Voices

Professionalism should mean ‘knowledgeable’, not ‘degreed’

2019-01-30 22:03

For how long will the South African education system perpetuate the myth that a degree is the only pathway to being an educated professional? Also, in the context of the National Skill Shortage agenda, industry must realise that not all skills gaps can be plugged by throwing degrees at it.

Professional bodies have a legacy going as far back as 1894 when the Institute of Accountants and Auditors founded. There can be no question that, for the last 122 years, professional bodies have been pioneers in the development of professional and academic standards. Only one university existed in South Africa prior 1894 (UCT, founded in 1829).

Professional bodies (whether statutory or voluntary) should be immensely proud of the fact that they are at the forefront of contributing to people development in South Africa. Nowhere else is the marriage between theory and practice as clearly developed as is the case with professional bodies.

Considering the fact that professional bodies have relativity high pass mark requirements (60% or higher) for theoretical exams must count in favour of professional bodies as an alternative to the sausage machine approach that is prevalent amongst universities. An academic advisory committee meeting at a university in Gauteng last week highlighted the fact that industry is reacting against the sausage machine approach that has been the dominant focus of Government since 2000.

Quality, not quantity

The doctrine of “massification of education” does not produce thinkers. It producers parrots – student who cram facts in their heads, regurgitate it in the exam, and who are not able to apply their theoretical knowledge to real world problems. Most of the education obtained through the programmes of professional bodies requires an intermix of theory and the application thereof in the workplace during each study year.

Those who qualify through the professional body exams do not have the luxury of being given extra marks. If the pass mark is 60% and the student obtained a mark of 59.99%, it is still a fail. This compels theindustry to consider who to hire at entry level and at even middle management level. The degreed person that is a 50-percenter, or the professional body diplomat that must pass exams at much higher pass mark?

Progression paths

Another myth is that the national diploma that could be obtained through the professional body’s exams is an inferior piece of paper. National siplomas are registered by the South African Qualifications Authority at an National Qualifications Framework (NQF) Level 6. Degrees are registered at NQF Level 7.

It cannot be said that the professional body diplomat is forever barred from entering university. There are programmes that allow the professional body diplomat to work towards a degree or towards a post-graduate professional diploma at university. In fact, possession of an NQF Level 6 national diploma with 360 credits can no longer be overlooked by universities as an entry requirement to advanced diploma programmes or as an entry requirement to degree programmes. This is especially true of those who met the required 60% pass mark for all their exams.

Granted, that the professional body diplomat may obtain a degree after six to seven years of study. But then, in the words of Henry Mintzberg, they will be mature enough to recognise the subtle variances in theoretical themes. They will also be mature enough to apply or restate theories so that it makes the best possible sense for the practical situation that they theory wishes to solve.

Professionalism is not found in a degree. It is found in the level of knowledge that a student demonstrated in a final exam.

Can the industry afford to dismiss the quality of candidates who took the professional bodies’ exams and passed?

Thousands out of the Class of 2018 did not get acceptance to universities or colleges in 2019. Not being accepted at a university is not the end of the road. Certificate programmes and diploma programmes recognised by professional bodies bring about a new range of possibilities. Having a certificate or diploma recognised by a professional body, means that the Class of 2018 can start their own professional practices in step with the requirements and mandates from the professional body.

This is indeed good news for the youth. In today’s world the mantra is “There are no jobs!” But there are many opportunities for the youth to create their own work. Lower level qualifications that are recognised by professional bodies have the potential to break the viscous circle of unemployment and to create a new cadre of professionals that South Africa desperately needs.

Peter J van Nieuwenhuizen is chief financial officer of the Growth Institute, a private college focusing on: management education, skills development and enterprise development.

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March 17 2019