Degrees: It's time to make a fresh start

Sign up for a degree this month to beat tuition fees and get ahead of the competition
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The Independent Online

New Year's resolutions 2006: Leave dead-end job. Improve qualifications. Become more interesting, cultured person. Meet more interesting, cultured people. Stop putting things off.

Act now, and you'll have a chance to keep all those resolutions by signing up for one of the increasing number of degree courses that start this term. And if you're interested in an undergraduate degree, there is an extra incentive this year as it will be your last chance to avoid paying top-up fees.

Mark Bickerton, director of student recruitment at London Metropolitan University, says: "The important thing about New Year's resolutions is if you do make them you want to act on them quickly." His university gets quite a few people turning up at open evenings in January saying it's now or never.

But there are plenty of other reasons why students find a January start attractive. For many mature students and those studying part time or for postgraduate degrees, the traditional school year is no longer relevant. Their timetables are more to do with caring responsibilities or career breaks, and a January start may fit these better.

Younger students may have finished school with no intention of going to university and then have failed to get a job or have started work and found they don't enjoy it or need more qualifications but don't want to wait another year before they can take them.

January-start courses are also useful for international students. In many countries the school year doesn't run from September to September, while in certain subjects - engineering in India, say - results aren't published until after the British autumn term has started. Visa problems sometimes cause delays that make a September start impossible. In other cases, students want to brush up their English for a term before they start.

Nawshad Naqueeb, 26, who studied business administration and marketing in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and has just completed an MBA at London Metropolitan University, chose a February start because he missed the scholarship deadline for September. But he found it had other advantages too. After an intensive first semester that ended in June, there was a long summer break in which he had the chance to earn money, gain work experience, and liaise with other MBA students who had already completed their second semester. And he felt he had a head start in the job market on students who started their course seven months after him.

Running two cohorts of students in a single year does complicate administration, and means that staff sometimes have to teach the same module twice in succession. But Mark Bickerton says some find this a helpful way of honing their teaching. And it does mean specialist options have more chance of running because they will be available to two cohorts of students rather than just one.

January starts have been common for a long time at the University of Central Lancashire but until now they have been for foundation-entry courses only. This year, for the first time, UCLan is piloting a selection of full-time January-start degree courses.

It is interested in attracting local and regional students looking to change direction but wants to appeal to anyone with a serious commitment to study. "We aren't looking to pick up 18-year-old failures who have made a mess of their first term," says Mike Abramson, head of the combined and joint honours unit at UCLan. In fact, more will be expected from these students as the first year of their course will be packed into a shorter period.

This is not uncommon. While some January-start courses are paced in the same way as any other course, some universities - such as UCLan and Coventry - choose to accelerate or lengthen one semester so that the students meet up with the September-start cohort in their second year.