The government have agreed to the introduction of ‘accelerated’ two-year degree courses, although this is still subject to parliamentary approval. This follows a consultation in which the government found that shorter courses will be able to offer more choice and flexibility, particularly for mature students.
The department for education has suggested that under the plan, students could pay up to a fifth less on tuition fees than those studying a three-year course, creating a saving of £5,500 on tuition alone.
The level of teaching and the overall standard of qualification are expected to remain the same, with the missing year being made up in higher contact hours and an increase from a 30 week to a 45 week academic year.
Universities Minister Sam Gymiah has said: ‘[T]his provision creates a new arena of competition that delivers for students, taxpayers and employers.’
The consultation leading this decision has suggested that there should be an aim for five percent of undergraduates taking short courses within the next ten years, resulting in an additional 10,000 students studying over this time.
Some universities already offer the opportunity for students for undertake a two-year course. In an op-ed for The Telegraph released last year, University of Buckingham Vice Chancellor Anthony Seldon argued that this structure has proven to be a successful approach to learning, citing Buckingham’s Gold Teaching Excellence Framework ranking and first place ranking in the National Student Survey.
It is no doubt that the idea of lower tuition fees and a shorter time in education are desirable for many students, particularly those keen to get into the workplace and keep costs to a minimum, but many have expressed their concerns. Finance expert Martin Lewis has cautioned against ‘the classic over simplification that you’ll pay less for a low-cost degree’.
Alongside financial concerns, The University and College Union has commented that students may not be able to balance their studies with the necessary ‘periods of reflection, critical thinking and a deep approach to learning’.
Although there is expected to be a saving on tuition fees, and a year’s saving on living costs, the longer days and years suggest that students will have less time to earn money and concentrate on their other responsibilities.
Not only this, but under the current system, most low to middle earners will never repay their student loan, indicating that only the highest earners will save money on tuition fees.
Dr Tim Bradshaw, Chief Executive of the Russell Group, has said that he ‘would caution ministers against “overpromising”’ what is to be expected from these degrees.