14 December 2008

The Fake Degree Market

In a comment to a blogpost earlier this morning, I remarked about our universities having become mere diploma mills and the fact that post-secondary education has morphed into an industry like any other. Then I see this.

Marie Theriault-Sabourin is a manager in the registrar's office at Algonquin College in Ottawa. She has a master's degree in business administration.

Quami Frederick used her bachelor's degree to get into Toronto's Osgoode Hall law school and was offered a job articling with a Bay St. law firm.

Armed with his Ph.D in political science, police tactical trainer Augustus Michalik counts various Canadian and U.S. law enforcement agencies as his clients.

The problem is, their university degrees are fake.

They are among at least 220 Canadians with bogus academic credentials uncovered in a recent probe.

These diploma mills are so successful because credentialism is rife in the industrial world. Employers insist on proof of educational time served, but pay far less attention to other factors which should be counted as more relevant.

Daphne and I did a presentation at a conference back in March 2007 which included discussion of exactly this issue:

...Stay in school, get your high school diploma, go to university, get a degree, acquire a skill. If you take this advice, your future will be assured.

For decades, children have been told this and adults encouraged to pursue life-long training, all with an eye to getting and staying employed. However, there are problems with this one-size-fits-all advice, particularly when we consider it within the context of market capitalism.

First, it assumes that people who are unemployed do not already have training or education. Yet a great number of us do and the larger that number grows, the more it exposes a serious problem.

Suppose that everyone followed the advice to get an education, get trained. What then? It used to be that a Bachelor’s degree was enough to land a decent job. Then it was a Master’s degree. Now having a PhD isn’t good enough.

Newly-minted PhDs are increasingly required to have at least one post-doc before even being considered for a pseudo-permanent position. As things stand now, many of them are being used – and abused – as contract workers and often getting paid no better than $10 an hour; this, for a decade and more of post-secondary study. How’s that for an investment! For the student, that is. There’s no argument that it’s a great investment of the student’s and taxpayers’ money for educational institutions.

If new PhDs cannot find contract or adjunct work at a university, you may find them flipping burgers, cleaning up other people’s messes, driving taxis, and so on.

In other words, there are and always will be a finite number of jobs for the credentialed.

The knowledge industry is self-perpetuating, self-sustaining, and as our institutions of purported higher learning become evermore made over into the corporate model, contractual and part-time employment is increasingly the norm. But that’s just one aspect of the transformation of our educational institutions...

If you would like to read the full presentation, please send me an email and I will send you the file.

The 20-minute paper discusses i) how values tend to differ from those of the status quo as one undergoes prolonged and severe financial distress, ii) the erosion of our educational institutions, as education is linked to the government subsidizing of industry - the auto industry gets particular mention - and, iii) the changing definition of 'work'. The presentation received a big thumbs up from Guy Standing, former Director of Socio-Economic Security, International Labour Organization.

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