Four Year Degrees: the Answer to Britain’s Skills Shortage?

Over-specialisation at an early age is one reason behind Britain’s ongoing skills shortage, according to a former minister.

Lord Willetts, a former minister for education, has claimed that the introduction of four year degrees would give students more of an opportunity to decide which course is right for them. 

The first year of his proposed four year course would involve students sampling modules from a range of courses before settling on a specific degree in second year. Lord Willetts claims that this would allow students to make more informed choices, reducing dropout rates.

The quality of first year teaching would also increase, according to Willetts, as tutors would be in competition to attract first year students to take up their courses.

“I know there has been a lot of talk about moving to two-year degrees, but I believe the opposite will happen and we will see more and more four-year degrees. That is what students want,” he told the Wonkhe higher education conference in London.

Lord Willetts makes his predictions in a book, A University Education, to be published this month. “We expect 16-year-olds with hormones coursing their system and everything else going on in their lives to make the decision on what three subjects they want to study. It is a policy disaster,” he said.

Willetts describes the UK higher education system as “unnecessarily rigid” in demanding that students must pick a highly specialised degree at the age of 18. 

“Many youngsters realise that they have chosen the wrong subject when they arrive at university, but it is too difficult to change in the rigid UK system. They later find a job in a sector they like but for which they are poorly qualified.”

Ian White