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Degree inflation: Is it unfair

If someone more qualified gets hired to do a job, is it fair to the candidates who meet the requirement? If the more qualified candidate gets rejected, is it unfair?

The Police department employs messenger’s job to deliver packages between different departments. The job requires the candidate to have cleared Class V to ensure basic literacy. The candidate needed to declare that they know how to ride a bicycle. After a gap of 12 years, when the UP Police advertised for 62 such vacancies, what happened after that surprised everyone. More than 50,000 graduates had applied for the job. So had 28,000 post-graduates. The job of a messenger for the UP Police attracted applications from 3700 PhDs.

This is not the only time when this happened. Over 25 lakh people had applied for 6,000 posts in the West Bengal government secretariat in 2017. The job required an elementary school certificate. Of the applicants, 150,000 were graduates, 25,000 were post-grads and 250 were doctorates.

Increased cost of hiring

A Bachelor's degree is held by less than 7% of the world's population. Why do employers look for graduates in jobs that a school dropout could do? Degree inflation happens when the current employees do not have the degrees that employers demand of the new hires. It increases the cost of hiring and filters out millions in a country like India which needs to create a million new jobs every month to absorb the youth eager to start working.

Affluent parents can afford to send the kids to colleges, so the employers always have enough to choose from. In India, being a graduate is considered the socially acceptable minimum qualification. There are mushrooming institutions providing MBAs.

The average salary offer received by graduates of the Indian Institutes of Technology is Rs 11.1 lakh per annum, nearly 140% higher than the Rs 4.7 lakh that entry-level engineers make in the country. An MBA makes much more than a undergraduate. India is home to more than 6,000 business schools offering PGDM & MBA. It only the top 10% MBAs who get the eye popping salaries we read about. The result is a disillusioned majority that feels cheated even as they reluctantly take up a job that they could have done equally well after college.

Degree Inflation: It is a grade problem

The market has incentivized the credentials – not the competence. When employers raise the minimum qualification needed for every job, they still have a huge talent pool to filter through. So they look for the grades and marksheets to decide who they will interview.

The colleges respond by generously doling out grades. The average grade at Harvard is an A minus. In 2021, eight colleges in Delhi University, like SRCC, Hindu, Ramjas, Hansraj and Khalsa, announced 100 per cent cut offs for admissions to ten undergraduate courses. The Schools then must ensure more students get 100% in the 12th grade.

Rethink job descriptions and hiring

Google, Apple, IBM and a growing list of top companies no longer require candidates to have a college degree. Education is no longer a proxy for competence. This has been driven by the shortage of people needed to do the job. Education no longer assures either employment or employability. Asking for people with degrees that are never used is a recipe for a disengaged workforce.

The pandemic has made us question many aspects of the workforce. If the employers rethink their job descriptions and their hiring process, they will expand the talent pool. They will also discourage the mushrooming of colleges that dish out certificates and degrees. The schools will no longer need to produce millions who get a 100% marks.

Perhaps that means parents have to stop wanting kids who are nothing less than perfect. That in turn may hand over the childhood back to the children.

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