In recent years, how relevant are the many certificates and degrees that we amass? Is it still necessary to seek university education for certain kinds of academic courses which ordinarily are learnable through self-directed studying over the internet? This concern is a raging debate today. The discussion gains force by the fact that highly referenced models of entrepreneurial success do not necessarily possess these paper qualifications. Many of them consciously kicked such paper qualifications away. They rejected it, recognizing that it is not critical to their success models, particularly in environments that value competence and encourages innovation. In that list are names like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and many others who deliberately dropped out of school to pursue their entrepreneurial interests. They and many others like them by those actions only gave clues about the imminent Armageddon on certificates and university paper qualifications. It has even begun. The internet increasingly democratizes knowledge and its acquisition. It means, therefore, that any disciplined and determined person can acquire any amount of information necessary for his or her progress without ever seeing the walls of any higher institution. After all, the founders of the streams of learning that now offer paper degrees never had one themselves. For instance, those who study economics lay claim to its formal origins to persons like Adam Smith and Carl Menger yet none of them had a degree in economics. Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations remains one of the most cited foundational texts in economics.

Attending a formal institution of learning for knowledge remains a worthy cause to pursue. There are many reasons why they may stay relevant for a while longer and for a few disciplines and areas of studies. Schools are best known for disciplined, structured learning. That is the reason for the modularization of formal education and the tests associated with it. Its methodical style of learning minimizes the gaps that may exist in the learning process had the learner be on his own. Again, it is not every area of academic endeavour that one can quickly master independently. Take, for instance, brain surgery. Except for someone that has spent so many years studying medicine, it might be challenging to research and alone become an expert in neurosurgery. Even if, the candidate fully understands how to perform brain surgeries, the government and the people in the medical profession needs to certify that indeed he or she can do that, and that the public should trust the ability. Finally, since the design of all curriculums is primarily to engineer systematic learning, the school appears to have the best structure for actualizing that. Be that as it may though, a good learner and indeed, most independent learners do develop the curriculum that will govern their self-directed learning.

People go to school to acquire relevant but seemingly unknown knowledge and skills as well as to learn how to put the same to the use that satisfies the person’s values and aspirations. By so doing, those who acquire formal education equally obtain broad exposures that help them function better in society. Therefore, the accompanying paper certificates merely testify that the holder has satisfied all the requirements needed to possess the knowledge and skills represented by the paper certificates. It is this testifying capacity of the paper issued by a competent authority that makes it attractive. This attractiveness is sometimes overrated and has consequently distracted the attention of many from the pursuit of knowledge and skills to the search for paper certificates. There lie the incentives for the fraud around its acquisition. The pivot of this fraud is the pervasive insincerity around learning and its certification. Several students today are more interested in the certifying paper than the addition of the right dosage of skills that is consistent with the document that testifies to that knowledge. Because of the reliance of job providers on the testimonials provided by paper certificates, many people do everything possible to manipulate the process of its issuance and have one. Some hire mercenaries to write the exams for them. Some others, cheat during the examination and consequently present a false testimonial of their abilities. Some others bribe their ways through graduation. Some of the supposed competent authorities or institutions become complicit in all of this and end up as paper mills. Many of our universities and higher institutions are good examples of all of these. That is the reason for the many graduates who cannot put together an excellent one-page letter.

It is indeed evident that certificates and degrees do not ultimately indicate how skilful someone is even in the persons claimed academic background or area of study. Certificates and degrees only signal and may be wrong in the signalling. Real-life experiences have revealed first-class graduates who could not measure up in actual work environments with their erstwhile school counterparts with a much lower grade. Because job prospects and the work environment are the most exact motivations for going to school, executive-level education tailored to meet the objectives of the workplace appear to be increasingly more relevant than much of the knowledge bandied in the four walls of the University. Consequently, trade-based and profession-based organizations have over the years come together to determine the kind of education that is best for functioning effectively in the real world. For instance, the Institute Of Chartered Accountants Of Nigeria (ICAN), the Chartered Institute of Stockbrokers (CIS) and so on are profession-based organizations that have taken it upon themselves to provide the kind of education that will make members of the bodies function at peak place. Consider for instance someone who utilizes the power of internet namely YouTube, podcasts and audiobooks, as well as several other materials that are scattered across the web to pursue advanced training in either marketing or business management or even economics. There is no gainsaying that with a disciplined commitment to the cause, that the person will have gained enough knowledge and skills to function in those areas within a short space of time. It is more important to work effectively in practice of those disciplines than in the brandishing of the certificates that signal that one has spent many years trying to specialize in that area of study. Therefore, the documents and degrees may not necessarily mean much of what we think it does mean. Employers want those who can do the job and not those who can show them more certificates. Unfortunately, the latter appears to be much of what is in fashion and motivating our young people today.

Unfortunately, we all rely on people’s degrees and certificates to provide some prima facie assessment of their level of competencies. Many of our institutions equally do the same. The private sector, through the usual ritual of aptitude test for the personnel onboarding process, tries to minimize much of the false assessments that certificates and degrees present. Notwithstanding that this, like many other things in life, are not foolproof, they nevertheless facilitate a considerable level of the sifting of the wheat from the chaff. A variant of this process is adopted by the public sector albeit usually stained with corrupt manipulation. Even the constitution of the country supports such manipulation through the so-called quota system. The quota system reserves economic and academic opportunities for persons from some parts of the country without regard to whether they are qualified or not. This process blinds the system from recognizing the most appropriate and well-skilled competencies for the function areas needing the candidates. Again, not possessing paper certificates also presents a point of logic to reject such qualified and competent persons even when they did fantastically well in most aptitude tests. Some institutions may not even allow those that do not possess such certificates to sit in for such examinations in the first place. Excitingly the world of work is speedily evolving in favour of those who can do competently and productively well with or without paper certificates.

Organizations only need to leverage this further to their cost-cutting advantages by developing a process for identifying, sifting out, and onboarding candidates with the right set of skills and aptitudes that may or may not necessarily possess paper degrees. Doing this will cut off the additional burdensome payments parcelled out to persons with strings of degrees that can barely utilize them in improving the lots of the organization. Doing this correctly also means that organizations too need to know, differentiate and reward appropriately persons whose strings of certificates benefit the organization. But why pay the premium because somebody is holding a paper certificate whereas several others who do not hold similar or equivalent paper certificates can function at the same or even higher level of productivity. Consider, for instance, the savings in wages in identifying and hiring, a secondary school certificate holder that performs at the level of a degree holder. Today, we have several IT-savvy young secondary school graduates who can do much better than some of our graduates in computer science. In today’s fast-paced world, the game is a winner takes it all. If you are the best person for a job, it does not matter whether you possess any paper certificates or not if it can be confirmed that you are a star in that area of endeavour. There is no doubt that certifications and degrees are proper to have; however, they do not do the job. It is the power of the brain and the hands that deliver the tasks. It is the quality of lengthy hours of deep work soaked into the acquisition of demonstrable knowledge, skills and aptitudes that count. If salt loses its taste like salt, people will trample upon it. Likewise having certificates and degrees that do not help an organization to improve considerably is not worthy of being rewarded with substantial financial and other compensations.