Do I Really Need A Degree For That?

Dan Pink called attention to publisher Penguin Random House’s recent decision to no longer require job applicants to have a university degree. From what I see in corroborating stories, the little catch is that this seems to be limited to the publisher’s UK operations.

The firm wants to have a more varied intake of staff and suggests there is no clear link between holding a degree and performance in a job.


Last autumn, professional services firm Deloitte changed its selection process so recruiters did not know where candidates went to school or university.

Ernst and Young has scrapped a requirement for school leavers to have the equivalent of three B grades at A-level or graduates to have an upper second class degree.

The accountancy firm is removing all academic and education details from its application process.

PricewaterhouseCoopers earlier this year also announced that it would stop using A-levels grades as a threshold for selecting graduate recruits.

As you might imagine from the references to A-levels, these decisions all appear to be limited to the UK operations of these companies.

Still, it got me wondering with all the recent conversation about the legality and morality of unpaid internship practices in the U.S., as well as data showing that arts internships appear to benefit people with higher socio-economic status, should this be the sort of practice the arts should be considering?

My thinking here is that while you don’t need to have a degree or be enrolled to do an internship, internship plus degree tends to have better job prospects which represent a larger financial investment. I’d venture to guess many of the jobs college degree holders are getting can be accomplished by someone with a high school degree and an internship/short training period.

There are definitely different philosophical approaches to job training between the U.S. and the UK. For example, the school leaver program for Deloitte and Ernst and Young make not going to university appear preferable to attending and promises a rigorous 5 year training program. These are typical choices for students in the UK. A quick search for school leaver programs shows similar ones at IBM, Rolls Royce, Pret A Manger and others.

Two years ago I wrote about the UK’s National Skills Academy apprenticeship training programs for creative industries.

These sort of training options are not as widely available in the U.S. The closest we have are co-op programs, which are few and far between and barely promoted as an option.

But while the method of delivering training may be different, the question about whether a university degree best provides that training still remains, regardless of which country we are talking about.

One observation made in the story about Penguin’s decision resonates pretty strongly in relation to the challenges faced by the arts. (my emphasis)

Neil Morrison, human resources director, says they want talented staff “regardless of background”.

“This is the starting point for our concerted action to make publishing far, far more inclusive than it has been to date,” says Mr Morrison.

We believe this is critical to our future – to publish the best books that appeal to readers everywhere, we need to have people from different backgrounds with different perspectives and a workforce that truly reflects today’s society.”

There is already a conversation about how paid internships help to open up opportunities to people from a wider socio-economic range. Perhaps the next aspect of the conversation needs to include an examination into whether a degree really is absolutely necessary to success in the job or not.

The arts are frequently accused of being irrelevant because people don’t see themselves and their stories being portrayed. Penguin saw requiring a university degree as literally inhibiting their ability to do just that.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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2 thoughts on “Do I Really Need A Degree For That?”

  1. Good stuff Joe! These seem like important connections to make.The more I look the more I see evidence of the need for some commonality in how we approach an audience. Background and sense of identity speak for so much in that regard. Thanks for drawing these implications out or us 🙂

  2. I have found that, increasingly in the USA, the Education Establishment exists to serve itself, rather than the real world. It seems to have become its own agenda-driven ivory tower and provides training and credentials that are required to teach within its own realm. Many of my coaching students are struggling to reconcile their degrees with the skills needed in the workplace as performers. It is a most troubling quandary because Education could offer so much more life value than it does!


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