A Degree of Uncertainty

Is someone trying to tell me something? In the last week I’ve received no fewer than four e-mails from educational establishments offering the “degree you’ve always deserved”. How do they know I deserve one? Or, for that matter, that I don’t already have one?
As it happens I was one of only four of our 40-strong sixth form not to opt for uni. I’d had enough of lectures and essays and attempting to cram 200 years of British and European history for a three-hour exam. Subsequently, I’ve gone through life degree-free and perfectly happy.
Until, that is, all these e-mails arrived. When four different universities declare you have “unfulfilled potential”, and offer courses especially tailored to the “requirements of the mature working person”, you just have to take a closer look.
But what course might I choose? I got a decent pass at A-level geography, and so began there. Now, come on don’t laugh, there’s much more to it than pointing out Dar es Salaam on a map. As it happened the universities were similarly unimpressed: not one offered any such degree.
The point I’d missed, of course, was that what these universities have in common – aside from having no campuses other than a computer server (that alone should probably have alerted me) – is that they offer “Life Experience” degrees based on the knowledge you already have.
I began to consider my own great bank of accumulated knowledge.
What kind of degree could I get? The history of Star Trek? Shopping telly? The long-term psychological effects of supporting Derby County? Unfortunately, none of these options were on offer, so I turned to the find-your-degree guide.
It turned out that five years of Sunday School entitled me to a bachelor’s in Bible studies. And successfully balancing my cheque book for the last 20 years should see me all right for a doctorate in economics. OK, it took me two attempts to pass my O-level, but I’ve never failed a maths test since.
But I was a little concerned by the reassurance that I had “worked for this degree no less than someone who sat in a classroom”. I mean, there wasn’t even an examination to pass. These degrees were intended for someone in search of an ego boost. Someone who felt they deserved recognition. And recognition, of course, comes at a price. Although the precise cost was not readily displayed on any of the websites.
I wondered, then, other than providing that ego massage, what use a phoney degree might be. Despite assurances that I could include it on my CV, business card, passport or any other official document I fill out, surely doing so might well prove fraudulent?
Indeed, a quick internet surf revealed a story about several New York City fire fighters who were arrested for purchasing bogus diplomas in order to earn promotions; and another report that several on-line universities were shut down some years ago when it was discovered that hundreds of unqualified people in the US and UK had used their fake qualifications to get jobs as computer experts and, even more worryingly, as teachers.
With fake degrees available to anyone with access to the internet and a credit card, where could it end? With people walking around giving out medical advice based only on ten years of watching Casualty? The mind surely boggles.
Personally I think my ego’s content to go on acquiring the random bits of trivia that occupy my brain and not worry about a degree. It seems to have worked so far. It’s what they used to call the University of Life.