The ‘Harrods’ degree: Gimmick or great idea?

Harrods are introducing a degree in the art of sales.  Staff will be able to take a 2-year part-time course while they work at the store.  But will it be recognised as a true degree by other employers?

Staff who take the degree, in conjunction with Anglia Ruskin, will pay no tuition fees or any other costs.  Other than agree to remain working at Harrods throughout the degree and for a period after completion, there are no other major barriers to gaining the qualification.

photo by raindog

photo by raindog

What would other employers think of the degree on a person’s CV?

Lisa Harris teaches online marketing at Southampton and she told me that this type of degree will become more popular.  She said, “Two-year degrees look the way of the future to me.  They are more attractive to business sponsors and combine work and study”.

Community Manager, Jas Dhaliwal is also positive about these degrees.  He said, “I suspect that other firms will continue this trend”.

They may have a point.  More degrees like this would be a needed source of income for universities.  And with the student population ever growing in diversity, people want greater flexibility in how they can study.  Business based degrees are a feasible alternative route.

The Harrods association gives the degree a reason to talk about it.  For now, a big brand association is a newsworthy gimmick.  I’m sure graduates would state their degree as a BA in Sales from Anglia Ruskin and only make the Harrods link beyond that.

There are already vocational degrees that work with local businesses to produce graduates who are relevant to that workplace.  For instance, Bucks New University runs a foundation degree in Business Management for staff at the bed specialist Dreams.  Ruth Farwell, vice-chancellor at Bucks New Uni, said: “Whilst we recognise the impetus behind the decision to allow companies such as McDonald’s to award their own qualifications, we believe that it is better for employers to partner with universities in initiatives such as this one.”

The first graduates of the Dreams foundation degree came through in 2009.  This type of vocational qualification is, therefore, not new.  Over four million vocational qualifications were awarded last year alone.  And today is VQ Day, especially for vocational qualifications.  There is clearly a big market.

Some of these degrees are not for everyone.  Indeed, Harrods and Dreams only offer the degrees to their own staff.  However, universities need to diversify and attract business sponsors, as Lisa Harris has mentioned.  Interest in alternatives to current degree routes will come from both prospective students and from businesses.

What of the future?  These are specialised vocational qualifications.  If more businesses took these degrees on, would current graduates need to work toward another degree once in employment?  Would any degree be enough, or would we begin to see people in the workplace with several degrees due to obligatory business training?

I don’t think there are any proper answers to those questions yet, but we may need to start thinking about it soon.

Do you see these business degrees gaining in popularity or are you convinced they are still a gimmick?

8 comments

  1. Martin,
    Before I returned to education as a mature student I worked in retail – shoe shops, supermarkets, record shops – but most pertinently, a large department store. I didn’t have a degree. No-one needs a degree to work in a shop. You need training in customer service skills and to develop a detailed knowledge of the products that you are selling.

    Frankly, anybody who wastes there time pursuing a degree in ‘the art of sales’ is a first class dipstick!

    1. It’s an interesting one, Rabelais. Many jobs that require a degree never used to demand one in the past. That’s the contentious issue. No one needs a degree to work in a shop…until it becomes a requirement.

      That aside, prospective students need more guidance and understanding across the board of what degrees provide and their potential benefits. If someone is chasing a degree because it sounded roughly okay, because they are obliged to take it, or because it fell in their lap before anything else, they probably won’t get the benefit from studying it.

      But any properly accredited degree can be put to full use by someone with clear reason as to why they are undertaking that qualification. Those people will no doubt work beyond the degree to get where they want to be.

      Does that negate the overall need and relevance of a degree itself? You may argue so. But I believe that a fully sponsored vocational course is well placed to help those committed people achieve and broaden their vision. And without them paying for the privilege.

    2. “Frankly, anybody who wastes there time pursuing a degree in ‘the art of sales’ is a first class dipstick!”

      I think that’s an awfully narrow way of putting things.

      This is a great idea if handled the right way. Why not edcate your staff to be better at their jobs? Surely a company investing in its staff to make them more socially mobile and give them recognised achievement for their hard work is a good thing. More importantly, this gives people who dedicate their time to a career in retail to gain something out of it that can be transferrable. The make-up of the degree also looks like it could be interesting and challenging.

      I’m not going to make assumptions on your experience, but from my experience working with career retailers I found there were people who committed to a career with as much intelligence and drive as I, if not more. The problem was that they were not able to go to university for different reasons; lack of confidence, financial means or academic focus at a younger age. This meant they became trapped by their employer out of fear that they could not progress further (like management or senior positions in other companies) due to not having a degree.

      A degree will give these employees confidence and will hopefully give them the desire to pursue education at a higher level if they find aspects tabout it interesting. Essentially, it enables social mobility at little cost to the employee/student and the wider society as well.

      The secondary benefit is that Anglia Ruskin will ease funding concerns from the fees this deal has secured them.

      If we consider how this would impact the economy were it rolled out to become the norm there are a number of positives:
      – There could be possible increased productivity as employees would understand the context of processes they work under and also try to innovate for improvement
      – Fewer people could start going to university for the sake of it and instead start careers at companies offering these degrees, taking pressure off university application numbers and funding (although this is only an assumption that these places aren’t counted as student places)
      -The knowledge transfer from older employees to newer employees over generations could improve.

      I’ll admit at first I rolled my eyes at the ideas, but on closer analysis there are a lot of positives that can come out of this and I think to deride it or put it down is very unfair to those who are trying to find solutions for the sector which enable social mobility and take the burden of education funding away from the taxpayer.

      1. A lot to think about there, Newell.

        My hope is that any higher level study truly is at that level. An important question to ask is:

        “What makes a specialised vocational degree more substantial than on the job training and structured courses without university accreditation?”

        My guess is that a degree studying the art of sales will provide more than is necessary to succeed on shop floor of Harrods. This move would be worthwhile for Harrods, allowing for innovation and fresh ideas from committed people who made the most of their study and wanted to put their ideas into practice.

        Companies that invest like this strengthen both the employees and themselves. Sponsored qualifications have the potential to provide a bunch of win for all and should go beyond what is necessary to be a day-to-day success.

  2. Martin,
    Why would a degree in being a shop assistant become a requirement?

    If and it should become a requirement, why not degrees in ever possible career? The argument could be made that by providing degrees in every sphere of employment those areas would benefit from having a more professional workforce.

    There are two things we might want to consider here.

    First of all, anecdotally, I’ve heard many nurses complain about graduates entering the profession with qualifications but little aptitude for the human/humane aspects of nursing. So perhaps a degree is no guarentee of quality.

    Secondly, if any career can have a degree associated with it then any distinction attached to the achievement of higher education disappears. How do we feel about that?

    1. A degree becomes a requirement when an employer or similar states that it is a requirement. I’m not saying a degree should be necessary in those fields, just pointing out that this change has been taking place over the years.

      You hit a good point. “Providing degrees in every sphere of employment” to introduce a more professional workforce sounds great, though in contradiction “any distinction attached to the achievement of HE disappears”.

      There’s no easy route out of this contradiction. We also don’t know whether numbers in HE will continue to rise, plateau, or fall in the future. That will make an impact over time.

  3. Hi Newell,

    You say, ‘Why not edcate your staff to be better at their jobs?’ Yes, why not. In fact isn’t that what companies do all the time. I am regularly sent on training courses and independently update my knowledge in the field in which I work. Is there a danger that with degrees in every concievable area of work and employment that we are simply re-inventing the wheel?

    Also, as someone who supported (and continues to support) the extension of higher education in principle, – precisely because I hoped that it would improve social mobility – I have to say that I am pretty disappointed with how it has worked out in practice. The recent increase in university admissions and graduates has definitely not translated into greater social mobility. Also the drop out rates among working class students and those from non-traditional backgrounds (in the jargon) has been a constant cause for concern.

    But I think my main problem with this idea is that it makes a degree indistinguishable from other qualifications. I don’t think a degree should be an apprenticeship or a training course. And calling an apprenticeship a degree, flatters neither course and threantens the identity and integrity of both.

    The current mess looks to me an ideal time to have a serious debate about post-secondary education. But at the moment that debate is being driven by expediency and commercial imperatives rather than sound pedagogic considerations.

  4. It sounds a bit funny, doesn’t it! But if you can get a job at Harrods than it would be worthwhile. How many other employers would recognise such a degree – John Lewis, M&S??

    I’m looking forward to studying an MSc Management, but wouldn’t support every profession needing a degree! Vocational qualifications for trades are just as valuable for a highly ‘competitive’ workforce. We certainly don’t want to end up as a nation of pen pushers!

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