Degrees and Diplomas

Written: 1999.04.25

I suppose it may seem vindictive, overly harsh, or perhaps even cruel to harp on Graham Kennedy's education. However, as I've said many times before, I hate fakers. I hate dishonesty and I find it offensive when people pretend to be something they're not. Witness the following exchange between myself and Graham Kennedy on October 12, 1998. He explained that he had a HND in Applied Physics from Sheffield Polytechnic Institute, and a BEd in Physics from Sheffield Hallam University. He then scanned his credentials and sent them to me. As a result, I admitted to him that I was wrong in assuming that he was lying about having genuine university credentials, although I didn't know whether an HND+BEd was equivalent to a BASc or BSc:

I would like to point out that a bachelor of education degree in science is not the same thing as a bachelor of science (at least, it isn't equivalent in North America), but it would appear to be true that you are not a mere high school student.
It is in the UK. To be a teacher you have to have three years worth of degree credits, plus another years worth of teacher training.

I initially accepted this statement, although I had serious misgivings about the quality of the British education system based on his obvious ignorance of numerous fundamental scientific principles. I always wondered how someone could possibly have a BSc or BASc (or the equivalent thereof) while not understanding the laws of thermodynamics, the need to quantify limits, the physics of phase-changes, etc.

However, I am nothing if not curious, and I have a habit of satisfying my idle curiosities. So I took it upon myself to see if I could verify his claims. It seems that Sheffield Hallam University, like most educational institutes, has a public website. It is therefore quite easy to contact them, and to examine their programs. I sent the following E-mail message to the British Council for education (www.britcoun.org):

Hello there! I hope you don't mind an unsolicited inquiry like this, but I was recently talking to someone who indicated that he had an HND in Applied Physics from Sheffield City Polytechnic, and a Bachelor of Education degree in Physics from Sheffield Hallam University. As a result, I have three questions:
  1. Is Sheffield City Polytechnic associated with Sheffield Hallam University in some way?
  2. What does HND stand for, and is it equivalent to a bachelor's degree in applied science (BASc)? If not, what would it take to make it a BASc?
  3. What is a Bachelor of Education degree in Physics? I thought that education degrees were generic, and not necessarily tailored to a specific faculty. In Canada, we have teacher's certificates but no Bachelor of Education degree.
I hope these questions don't sound overly ignorant, but I'm located in Canada, and I am not familiar with the HND or BEd designations. I would greatly appreciate any assistance in this matter.

I suppose I should point out here that this was a totally generic question. I'm not a stalker or a psychopath- I'm not going to try and get Graham Kennedy personally in hot water, and I only made an innocent, anonymous inquiry to some people in the British educational system regarding general education information. I received the following reply from the British Council for education:

Sheffield City Poly later became Sheffield Hallam University. An HND or Higher National Diploma is equivalent to two years of a degree course and the person in question would have to study for another year and often two to come up to the level of degree standard. A bachelor degree in education specialising in Physics allows the holder to teach Physics to school children and is known as a B.Ed.

Interesting, isn't it? Graham Kennedy claims that an HND+BEd combination is equivalent to a full BSc degree, but the British Council for education seems to disagree with him. According to them, a full HND is only equivalent to the first two years of a real degree course, and would require one or two more years of study to upgrade to the degree standard. Furthermore, a bachelor of education is merely the British equivalent of a teacher's certificate- it does not upgrade one's physics knowledge. This answer did not surprise me. After I discovered Sheffield Hallam University's website at www.shu.ac.uk, I found that they have separate BASc and HND programs. It would be rather strange for them to have two programs which are roughly equivalent, wouldn't it?

However, this answer described the HND in general. It is always possible that the Sheffield Hallam University HND is different (perhaps more advanced or less advanced than HND's in general). Significant variation between schools is common (hence the importance of reputation). Not being a British citizen myself, I had no idea what Sheffield Hallam University's reputation is, nor did I have any idea whether their HND is more advanced than the national average or less advanced than the national average. So, I also sent my E-mail message to the department of mathematics and science at Sheffield Hallam University itself. I might as well get the information direct from the horse's mouth, right? This is the response that I received:

HND stands for Higher National Diploma and is a qualification which people can use as entry to degree courses as an alternative to A levels. It is below the standard of a BSc. Usually an HND will mean you are exempt from the first year of a degree  (BSC) course.

We have a division of physics within the school of Science and Maths (SHU is split into schools eg Science and Maths which are made up of divisions eg. physics, maths, chemistry and so forth). The division runs courses in Physics, Engineering physics, Applied physics, HND Applied physics and HND Optoelectronics.

For education degree advice you would need tp contact the school of education, but basically a Bed gives you a qualification in teaching with a specific subject specified. The alternative is to do a degree followed by a PGCE (harder but more highly thought of).

It looks like the good people at Sheffield Hallam University itself also disagree with Mr. Kennedy on the significance of his credentials. They say that their HND is "below the standard of a BSc", and that it is only equivalent to the first year of a degree course! Furthermore, they explain that a BEd is just an education degree with a particular specialization, rather than a method of turning an HND into a BSc equivalent. And finally, they explain that Kennedy's credentials are actually the easiest way to attain teacher certification in the UK.

So it appears that I was correct, after all! Graham Kennedy's scientific background is indeed much inferior to a real degree. When I think about how little I knew at the end of first year university and think that such people are actually permitted to teach high school science, I am frankly rather dismayed (although it explains a lot- high school science teachers generally aren't that knowledgeable, and I always wondered why). There was no contradiction between Graham Kennedy's qualifications and apparent scientific ignorance after all. I wonder if my retraction can, itself, be retracted :)

A helpful reader named Jonathan Colwill sent me some information regarding higher education credentials in the UK:

Graham Kennedy's credentials are therefore as follows: he spent two years acquiring the equivalent of an American technical school diploma in physics. He then went on to study teaching methods for two years. Graham Kennedy's deplorable scientific abuses can now be more clearly understood. Technical schools don't teach their subjects in depth, the way universities do. They tend to gloss over a lot of the theoretical underpinnings and background information, because their emphasis is on ":practical" education, which is the teaching of procedures rather than underlying principles. In other words, they teach you how, but not why.

Addendum: Regarding his status as a high school teacher, it is important to note that you do not need an extensive education to become a high school science teacher in most countries. One needs only a certain number of credits in university-level science (no full degree required) or a college or polytechnical school diploma, in addition to a "teacher's certificate" (or BEd in Britain). Someone with a BSc or BASc is technically overqualified to become a high school science teacher, but in some countries (such as Canada), it is a palatable choice because teachers have an incredibly good vacation/benefits package. For example, Canadian teachers make the equivalent of $40,000 US annually, with 3 months of paid holidays and one of the most generous retirement packages in the country. The pay may not be breathtaking, but how do you put a dollar value on three months of paid vacation?. In my weaker moments, I think about the lavish vacation time and benefits, and consider becoming a teacher myself :)


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