Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


Ronald Dore publishes Diploma Disease in response to qualification escalation

Ronald Dore’s seminal work on the escalation of academic qualification has left an indelible mark on our perception of the current education system. In the Diploma Disease, published in 1976, Dore outlines the phenomenon known as qualification escalation. He describes this phenomenon as the move towards achieving higher levels of education, in order to stay competitive within the work environment. His analysis serves to raise several questions related to the usefulness of the current educational system. Dore argues that within the current system of education, not all schooling is education. Instead, much of it is mere qualification earning. He states that education implies learning, which has mastery in a particular area as its object or learning for pleasure, whereas schooling implies certification for job attainment or career advancement as its primary goal. Dore states that the current education system is based on a schooling model that assists with the job selection process. Thus education is rarely pursued for the pleasures of learning, instead it is promoted as a means to an end. The end being job attainment. Dore argues that it is this type of schooling system, which serves to fuel the qualification escalation phenomenon.

Dore proceeds to draw analogies between many of today’s economic, social, and political problems, and the rise in academic qualification. He states that this phenomenon has resulted in detrimental outcomes, which have negatively impacted upon the employability status of individuals, the social fabric of various countries, and the overall health and well-being of mankind. He argues that this phenomenon is present throughout both the developed and the developing world, but is most detrimental within the developing countries. This is because it serves to enhance the dualistic developmental patterns already present within the fragile third world school system. He reasons that qualification escalation continues to prosper mainly because of the myth that education “improves” people, and that they are getting more for their money if they get more education.

Dore identifies two major trends, which he argues has served to heighten the impact of this phenomenon. The first one is high birth rates and falling infant mortality. Dore states that this particular trend has resulted in high levels of enrolment, which has forced many governments to cut spending in areas such as healthcare and social services in order to assist with subsidization of tuition and the funding of new learning institutions and certification programs. In addition, the level of competition among applicants has increased significantly resulting in a steep declined in the overall health status of individuals. The second major trend that has served to heighten the impact of the academic escalation qualification is that of a limited number of modern sector job vacancies. Dore states that as a result of fewer jobs, the level of certification required to attain these positions rapidly increases. Thus, those who have what used to be considered a valid visa into the modern sector, but have not found a suitable niche to settle in, experience the sense of “being wronged”. This can result in uprisings which can potentially have dangerous outcomes, such as the Sri Lanka student protests. 

Dore relates the onset of education qualification to when a country’s drive for development begins. He argued that the later in world history a country’s development drive starts, the more deeply entrenched and more disastrous its consequences. To illustrate this argument, Dore presents an analysis of four countries (Britain, Japan, Sri Lanka, and Kenya) and proceeds to chart their qualification escalation over the centuries. Throughout this section of his book, Dore attempts to draw links between the rate in which education qualification has escalated and the social construct of these four countries. He claims that countries in which education qualification has become deeply entrenched has resulted in various social uprisings, a widening in the gap between rich and poor, and an increase in the educated unemployed.

Throughout the final section of the Diploma Disease, Dore introduces two 'modest' proposals aimed at eradicating this education qualification process. He states that these proposals can be used to assist individuals with gaining entry into the workforce while alleviating many of the problems accumulated as a result of the academic qualification escalation. These proposals encompass transforming the entire work and education system. In his first proposal, Dore suggests that individuals should start their careers earlier and do as much of the selection as possible within work organizations, while transforming all tertiary education and training into career learning, either part-time or full-time. The second proposal is based on providing selection tests to all points where there has to be a selection process. The main purpose for this proposal is to avoid learning achievement tests, whether the alternative be aptitude, lotteries, or special encapsulated tests. The essential component is that they be tests which cannot be crammed for. Dore concludes this text by examining his proposals. He expected that it was unlikely that change based on his suggestions would transpire because in order for them to be implemented, a total restructuring of not only the education system, but virtually all aspects of society, needed to occur.

Twenty-five years later, the education phenomenon labelled by Dore as 'the diploma disease' still exists. Not only that. As Dore (1997) admits two decades after its original piece on the topic, “its presence is stronger and fiercer than ever”. However, this is not to say that the Diploma Disease went unnoticed by its readers. In fact, the Diploma Disease has become one of the most influential pieces within the field of education. It is often cited as the “golden text” for both the field of developmental studies and international and comparative education. In addition, the term qualification escalation has since become a part of education vocabulary. Moreover, “between publications of the original book and its second edition, there have been several collections, reviews, and films designed to explore the validity of the original thesis and to extend or revise it” (Little, 1997, p. 6). The results from these studies have been used to transform the education system. Economically, the delivery of cost-effective education services has occurred across various countries where the introduction of many of these aptitudes, lottery, and encapsulated tests have been implemented. Furthermore, the Diploma Disease has led to the design and implementation of a series of studies by The Students Learning Orientation Group (SLOG) and The Work Orientation and Behavior (WOB) Program.


Dore, R. P. (1976). The Diploma Disease. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Dore, R. P. (1997). Reflections on the Diploma Disease Twenty Years Later. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy, and Practice, 4, 1, pp. 189 – 218.

Little, A. (1997). The Diploma Disease Twenty Years On: An Introduction. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy, and Practice, 4, 1, pp. 5 – 22.

Prepared by Suzanne Fredericks (OISE/UT)

March 2001

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