Degree or not degree? That is the question…

Yesterday Mike and I met up with a wonderful former ESIEE Engineering student. We saved his skin a couple of times. He had brilliant marks in some subjects – like computer science, languages and humanities – and lousy marks in Physics. But it was the Physics prof who defended him most in the 90s and said « We should let him through into next year so he can get his degree. One day we’ll be glad we did ».

And so it is.

He became an ingénieur ESIEE more than 15 years ago, worked in Germany for three years and went to California.  There he’s been working the digital movers and shakers of Silicon Valley.  He’s been on many innovative projects. Now forty, he told us he was one of the oldest people in the company.

The academic year is drawing to a close. In ten days we’ll be sitting in « juries », deciding which students pass, which get resits and which get kicked out. This is always a hard moment because of the false negatives – kids who’ll become brilliant engineers but for some reason or other end up with too many reds and ambers on their scorecard. Virtuous speeches about « upholding standards » are made. They don’t make the cut. Ranks close. The cohort gets smaller.  Some of us sigh.

So it was titillating to be gobbling down an ESIEE lunch and reading a full-page article called NO DIPLOME VALLEY in Friday’s Le Monde. Is studying at universities a waste of time? Dell, Ellison, Gates, Jobs, Williams, Zuckerberg had no degrees. Do degrees harm your innovation potential? An echo to the unanswered question at Stéphanie’s telecoms alumni seminar last week « can you actually teach people to innovate?…

The Le Monde article reports on Peter Thiel’s 20under20 programme  and Dale Stephen’s UNcollege and Hacking Your Education initiatives.  Both are reputed to be right wing libertarians.

Thiel, who co-founded Pay Pal in the late 80s, has a programme which offers 100k$ each to twenty under twenties to work for two years on startups, social innovations or research projects.  Sarah Lacy covers the subject nicely in on her Pando Daily. The videos with some of this year’s 20 and 18-year-old winners show they already had a precocious track record.

Do we have a triple player controversy in the making? Traditional universities vs. MOOCs vs. UNcollege?

Rereading Ivan Illich’s (1971) Deschooling Society could be a good place to start.


A propos markowskikrys

I run an advanced Masters programme on project management and innovation at ESIEE
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Un commentaire pour Degree or not degree? That is the question…

  1. Klintio dit :

    Very interesting Krys. About Jobs, Gate, Zuckerberg… It’s true that they had no degrees. But they found their ideas at their universities . Maybe not the degree, but the environnment, the courses and the people they met were part of the innovating process. I’m not with the Uncollege idea, because school is not about graduation only, but about the people we meet and things we live there. The MooC system is very interesting (I will join 3 Moocs) but i’m a little suspiscious about online dynamism. The traditionnal system has reached its limits and need some fresh air from the others systems. Maybe the university of the future will be a kind of hybrid made of all these systems…

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