January starts: A staggering way to attract more students

More and more universities are offering courses that start in the new year
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It is easy for prospective students to come over all Lead Belly at this time of year, reckoning, as the old blues man did, that it's too late, too late, too late. With applications long closed and courses well on their way it is easy to feel left behind. You should not.

In the last few years more universities have started offering courses in January, so there is still just enough time to apply. As universities become increasingly attuned to their new place in the market, they are finding themselves having to adapt beyond September starts to accommodate new students. So, increasingly, they are starting courses later in the year to fit in around the lives of those for whom university is not just the next step after school.

Many of these run from January to December, but some are accelerated, so you can do your first year from January to July. There are six such Masters programmes at Manchester Metropolitan University. The newest, an MSc in professional accounting, starts this January.

Professor Huw Morris, dean of Manchester Met's business school, says the move is largely to compete with the flexibility offered by private sector providers. He says it has been possible to offer a January start on Professional Accounting by working with the industry bodies CIMA and ACCA, to allow graduates of accountancy degrees and accountants who have gone on to do further training to skip some modules they know already.

"There's a massive potential market for these qualifications but we can't do it on our own," he says. "I'd like more professional bodies in the UK to act like ACCA and CIMA." Professor Morris hopes other professional bodies, in particular the Chartered Institute of Marketing, will simplify their training structures to allow more people in more professions to get recognition for their skills when they do Masters courses.

At most universities January starts are still the preserve of the postgrads, but a few have introduced them across the board, moving BAs and BScs on to January starts. The University of Derby introduced the option of January starts on 150 of its courses this year.

Mark Owen, 46, has taken a three-year break from the oil business to do a BSc in environmental management. It's a perfect mix of business and pleasure. "In the oil business environmental impact assessments are increasingly important," he says. "And I've always been interested in conservation." In his spare time Owen is helping to clean up and restock a stretch of river in Leicestershire.

Since leaving school Owen has worked in finance. "I was going to start in September," he says. "But work meant I couldn't start until December. I could have walked out but there were a couple of jobs I really wanted to finish."

So is this just flash-in-the-pan or could it become a trend? One area has been offering two-tiered entry for years: health care.

For decades nursing training has been staggered twice a year, a system designed by the NHS so it was not flooded with nurses in August. As training has been taken up by the universities they too have adopted this system. It suggests January-starting could be here to stay.

Helen Davies for one will be happy to see it continue. Davies, 24, is a biochemistry graduate training as an occupational therapist on the University of Wales Bangor's accelerated postgraduate diploma course.

Davies just wanted a breather after university. She joined the course after graduating in biochemistry last year. She says the last thing she wanted to do in her final year was sort out a postgraduate course.

"It gave me more time to play with, really," she says. "I had a chance to rest, save up money for the course, and get some experience before I went in." From finals to December last year Davies worked as an occupational therapy assistant.

"There's more of a range of people," she adds. "It's not just people who've just finished their A-levels, that's really good. Everybody brings their own knowledge to the course."