Unfortunately, having a degree in this society(western) does make a difference. I love gardening, especially edibles. I love nature. I want to share this passion with other people and try to help as many people grow in the right direction(pun intended!). My garden in the back yard will reach about 10 people a year, mostly from people visiting the neighbors. That's not really getting the message out quick enough in my opinion.
So I decided to become a certified SFG teacher(which got put on the back burner for other projects). While doing hideous amounts of research, I ran into the cooperative extension office and through that, the Master Gardener program. While I didn't learn much new in the MG program as far as vegetables and fruit/nut production, I did learn a lot of "other" stuff. It was well worth the money and the time. Now that I am a certified Master Gardener, I can reach a lot more people. There is another great aspect to the Master Gardener program(at least the one in the US, not sure about Austria and Germany), you get to network with a bunch of people that also enjoy gardening.
Recently(as in last week), I ran across 2 projects in my area: one is directly related to permaculture(though I do need to find out more information), the other is a program where the neighborhood is turning all green space and abandoned lots into food production(there are quite a few orchards). I would have never have found out about these 2 projects unless I was a Master Gardener. While I understand that MG is not a degree in the US, it is a land-grant college certification.
Now I've taken on the objective of earning a PDC. Again, this is not a degree in the accepted sense, but when I pull up to somebody's house and hand them a card with Master Gardener, Certified SFG Teacher and Certified Permaculturalist after my name, it will make a difference, more than having some random Joe pull up. If I wanted to take it a step further and start a business instead of just helping people for free, then I'd probably take a horticultural course too.
While I agree that colleges and universities(and institutional education in general) need a fundamental change, they are still the only "accepted" way to learn. I think they number one reason that people want to know about your education level is because it is an easy way to see your qualifications. People in the arts industry(actors/models) carry a book of their accomplishments, with photographs. I think something like that would help tremendously in the permaculture world, especially when those pictures of projects have before, during and after pictures that include a picture of you doing some work.
I hated school, I hated high school even more. I refused to go to college, and I do not regret that decision one bit 20 years later. Having said that, I made sure my daughter went to college. The societal pressures of graduating from college(or some form of higher education) are greater now. What you're really doing is getting 10+ years of experience in 2+ years when going to college.
There are ways around the institutional-ness of education, but you have to be diligent.