What’s the deal with accelerated degrees?
On the 18th of November 2018, the Universities Minister, Sam Gyimah, announced that universities would be able to offer degree courses over two years rather than three. The minister’s speech talked about these accelerated degrees making university more accessible, claiming they were devised to meet students needs. But are they a good deal for students?
Although these degrees are taught over two academic years, rather than three, students will still get the same amount of lecture and contact hours. In a three-year degree, the academic year lasts for 30 weeks. In an accelerated degree, that’s boosted to 45 weeks. Whether you choose to take the two- or three-year options, you will get the same amount of learning time.
What differs is the holidays. In a three-year degree there are three long holiday periods in the year, with the longest of those being the summer. In an accelerated degree, students continue to study through the summer.
While that does give you the chance to complete your degree in two years rather than three, it does mean there are no extended breaks from study time where longer pieces of work can be completed. And, of course it will make having a summer job impossible, and savings from summer jobs are often a vital part of the student economy.
Initially, plans were for a two-year degree to cost the same as a 3-year. Universities were to be allowed to charge up to £14k per year for these accelerated courses. However, as final plans were released, these fees have been reduced, with universities restricted to charging just over £11k per year.
For the student, this gives obvious advantages. Rather than graduating with a student loan of £27k, studying or two years reduces this by over £5k. The plans were put together under the stewardship of Jo Johnson, the former universities minister who recently resigned over Brexit.
Johnson claimed that students undertaking the accelerated degrees could benefit from a cost saving of as much as £25k between savings on the maintenance loan and being able to get into the workplace one year earlier.
Filling the Gaps
But why the urge to compress degrees down to two years? The answer can probably be found in the skills shortage which Britain is currently experiencing.
Many of the industries where there is a shortage of staff would benefit from having more graduates, sooner. For example, the financial sector, an area mentioned specifically by Gyimah in his announcement.
With Brexit expected to make the skills shortage worse, the timing of this new initiative is not surprising.
Labours shadow education secretary wasn’t convinced that two-year degrees would deliver on the promises they made. There was, she said, no evidence that they would improve outcomes for students. She also noted that while the whole degree may cost less, expecting students to pay more per-year amounted to an increase in tuition fees.
The Bottom Line
With the same amount of tuition hours for lower fees, it’s hard to see the downside of accelerated degrees. They would allow graduates to get out into the workforce more quickly, helping the skills shortage and the repayments of student loans. A shorter degree could also encourage mature students to take a career break to complete a degree and increase their own usefulness.
However, other costs will need to be factored into the equation. Accommodation will be needed year-round rather than only in term-time, and as previously mentioned there will be less opportunities for work to help students get through more cash strapped times.
There are pros and cons to the plans for two-year degrees. You’ll need to weigh them up with your personal situation in mind before making a decision either way.