be emphasised enough. “A ban on diplomas and degrees would eliminate an important and tangible deliverable of our education system.” How could someone’s skills and knowledge be fairly measured without a standardised assessment system? Indeed, while MOOCs promise to revolutionise access to education throughout the world, a major stumbling block to their widespread adoption remains the issue of accreditation.


However, Staes envisions a world where learning is liberated from the systems of certification and institutions and becomes a lifelong process. According to Staes, “for people without passion, information has no value”. He explains, “everyone is born with different passions and talents, but the way our education system is organised results in our current generation of sheep.” The eradication of traditional approaches to assessment and embracing of e-learning tools and ideas would free learners to shape their experiences and foster innovation.


Should schools, colleges and universities be forced to abandon the award of traditional degrees and diplomas? What would the consequences be? These are some of the questions that will form the focus of what promises to be OEB’s liveliest debate ever. Make sure you catch this year’s debate and share your view in person or via social media with OEB’s 2000 participants from over 100 countries. Cold drinks will be served to help participants cool down after what promises to be a heated debate.


The ONLINE EDUCA debate is taking place on Thursday, November 29th from  17:45 – 19:00. If you would like to express you views on this controversial topic or have a challenging question for our debate speakers, please let us know via Twitter (@OEBconference, #OEB12), Facebook, LinkedIn or leave a comment below.


5 Responses

  1. Peter Sjoestedt

    How do we control the quality of the courses offered in your new world?
    This will desintegrate the old system of symbolic capital (Bourdieu). How can you imagine that this will be allowed by those in power?

  2. Sophie Touzé

    This debate was my favorite time in the great OEB12. I felt as we were in philosophical debates in old times. Each can speak and be listened with respect. All participants were impressed by the quality of this deep question about the necessity we have to enlighten the truth about crisis we face in education as in echa face of this VUCA world. And then to make deep changes in our education. The humor of all speakers especially Jef Staes maked the difference ! We have to change and … it is now !


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