In Depth

Are two-year degrees a good idea?

Government unveils fast-track plan in effort to bring 'flexibility and choice' to higher education

UK university students will be able to enrol on "fast-track" two-year undergraduate degrees under new plans the government says will bring "flexibility and choice" into higher education.

Encouraging more universities to offer two-year degrees was a Tory manifesto pledge, but uptake has been slow because tuition fees are currently capped at £9,000 a year, The Guardian reports.

Consequently, the government is tabling amendments to a higher education bill appearing in the Commons today to allow the cap to be waived for two-year courses, meaning fast-track fees could rise to more than £13,000 a year, The Times says.

Under the scheme, summer holidays and Easter and Christmas breaks would be slashed and students would face a far more intense workload than those on traditional undergraduate courses, which last three or four years and often come with lengthy holidays.

The proposals would also allow four-year courses to be completed in three years, with a similar rise in tuition fees.

Although students will pay roughly the same amount for their tuition, the prospect of saving on a year or more's accommodation and living costs could prove tempting to those on a budget.

Writing in The Times today, universities minister Jo Johnson said the proposals would introduce more "flexibility and choice" into higher education and that the lower total cost could entice more students from disadvantaged backgrounds, who have been shown to be the most averse to incurring debt.

Plans for two-year degrees were pushed by previous governments, but when the coalition announced its proposals to expand its fast-track pilot scheme in 2010, the University and College Union outlined "significant educational and employment-related problems" associated with the two-year degrees.

These included a lack of student demand, the increase to lecturers' workloads and the risk of failing to comply with the Bologna Process agreement on standards for higher education across Europe, of which the UK is a signatory.

Concerns have also been expressed in the past about encouraging "a two-tier university system", says the BBC, where only well-off students would be able to enjoy a full three-year experience.

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