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Is a Degree an Indicator of Specialist Knowledge?

02/06/2014 11:43 BST | Updated 30/07/2014 10:59 BST

In recent years many universities closed down their specialist departments justifying that there is no longer a need for them to continue teaching certain disciplines such as Archaeology, Philosophy, Latin or even English and Mathematics which, they claimed, were gradually becoming unpopular with students to read at university.

This change process saw a quasi overnight redistribution of resources and restructuring of specialisations which led to cases of professors of ancient history becoming professors of international travel and tourism, and foreign language lecturers becoming no less than media technology experts.

This topsy-turvy of high end specialisations and qualifications was replicated widely at the level of society often with some anomalous and impermissible outcomes. In this way, a degree in Botanics can easily lead to a career in Banking or a degree in Financial Systems to a career in Drama Theatre. I no longer automatically expect a law enforcement authority to knows the laws they are enforcing, or an economist to know the maths formulas. I certainly can tell the 'international' job holders are not proficient in any international language.

There is often a false pretence offered by professional development experts of 'learning on the job', that is in fact the place for knowledge application, not acquisition, thus leading to inefficiency and incompetence. Work thus becomes an indeterminate process of coping with learning rather than a trusted specialist place.

The correlation degree-profession is no longer direct: at job interviews, testing and questioning of specialist knowledge is not a norm. I often witnessed job interviews where no one on the panel was even remotely a specialist in that job's specific domain, and so all the questioning go in wrong directions from the actual job. The emphasis that a degree represents an indicator of certain specialist knowledge, and so enables entry into a specific profession, is gone.

In fact I even noted a dismissive attitude towards all highly qualified specialists: a doctor is no longer 'only' good at medicine, and a mechanic engineer no longer 'only' at mechanics.

In the past years, I witnessed entire professions, which were strictly certified and specialised, becoming generalised, de-professionalised, and stripped of their core competencies replaced by generic middle management competencies with a distinct lack of purpose for specialisation as well as a disincentive for learning/teaching rigour. It is all now based on 'interpretation' not 'truthfulness' of science, or even embedded in pre-scripted automatism of robots in the decision-making process where 'the computer says it'.

A friend of mine went on to the top of international reputation and recognition as an educationalist publishing high calibre research papers in matters such as clinical ward interventions and medical surgery professionalism having a primary degree in geography and a Ph.D. in teaching environmental geography in primary school. What do all these key terms have in common to lead to this Renaissance-type career?

I became nervous and concerned seeing clearly how non-clinical expertise and background led to a heavy involvement in a medical surgery profession, and furthermore, taking a lead in 'designing frameworks for clinical wards' and making recommendations from top level of research for a highly certified medical profession.

It renders education, higher and below, a simple superficial process. It may be the fault of the UK system which, unlike other European continental systems, encourages a so-called 'transfer' of knowledge from one discipline to another. Yet these practices have started to catch up elsewhere. The traditional style of teaching and learning, via specialist lecturing and jargon absorption by memorization, is increasingly being replaced by other modes of learning, deemed 'modern', such as `team work´ and 'crowd solutions'.

The focus is no longer on knowledge accumulation and specialist jargon consolidation, but on getting a group or a crowd 'to think, reflect and discuss' en mass in a process of 'sharing'. This is however often seen as an indicator of a chaotic and disruptive educational process neither useful nor cost-effective as in this way, the students become detached from a specific specialisation content in order to seek a crowd to resolve their tasks and assignments, as well as focus on obtaining more of an 'entertainment' value out of their education experiences.

So in the end, it is likely that degree holders will in future say 'I can deal' with matters in a specific domain instead of firmly affirming 'I am a specialist'.