By Hugo Harris
English universities will be able to charge more than £14,000 per year for a fast-track two-year degree under new Government proposals.
The new degrees are being aimed at mature students and school leavers who want to “crack on and get into the workforce” and cut their living and accommodation costs by a third. The qualifications would omit the conventional long summer and winter holidays in place for the faster pace of the degree.
The proposals mean the £9,000 tuition fee cap that currently applies to traditional three-year courses would be lifted. It is believed that this would make annual fees at many UK universities higher than those at US public state universities.
Universities minister, Jo John son, assured higher education leaders that the proposals would allow flexibility for students whilst simultaneously not diluting the quality of teaching that they receive: “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.”
The Labour Party has been quick to raise concerns. Education spokesman Gordon Marsden inferred that the £14, 000 a year fee structure might not be acceptable: “Is it yet another example of their [the Government’s] using their new higher education legislation as a Trojan horse to let tuition fees rip?”
Responses from university experts have been similarly mixed. Tim Bradshaw, Acting Director of the Russell Group, suggested that while they backed “diversity and innovation,” there were many reasons why conventional three-year degree programmes were “generally the most appropriate.”
“Careful consideration will be needed for how these accelerated courses are delivered so that they don’t negatively affect student learning or compromise the overall undergraduate experience,” he added. The University and College Union (UCU) said the plans drawn up would not herald a new era of open, flexible universities; rather, the proposals could further enable for-profit companies to thrive in higher education.
Their general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: “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.”
Maddalaine Ansell, Chief Executive of University Alliance which represents vocationally-focused universities, was keen to emphasise the potential benefits of the Government’s plans: “Accelerated degrees can be a really attractive option for mature students and those who are looking to get into the job market quickly with new skills.”
“Our members already run some very successful accelerated degrees, for which students pay much less. More flexibility on fees would allow universities to run more courses like this, and in more subjects.”
In a statement to Palatinate, Professor Alan Houston, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education), was open-minded but non-committal. He said: “We pride ourselves on excellent education and a student experience to rival the best in the world.”
“We are always looking at ways to further strengthen our offering, so that Durham graduates continue to be well-equipped with the skills and confidence they need to thrive and succeed in their careers.”
“There are a number of reasons why full-time, three-year degree programmes are generally the most appropriate at research-intensive institutions like Durham. However, we have not yet considered accelerated courses, or explored the possible benefits and necessary compromises in this approach.”
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons