Education: Start at the beginning...

Now the academic year can begin in January rather than September, if that suits you.
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The Independent Online
Most students start degree courses at the beginning of the academic year, in the autumn, but for people who would prefer to start their course at the beginning of the calendar year there is a selection of courses that start in January or in February.

Judith Doughty, the universities and colleges liaison officer at Ucas, advises that "there is provision on the Ucas application form for students to say which year and month they want to start at university or college".

Applicants for a January start are usually offered an unconditional place on the basis of exams for which they already have the results. Students can apply for to up to six courses on the Ucas form and Judith Doughty suggests that if applicants decide on a course starting in January they should cancel their other applications so as "not to hold up a place that someone else might want at another university or college".

Buckingham University is the UK's only independent university, and it specialises in two-year degrees starting in January. It attracts a large number of mature students, overseas students and business and law students who prefer to condense their studies into a shorter period than the traditional three-year degree course.

Robert Pearce is professor of law and pro-vice chancellor at the University of Buckingham, and he finds that students take to the four-term, two-year courses very happily. "It seems perfectly natural to most students to start in January; it means that the beginning of the academic year is in January and is never out of step with the calendar year. This is particularly attractive to mature students who are used to working right through the year."

Mature students also like the shorter degree course because it means that they will graduate more quickly than they would in a traditional university and spend less time off work. Younger students who want to get a job as quickly as possible are also attracted to Buckingham despite the fact that they only have a three-week holiday during the summer.

As Professor Pearce says: "We tend to get more dedicated students at Buckingham because they are sacrificing the long summer break. But they are better prepared for the world of work. They are used to working right through the year so employers view them very favourably."

Elizabeth Saxby, 20, is in her first year at Buckingham doing a course in business studies. She chose Buckingham because it was a two-year course and had all the components that she wanted to do - such as economics with accounting, psychology and human resource management.

"I did consider applying to other universities but I didn't want to take too long over my degree, and at other universities the first year of business studies is often a re-run of A-levels. This is a very tough and intensive course but that's the way I like it. It is hard work but it is good."

Elizabeth does not mind having a short summer break because it means she does not have time to forget all her course work. "I am able to remember everything that I have learnt because the holiday is so short. I like working hard to a tight schedule but if you are not prepared to work and get things done then Buckingham is not the place for you."

Anthony Edwards, 20, is also in his first year at Buckingham, also doing business studies, and he agrees that it is hard work but worth it. "I had six months off after A-levels and got a job, working in an office as a personal assistant; now I am on this business studies course I can relate to what I was doing at work and I have an idea of what work entails."

Anthony is aware that he does not spend as much time socialising as some of his friends who are at state-funded universities such as Hull and Sheffield but he prefers it this way. "I am missing out on some social life but I'd rather get on with my degree. I do feel that if I had done a three- year degree at Hull I would have spent more time messing around and less time working but I want to get on with my life. I want to get a job in marketing as soon as I finish and it's not possible to go out a lot and to work really hard, if you want to waste time and get drunk this is not the place to be."

Both Elizabeth's and Anthony's parents are paying for them to go to Buckingham, but Professor Pearce points out that now that grants have been abolished the cost of a degree from Buckingham is equivalent to the cost of a degree from a state university. "It costs pounds 18,000 to get a degree anywhere now - pounds 3,000 in fees and pounds 15,000 in maintenance over three years. At Buckingham students pay pounds 10,000 for living expenses for two years and with a scholarship they pay pounds 8,000 for fees." Without a scholarship fees for UK students are pounds 15,000. Scholarships are awarded automatically to students with 24 points (an average of three Bs at A-level) or 18 points (three Cs at A-level) if they come from Buckinghamshire or the surrounding counties.

Students come from a mixed range of backgrounds and, as Professor Pearce, says "Buckingham is slightly skewed towards the middle class but I don't feel that the students here are very different from the students I taught at universities in Ireland or in Newcastle".

Buckingham is not the only place to offer courses starting at the beginning of the year. Other privately funded institutions such as the European Business School, in London, also have a January start, and universities such as South Bank, Luton and De Montfort offer a limited range of early- start courses. De Montfort, in Leicester, has courses starting in February on subjects ranging from equine sports science to public policy and management to conservation and restoration.

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