UK universities will be able to charge more than £13,000 a year for two-year undergraduate degrees, under new plans announced by the government on Friday.
The fast-track courses, implemented in English universities, will cost roughly the same in total as a three-year course. They will enable students to get a degree in two years rather than three, allowing them to save money on accommodation and living costs. The shorter courses are also good news for those who want to enter the workplace sooner.
The proposed two-year programs will mean students take much shorter breaks and study more intensively, reflecting the faster pace of the degree. The change should address concerns that degrees are increasingly poor value for money, with some courses consisting of as little as five hours of teaching a week and students receiving long summer and Christmas breaks.
Regular three-year courses will continue to be available, allowing students the flexibility to choose between both options. There have been calls for fast-track courses in the past, but few exist as the tuition fee cap of £9,250 a year provided UK universities with little financial incentive to run them.
Universities Minister Jo Johnson believes the new courses may be particularly beneficial for mature or disadvantaged students, and according to the BBC is expected to tell university leaders: "Students are crying out for more flexible courses, modes of study which they can fit around work and life, shorter courses that enable them to get into and back into work more quickly, and courses that equip them with the skills that the modern workplace needs."
The same quality in a shorter period?
However, the fast-track courses raise some concerns, particularly as to whether students will be able to get the same quality of education in a shorter period, as well as whether this will result in unsustainable extra pressure on both staff and students’ workloads. Conversely, the Department of Education has stressed that fast-track degrees will carry the same weight as current three-year courses.
The Russell Group, an association of 24 leading UK universities, is also concerned about the impact on learning. Acting director Dr Tim Bradshaw said: “Full-time, three-year degree programs are generally the most appropriate at research-intensive institutions”, while Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “Our universities must remain places of learning, not academic sweatshops.”
The news also reflects concerns regarding increases in tuition fees at UK universities, with the government announcing in December that tuition fees for three-year courses in England will increase to £9,250 a year in autumn 2017. The fast-track programs will make annual fees in England higher than many US state universities.
Do you like the idea of completing a two-year, fast-track course? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.