The difference between "academic" and "vocational" degrees would be clear enough if the adjective "vocational" were replaced by, say, "experiential" (Leader, January 16; Letters, January 23; 30).
Problems in professional fields can be solved in two ways: by understanding the principles involved and being able to work out the best solution under the circumstances; or by having experienced similar problems and being able to extrapolate from this.
The know-how of the latter brings quicker and cheaper solutions, but the understanding of the former is essential when faced with unprecedented problems to avoid solving by trial and error.
A good example of the difference is in medicine. The pre-clinical phase provides a theoretical understanding of how the body works; the clinical phase provides the experience and know-how to enable doctors to cope with most variations of typical ailments.
Just as the depth of necessary theoretical understanding varies between fields, so the value of a university course also varies.