It’s a piece of parchment; not a key to the C-Suite

A long-term hero of mine is a (presently dead) Oxford academic called Benjamin Jowett, one-time Master of Balliol College.

He is the author of two favourite quotes. One is: “Never retreat. Never explain. Get it done and let them howl.”

The other was created when he inspected a new intake of undergraduates and remarked with a gloomy air: “And after they graduate, all they will be able to do is bleat BA after their names.”

The announcement by Penguin Random House that it would no longer require job applicants to have university degrees reminded me of this. The publisher said that it now wants to attract, and employ, a more varied intake of staff and that it sees no clear link between a degree and performance in a job.

Alleluia! Let us rejoice at this clear-sighted policy change, shared with PriceWaterhouseCoopers and others.

Easy to argue that university rot started in 1992. That year Technical Colleges and Polytechnics were enabled, by the Further and Higher Education Act, to change their status and become universities. There were incentives to do so and, so, most did.

The consequence (presumably unintended) was to turn these centres of excellence, which had been producing highly qualified professional, and specifically practical candidates in demand by companies the world over, into lesser institutions that keep young folk off the streets for three years before they are sent out into the unemployment jungle. It has been not unfairly commented by some that a degree from any post-1992 institution is as valuable as a supermarket coupon. Which is ironic when one considers the number of graduates stacking shelves in those very boutiques.

Should not a university degree indicate a love of learning for its own sake, and demonstrate academic prowess and nothing more? On its own it cannot lead to assumptions about a person’s ability to thrive, or even survive, in the workplace and Penguin Random House is to be applauded for its new direction.

The great actor and playwright Noel Coward was once asked by a young aspirant for advice as to how to get on in the theatrical profession. “Turn up on time, sober, know your lines and don’t bump into the furniture” he replied.

No employer could ask for more.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn on 19 January.