Fast Track Degree
Education ministers announced on Friday that Students will be given the option to choose a fast track, two year degree. Those choosing this condensed course will have to work far more intensely, with their studies running well into the lengthy summer break.
Unfortunately the cost of this two year course will not be any cheaper than the full three year degree. Logic might suggest that fees would be one third lower, a saving of thousands of pounds - but this is not the case. Students selecting this fast track degree course will pay the same as those choosing the traditional three year degree. Savings can still be made though, since a shorter study period will mean accommodation costs will be reduced.
The intended merits of this fast track degree option are not financial ones though. Universities Minister Jo Johnson has said the flexibility of shorter degrees are hoped to attract more mature students, disadvantaged youngsters, and anyone else who might be intimidated by a full three year degree course.
In repose to criticism that students would be paying the same fees for a compressed course, he said that the fast track degrees would be the `Same standard, same quality,` and that the students would receive exactly the same level of education.
Addressing university leaders in London, Mr Johnson went on to say `It`s not fewer credits, or lower quality of provision, it`s the same standard, the same quality, but in a compressed period of time and that involves an increase in resources, which needs to be recognised in the fee structure.`
Speaking about the benefits for the fast track system Mr Johnson said `there are clear advantages for the student,` such as saving a year`s living costs, which would allow them to get into employment quicker.
For years there has been a growing advocacy for the UK to offer more flexibility in the structure in it`s higher, post sixth form, education system. Accelerated degrees are already offered by a number of universities - it was the previous labour and coalition governments that sanctioned this - however only a relatively small number of degrees can currently be completed in two years. The current proposals could lead to a far more extensive roll out of this fast track system - indeed, it could eventually become the norm for most degrees to offer this option.
The change that has facilitated this proposal is the lifting of the annual tuition fee cap - it currently stands at £9000, but ministers are expected to raise this shortly, most likely to around £13000, which would enable universities to offer fast track degrees for the same cost as their regular three year courses.
Many have been critical over these new proposals - the UCU (university and college Union) have said that the primary beneficiaries would not be students themselves, but private, for profit companies, who would do very well out of a `pile `em high and teach `em cheap` attitude to teaching.
Sally Hunt, the UCU general secretary was extremely critical of the proposals, said that `accelerated degrees risk undermining the well-rounded education upon which our universities` reputation is based. As well as placing a huge burden on staff, these new degrees would only be available to students who could study all year round. Our universities must remain places of learning, not academic sweatshops`
The Russell Group, an organisation founded in 1994, and which represents 24 of the country`s leading universities, has also been openly critical of the two year degree proposal. Dr Tim Bradshaw, its acting director said that while innovation is to be welcomed in the education field `full-time, three-year degree programmes are generally the most appropriate at research-intensive institutions`.
There are certainly benefits to the fast track system - being able to enter the job market a year earlier may be chief among them. What`s concerning however is the potential for the degree to be devalued, that the motivation of this move is for universities to increase their profitability by providing shorter courses for the same price.