News has emerged in recent days that the universities are planning to offer two-year ‘intensive’ degree courses to students. The price? A cool £11,100, which is around £2,000 more per year than a standard course when compared on a year-by-year basis.
As one would expect, such a development has received a high level of responses. It’s fair to say that much of the response from academics and university professors has been rather scathing.
Some commenters have raised concerns about the mental health impact of such a course:
It sounds great, doesn’t it? Two years instead of three, get it done quickly, wham bam thank you HE, job! Only, who’s going to pick up the pieces when it’s all too much?
— Sophie Coulombeau (@SMCoulombeau) December 11, 2017
Others have raised issues with how it may impact people’s ability to work overseas:
Try persuading an employer in the rest of the world your 2 year degree is equivalent to their 4 year honours @JoJohnsonUK
— Liz Morrish (@lizmorrish) December 10, 2017
While others have pointed out the potential negative impact on effort for broader social mobility:
These 2 year degree plans will be a disaster for social mobility in science. Making a two-tier system will mean students on shorter courses (from lower income backgrounds) wont be able to compete for research spots vs. their 3-year peers
— Lewis MacKenzie (@LEMacKz) December 12, 2017
These three examples are just the tip of the iceberg; the criticism has been relentless, to the point where it feels like consensus. So where did this idea come from? And is it as bad as the naysayers are making out?
A case study
In modern Britain, more people have a degree than ever before. On some levels, that’s great news for education standards. On other levels, it’s not so good. For one thing, the plethora of people with Bachelor’s degrees has meant that more and more students feel they have to undertake a postgraduate degree just to compete.
Under the current system, that would mean:
- 3/4 years studying for a BA (course lengths vary)
- 1 year studying for a postgraduate degree, such as a Masters or a Graduate Diploma
So if someone were to begin this process at the age of 18, they would be — at least — 23/24-years-old by the time they had sufficient qualifications to begin their career (and older if they took a gap year).
Under the new system, someone could study for a Business BA and be qualified by the time they are 20. They could then move to studying a Diploma of Project Management and graduate by the time they are 21, at which point they could move into a business career via a graduate employment scheme. That means that the exchequer stands to benefit from an extra two-to-three years’ worth of income tax from that student. If they earn the average salary for a Project Manager, that would generate a potential:
- £11,400 in income tax
- £7,640 in National Insurance contributions
That might not sound like a lot, but multiply it by enough graduates, and the figures start to be very impressive indeed. It’s likely this is why the measure is being introduced; because it gets people into work, and paying tax, far quicker than they usually would. So it’s fair to say this measure is a good deal for the government finances.
Does it compromise education though?
In truth, it’s nigh-on impossible to answer this question. We don’t know if a two-year accelerated degree will impact the quality of the education, because no one has tried it yet.
However, it would be foolish to dismiss the concerns of experienced professionals and lecturers who are sounding alarm bells at this proposal. If this measure is to be introduced, then it is absolutely vital that the potential impact on mental health be addressed — students will experience more stress, and universities will have to be prepared to cope with this. Financing extra support for students could put a dent in the potential income this measure is expected to generate.
The reality is that two-year intensive degrees are entirely subjective. Some will love them, and it could be argued that this measure alone means that they should exist — that’s the basic rule of supply and demand. Others will struggle, but they can always opt for a four-year degree if that’s the case.
The measure is not yet law; it will go before Parliament, and the earliest point it will be available is September 2019. Perhaps that means there is enough time to iron out some of the issues before two-year degrees become an option for students.