Explainer: what is credentialism and is a degree more than just a piece of paper? - Deepstash

In the 1970s, social scientists coined the term "credentialism". It is an ideology that puts formal education credentials above other ways of understanding human potential and ability.

Credentialism is again entering the higher education debate as academics and the wider public try to make sense of the current university system.

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  • Students are unsure if their degrees are worth the high tuition fees.
  • University academics bemoan the factory style teaching system.
  • Online learning and the growth of accredited university certificates through MOOCs (massive open online courses offer alternatives) offer an alternative.

While these issues are important to debate, they ignore the fundamental value of credentials in the workplace.

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  • A university degree is now considered to be the ultimate status symbol for entry into the middle classes across the world. It is a basic requirement for any professional occupation.
  • Certificates are not meaningless. There is still a so-called graduate premium in economic terms because employers value the added skills.
  • In social terms, a university degree provides non-market benefits that are difficult to measure, including longer life expectancy, more leisure time, social mobility, and lower propensity to commit crime.

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The concept of credentialism can be a type of class prejudice.

We need to ensure that university is more than a rite of passage coming together in a piece of paper. It is the role of the academic profession and higher education institutions to shape worthwhile learning. However, higher education is vulnerable to abuse without regulation, such as buying fake nursing degrees that can lead to tragic outcomes. A formal qualification should be a representation of something more important.

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