Universities are to offer fast-track degrees that could save students money under new government plans.
The new two-year courses will cost more per year than typical degrees, with fees of more than £13,000, but students could save money on housing and living expenses, it has been argued.
Students enrolled on the fast-track courses would be expected to work more intensively through the year, with reduced holiday time to allow for a heavier workload.
Currently, undergraduates enrolled on three or four-year courses are typically allocated holiday time of up to six months a year – a ratio some argue is imbalanced when taking into consideration the £9,000 paid per year in tuition fees.
But the proposals have been criticised by industry leaders, who claim the move is an excuse to raise fees that would only profit private companies and jeopardise the reputation of British universities.
Sally Hunt, general secretary for the University and College Union said: “Allowing universities to charge more money for an accelerated programme looks like another misguided attempt to allow for-profit colleges access to UK higher education.
“At a time when we are struggling to maintain relationships with universities and academics in the EU and beyond, introducing a raft of new courses… could only worsen our standing internationally.”
Universities minister Jo Johnson is to formally announce the plan at a Universities UK conference on Friday.
He is expected to say: “This Bill gives us the chance to introduce new and flexible ways of learning.
“Students are crying out for more flexible courses, modes of study which they can fit around work and life, shorter courses that enable them to get into and back into work more quickly, and courses that equip them with the skills that the modern workplace needs.
“I absolutely recognise that for many students the classic three-year residential model will remain the preferred option.
“But it clearly must not be the only option.”
A number of institutions blamed the tuition fee cap as a barrier to introducing accelerated courses, according to government research published last year.
It also found that students may be reluctant to sacrifice their holidays because they find them valuable to undertake work experience or paid employment.
When asked whether they would have considered enrolling in a fast-track degree to save money, undergraduate students gave The Independent mixed opinions.
Holly Hosie, a 21-year-old languages student at the University of Exeter said: “In second year I probably would have said yes but this year [final year] is so busy and stressful.
“Plus if the degree was condensed into two years we wouldn’t have time to get involved in societies, clubs and extra-curriculars which are such a big part of university life.”
Charlotte Wickens, a 19-year-old English Literature student in her first year at Sheffield, said the idea was “tempting” as she only had nine hours contact time per week in the current system.
“Because of the nature of my degree, the amount of money I’m spending compared to the amount of contact time I get means that being able to shorten my degree and spend less is hugely appealing,” she said.
“However, I am absolutely loving the student lifestyle, and definitely think that I would miss out being here for a shorter time compared to people doing three years.
“Also from an academic point of view, I feel that three years might be better as you have more time to get essay writing up to a professional standard, which may mean you get a better level of degree.”
If the plans are successful, it would be the first rise to tuition fees since 2012 when the coalition Government nearly tripled the cap in England from £3,290.
Students in England are said to leave university with some of the highest debt levels in the world, with graduates owing upwards of £45,000 on average.
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