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HEi-think: Higher fees for fast-track degrees must be matched with top quality courses

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Professor Philip Plowden, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Derby, considers the benefits and challenges of government plans for two-year degrees with fees of up to £13,500 a year.

 

Universities minister Jo Johnson’s announcement on the introduction of fast track two year degrees is aimed at bringing more flexibility and choice for students, while potentially reducing the cost of going to university with savings made on a year (or more) of accommodation costs.

The University of Derby offered fast track Hospitality and Culinary degrees at our Buxton campus but many of these did not attract significant student numbers. The reason they didn’t work for us at the time was partly due to the fee – under the current rules we are unable to charge a premium fee and as such, these courses were not viewed by potential applicants as a premium product. For two year degrees to work they need to be aimed at only the best and most aspirational students, with access to first rate placements and internships as part of the course. 

The news that universities will be able to charge more (reportedly around £13,500) for each year of a fast track degree is a positive step. However, institutions need to ensure that they provide a high quality experience, to match the higher fee. We would also need to ensure that the right type of students are recruited to these courses, as they will need to be able to work at a much greater pace and more intensively than is expected from their peers studying the same subject over a longer period.

Two year programmes can have real value – particularly where the summer can be used to its full effect – so any programmes which could have around a third of their provision delivered in workplace modules would be well placed to succeed and give that assurance of quality within a shorter timeframe.

One area which does cause concern, particularly for institutions like Derby, is how this will work for students from a widening participation background. Many of our students rely on the income from part time and summer jobs to be able to afford the cost of living. Even though they would have a year’s less rent to pay by taking a two year course, and therefore graduate with less debt, will they have time to fit in paid work alongside their studies and still give their academic endeavours the time and effort needed to achieve a good degree?

That said, choice can only be a good thing, and we are looking forward to taking this opportunity to revisit the concept of accelerated courses and seeing how we can develop products that offer our students even more possibilities when they are considering their options for higher education. We have a very broad range of students at Derby from a variety of backgrounds, so being able to offer them a spectrum of routes to a university degree, alongside the part time, online and the standard three year courses that we currently run, is an exciting prospect.

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