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English unis to offer two-year degrees for £11k per year – but what about quality?

Students stand to save up to 20 percent overall on tuition. Source: Shutterstock

Shorter time. Savings of at least £5,500 in total tuition costs. Lower living costs. Increased flexibility. All of these factors sound great in a higher education scene that’s getting more unaffordable by the day.

Yesterday, UK MPs passed legislation to allow universities to charge more than £11,000 per year in tuition fees for the two-year accelerated degrees, The Independent reported. The current three-year course costs £9,250 a year.

Universities Minister Chris Skidmore said: “The passing of this legislation is one of the great modern-day milestones for students and breaks the mould of a one-size-fits all system for people wanting to study in higher education.

“For thousands of future students wanting a faster pace of learning and a faster route into the workplace at a lower overall cost, two-year degrees will transform their choices.”

Although the tuition cost is 20 percent higher per year, the government said this will go towards supporting higher education providers for the cost of accelerated provision, such as tuition weeks over the summer, administrative staff pay and capital overheads.

Domestic students starting university in September 2019 will fork out 20 percent less than those who take the same degree over three years. If the legislation is approved by the House of Lords, this could lead to savings of at least £5,500 in total tuition costs and one year’s savings in maintenance costs, since the shorter courses will condense three years and 30 weeks of teaching into two years with 45 weeks of teaching, according to the Department of Education. It’s unclear what these rates would be for international students.

Two-year degrees have had a controversial run. Critics say its “market-centric thinking” further commodifies and squeezes public education. Others feel that the proposed models are not workable, especially the high costs of additional teaching outside of term, as well as setting up facilities and arrangements for these classes. And while it may work for subjects like business and management where learning is based on placements, academic quality and rigour stand to suffer in subjects where more reading (humanities) or laboratory hours (STEM) are required.

A survey conducted by QS Enrolment Solutions found that the majority of international students who are considering or are already studying in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, are not positive about the concept of two-year degrees. Seventy-four percent of the 2,700 students surveyed said they would not be willing to pay more per year for a two-year degree, regardless of the fact they will be saving on living costs and an extra year of study.

While potentially cheaper for students in the long run, Gordon Marsden, Shadow Higher and Further Education Minister said there are still “very serious questions about access for disadvantaged students, workload for university staff and guaranteeing the quality of university education.”

“Increasing annual tuition fees is absolutely the last thing that the government should be doing.”

Matt Waddup, Head of Policy at the University and College Union, called the move a “gimmick” that could undermine the UK’s higher education reputation. Focus should be on “fixing the underlying problems with our current finance system which piles huge debts on students.

“This decision is not about increasing real choice for students, it is about allowing for-profit companies access to public money through the student loans system,” he added.

“Without proper safeguards, accelerated degrees will quickly become devalued, but the government shows no signs that it understands this.”

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