Degree, Diploma or Distance Learning: A Dilemma
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The entry of private players in the education sector has ensured students have more choices in terms of choosing A career. However, there is an inevitable tussle between whether to go in for a degree, diploma or distance learning programme. FINDS Shailaja Mukherjee.

Academic life immediately after completing senior school in India is a rushed affair for most. Students are caught up in the tumult of choosing careers, courses of study and direction in life. Not easy when you are 17 something years old. Compounding the problem in the last decade or so have been the choices available at this level. Should one go in for a degree, a diploma or a distance learning course?

The factors to consider are many. For one, further education beyond the undergraduate level. Most post-graduate degrees in India require applicants to complete at least three to four years of undergraduate study. This fosters the popular perception that diplomas, distance learning and certificate courses may be great to get jobs, but degrees are required for post graduation.

Neeraj Aggarwal, an MBA entrepreneur, says, “In the corporate world or the actual industry, it doesn’t matter whether you have a diploma, certificate, or obtained your degree through full time or part time. What matters is how ‘job-ready’ you are! Having said that, it is also true that government jobs and of course, post graduation at government institutions require a degree, whether full time or part time.”

Ishan Mukherjee, a student of Guru Teg Bahadur Institute of Technology, says, “Having worked with the switchboard panel industry for more than two years after the completion of my diploma, I was still a Design Engineer, even though I had work-experience and all the required skills. In order to leverage my skill set and open more avenues, I had to pursue a proper B.Tech degree which ensured my professional growth.”

MYOD surveyed a sample of 200 students (see pie chart) of which 57 per cent said that the overwhelming reason is that the quality of education differs when a degree is compared to the rest. Recruiters’ preference for degrees accounts for 31 per cent choosing a degree over the others. While there were a few who had a perception that it is hard to evaluate a certificate or distance learning course in terms of quality, while a degree is much easier to evaluate and is trusted more.
Anshul Vir, a student of Career Institute of Technology and Management says, “If we look around, everything is different from what it was, say ten years ago. Information is more accessible, there is cut-throat competition for each place, hard-work does not necessarily pay off anymore unless it’s coupled with smartness. There is more demand for creative, versatile, out-of-the-box thought than conventional, do-as-you-are-told obedience. And for this very reason, the industry is geared towards a degree at the graduate level, for it provides an all-round education; as apart from teaching the required skill, it also includes subjects that might be useful while tackling situations. While, at the post-graduate level, a diploma is preferred, whose curriculum is designed to impart the minimum basic skill in the shortest possible time.”

The Diploma v/s Degree, Distance learning and Certificate debate has this as one of the major factors that can tilt the balance: “What does the industry want?”
When it comes to careers, students aim to live the dreams they have dreamt growing up, live up to the expectations of their elders, make a place in society for themselves.  And on the long-winding road towards Making-Their-Own-Destiny, they reach the unavoidable fork: a diploma or a degree?

Clearly, the private sector is demanding much more than a “degree”. Today, it’s quite clear that professional qualifications which rigmarole degree courses cannot offer, can be obtained through various diploma, certificate and distance learning courses. Even top ranked institutions like IIMs, XLRI now offer certificate courses in key areas.

Rohan Malhotra, an Economic (Hons.) student from Deshbandhu College, Delhi University confirms, “The degree was not enough to ensure a secure professional future. To add value to the theoretical knowledge the degree gave me, I did a certificate course in Sports Economics and Marketing. This gave me the required practical knowledge and increased my value in the industry.”

Associate Professor, Department of Commerce, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee College (for Women), Dr. Neelam Goel sums up the arguments. She says, “Most of the students want to keep their job options open as most of the jobs offered in the government sector still require a degree from a University. Also, in Indian society, a degree is taken as a basic qualification for marriage. Other diplomas and specialised courses are taken as additional to it even if the other courses are more useful and may carry more economic benefits in the long run. University education is very cheap and affordable by a majority of the population as compared to other courses and diplomas. There is a lack of testing of aptitude at the time of entry in the university education system, leading to blurred focus causing delay or non-achievement of the objectives to be achieved. This in turn is causing wastage of resources and efforts at the national level. There is also the lack of a unified scientific accreditation system of degrees and diplomas at the national level, leading to unnecessary stress on students as well as the education system.”

While on the one hand, degrees are dated, certifications can be renewed as technology evolves. A computer science degree obtained ten years ago doesn’t ensure that one’s proficiency in it is as per current standards. A certification does. 

However, degrees still have a slight edge. Chitra Joshi, an Electrical Designer having worked for one year, realised that her potential was evaluated not on the basis of the knowledge she had but on the basis that she had a diploma. Chitra shares, “I eventually had to convert my electrical engineering diploma into a degree through Associate Member of the Institution of Engineer (AMIE). It did help a little in terms of enriching my skills but the major difference that I witnessed was in my salary. Once I was a degree and not a diploma holder, I had a significant increment of 1.5 to 2 lakhs in my pay package. AMIE is a Distance learning programme. It did not actually matter whether it was a regular degree or not, but the fact that it was a degree added a lot of weightage indeed, to my resume. Converting it was not difficult as I already had the practical knowledge and industry experience plus the learning that my diploma gave me was somewhat equivalent to the degree.
One can also get lateral entry into a regular degree college but all those who do not have time or can not afford a regular engineering college, can enrol in the Institution of Engineers as an associate member through the AMIE programme. The AMIE examination is considered to be at par with the B.E/B.Tech.

Though the perception and value of degree is more than the other two, candidates should have a long term vision. They should try to fill the perception gap by making their resume strong. They can chalk out their career path at an early stage and start working at relevant firms even if the pay is low than what a degree holder gets as the learning and experience that they receive will help them in their career after post-graduation. For example, a person seeking a career in research can start working at a junior level in KPOs and research firms climbing the learning curve. Once one gets a fair amount of experience and has advanced in his/her field, one can easily be at par with the degree bandwagon and expect professional rewards.

On both the personal and professional front, there would appear to be a lot of reasons to get a degree. But then, the critical argument is that a degree need not be mutually exclusive to a professional diploma or a certificate. A degree, diploma, distance learning or a certificate course, whatever you choose, all cover a variety of skills in different portions of the major they have. Technical as well as analytical talents are developed and tested.

But perhaps the base for any professional satisfaction should lie in doing what you want to do. Your aptitude, your passion. As they say, your altitude in life is decided by your aptitude. All these academic awards enhance what you already have. So go ahead and choose something based on what you are and want to be, as long as you’re being yourself in the process.

Arguments for and against

• A degree course takes three to four years to complete while one can complete a diploma, distance learning or a certificate course within one to two years.
• A degree is usually a prerequisite for further education whereas the diploma, distance learning and certificate courses are many a time prerequisite for professional     jobs.
• A degree course is academically more rigorous giving an overview of several subjects with one ‘major’ or ‘specialisation’ whereas a diploma, distance learning or certificate course stresses on specific vocational areas.
• A degree programme may suffer non-dynamism because of regulatory requirements while the certification and diploma programs could keep offering most up to date   combination of courses.


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