Atle Hetland We human beings like to adorn ourselves. What we use depends on the time and culture we live in. Tattoos have been common in many cultures, up to our time, and in subcultures, even in our time. Cuts in the skin, on the cheeks and chest have been common, especially in Africa, but today such traditions are dying also there. In China, a strange habit of tying the girls feet, hindering them from developing, was a cruel practice, making the young womens walk peculiar and when growing old the feet could not support the body making it impossible to stand upright. In New Guinea and Oceania, aborigines and others adorned their faces by putting pieces of wood through their earflaps, lips and noses. Whether these things were considered beautiful would be in the eye of the beholder and the culture that decided the norms of beauty. What do we do today to attract attention? Many things, of course, and many of them are not less ridiculous than those I have mentioned. Then we have also developed other signs and symbols to impress the surroundings, not only the opposite sex, but more often the same sex, it seems. Degrees and titles are among the latest 'borrowed feathers, and whether they are fake or real, has become a hot issue in Pakistan. Yes, more in Pakistan than any of the several other countries I have lived in. But then Pakistan is still a class society, sometimes even with feudal traditions alive and kicking, and people are as snobbish, sometimes, as people used to be in France during the days of Louis XIV and Louis XV - before the French Revolution in 1789 straightened out some of these things. Alas, other snobbish traditions have developed in France, Pakistan, Norway - my home country - and everywhere for that matter. In Pakistan, it became a requirement during Musharrafs regime that all members of the National Assembly must have a university degree. I was in Pakistan when that happened, and we were many who thought this was a way of limiting democracy. There might be some good reasons for demanding that MNAs have a certain level of knowledge and some functional skills, such as literacy and good comprehension of Urdu and English. A civil servant needs a university degree, I believe, but why would really an MNA need it? It wouldnt do any harm, but it would also not necessarily increase the level of competence of the MNA, and that would probably be the only justifiable reason for it. In Norway and the other Scandinavian countries, a generation or two ago, the legendary Labour Party leaders and several Prime Ministers often had no more than the compulsory primary school, seven years in those days, plus socialisation in the 'party machinery, making them better fit for their work than any university degree could have done. As a matter of fact, as late as the 1960s and 1970s, there was some scepticism against academicians in the leftwing parties. Academicians would be suspected of siding with the bourgeoisie rulers. And I believe there was something to that argument. Today, though, in a technologically and bureaucratically complicated world, few politicians would make it without solid education. But many, also in our time, become active in politics so early that they hardly get time to complete their full university degrees. We call them 'broilers because they are brought up and taught skills within the circles of their parties, with close contact, too, with the voters and in lively and committing debates. No wonder then that one of our top politicians, after he had been a minister for many years took a couple of summer vacations off to complete his university degree to become 'Cand. Theol. He also completed the practical internship, making him qualified to become a priest. Later, Kjell Magne Bondevik became Pri-me Minister, but his degree had nothing to do with that, of course. In secular Norway, maybe it was even a disadvantage to have a degree in religion. In Pakistan, there has recently been a more heated debate about doctoral degrees, and especially whether such degrees are from approved universities, or if they have just been obtained through a weekend course or two, or bought on the Internet perhaps. To make it even more questionable and intriguing: Maybe some of those, who have genuine enough degrees, were awarded those degrees because they were on government scholarship at home or abroad, and it would become a bureaucratic and diplomatic embarrassment to the person in question, the country, and the university, if the degrees were not awarded on time, even if the level was not quite as high as it should have been. In other cases, perhaps the dissertation, or parts of it, was mainly written by a hired hand? Well, the same way that many university teachers get their lists of publications long during their year of tenure - I suppose, in Pakistan, Norway, and not least in countries like the US where a university life is a very competitive affair. This means that many of us may beautify ourselves with feathers that are not quite our own. We wear borrowed feathers as long as we get away with it, and it is politically and culturally correct and acceptable to do so. Never mind all this? Not quite. I think we should mind, but at the same time not become too obsessed with it. We should even look at it with a degree of humour. True, to claim that one has a degree which doesnt exist in reality is a lie and a forgery, and one may ask if such a person can be trusted in other ways, for example, as a politician, or an accountant. But then, the level of a university degree is not written in stone, and the standards are not absolute. Most professions and vocations have standards and rules for certification. And we have to respect them. Academicians mystify it a bit more, and call their qualifications, or exams, degrees. It is an old-fashioned, but not yet outdated way of gaining status and respect. It becomes 'us and 'them. I think the recent debate in Pakistan has shown us that all these adornments are not to be taken too seriously. Back to Norway again, where a Doctor, abbreviated Dr can only be put in front of the name for a Medical Doctor, not even a Dentist or Veterinarian All the others, who have a PhD type of degree, must put the whole title behind the name. Good? Yes, I think so. I think that could also help solve some of the current problem in Pakistan. And it would be appreciated by the 99.5 percent of the worlds people, who do not actually have any such degrees anyway. Maybe politicians wou-ld become more likeable and get more votes without the degrees? What do we do with the MNAs who do not have proper university degrees? Just cancel the whole requirement because a politician doesnt need a degree from any university in the first place. Politicians need degrees in social conscience, honesty, and commitment to work for those who elected them. Such values that our parents, in particular our mothers, teach us. Mothers do not issue certificates and degrees, but we all know when we have passed or failed. They are real qualifications, not borrowed feathers. In the end, in the eyes of Mother - and God - a degree does not matter much. The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist currently based in Islamabad. Email: