Last week, the House of Lords approved a plan to expand two-year degree courses in English universities. However, this involves raising the cost of these fast-track degrees to £11,000 a year!
Two-year degrees are necessary for those with family or work commitments, being particularly popular with mature students. If the Department of Education’s focus is to remove barriers for under-represented groups, as they say it is, then why are they making them more expensive? Surely less people from lower-income backgrounds will do these degrees if the cost increases by 20%.
Even more so than this, with such courses squeezing three years into two, holidays are much shorter, and contact hours are greatly increased. There’s no doubt that this reduces the opportunity for part-time work, hence increasing short-term financial pressure; undermining the whole idea that they offer a less financially intense course. The Government argue that two years at £11,000 is still saving at least £5500 compared to three-year courses. But that’s not the point. Comparing the price of the former with the latter is like comparing Cher Lloyd to Rebecca Black - they are both still terrible.
Universities UK has said that although some institutions already offer fast-track degrees, demand for them has been limited, so why would the Government think raising their prices would make them more popular? If Topshop’s weird transparent coats aren’t selling well, they don’t higher the price tag, instead they provide us with a glorious sale. Perhaps the Government should be proposing a discount offer instead until popularity picks up!
Dr Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group stated: “The government’s own projection for the likely take-up of these degrees is modest and we actually hear many students calling for four-year degrees, for example, to spend a year on a work placement or studying abroad”. If the Government is serious on wanting to help alleviate costs, they should direct their attention to the more popular courses, rather than pushing people towards quicker intensive ones to save 6 grand.
Besides with all this talk of money, the Department of Education seems to be forgetting a major point. For most students, university is about far more than just getting a degree, it’s a time to have more freedom and fun, playing at only being part-adult before we are unleashed into the scary big world.
Two-year degrees only help costs by pushing us away from traditional degrees into more intense programmes, rushing our uni life, but why should this be the case? It is an unnecessary step compared to simply lowering the more common three-year degrees.
If the Department of Education truly has our best interests at heart, they should focus on making it more affordable for everybody.
An “accelerated” course for university students sounds like a good idea on the surface, allowing the underrepresented students to complete their degree faster and enter into the workforce a year earlier. But is this really a practical decision to make when university already puts so much pressure on students?
On 30th January 2019, the House of Lords passed the legislation that allowed universities to introduce a course that condenses three years of teaching into two. Chris Skidmore, universities minister, said that this was a “great modern day milestone”, as it can help mature students to complete a degree that otherwise might have been impossible for them to do, because of their concerns about taking three years out of earning money. He said that it “breaks the mould of a one size fits all system for people wanting to study in Higher Education”, as it lessens financial worries for these students. The course will save the students 20% on their overall tuition fees, costing £11,000 per year but for only two years. This saves them £5,500 on tuition fees and also a full year’s maintenance loan. Mature students who have families to worry about will benefit, as they will be able to provide for their families a year earlier, and take on less debt, but are these the only benefits?
Concerns have been expressed that this course will undermine the “international reputation of our higher education sector”, as Matt Waddup says, the head of policy at the University College Union. It will cause more strain on university lecturers, making them work longer hours, and it will be a lot of added pressure for the university students on the course. As Waddup argues, the government should be focusing instead on how a degree “piles huge debts on students”, and fixing this problem. This arguably is a more prominent issue than the length of the degree, as the financial pressures of university cause much stress to students.
The mental health of students has been a growing concern for many years, and the statistics show how dramatically the status of their mental health has declined. In 2015, 78% of 1093 students that were interviewed by NUS said that they experienced mental health issues the previous academic year. On top of that, 33% had experienced suicidal thoughts. These shocking statistics show how students are already suffering under a lot of pressure, and that they are struggling to cope with university life and their studies. These statistics have been getting worse in the last few years, with suicide rates of 2016 to 2017 being up by 52% from 2000 to 2001.
If students are already struggling to cope with university, when the content of the course is spread out between three years, then is it really practical to condense their degree into that of two years? Sometimes finances cannot be put before student’s wellbeing, and the government’s priorities do not seem to reflect this.