“Fast-track” for your money back?

As you may or may not know, the UK government is trying to introduce fast-track university degrees nationwide. The policy was a key focal point of the new Higher Education and Research Act, which was pushed through by parliament just prior to the snap election last June. The idea behind the policy was to reduce the extortionate fees us students have to pay overall – by reducing our time at university from three to two years – and allow us to enter the job market sooner and start earning. Whilst this seems like a fool-proof plan in theory, I do have to wonder whether the government has really thought about what this would actually mean for us as students.

The ability to slash our maintenance debt by one third is undoubtedly appealing. That being said, some ministers have proposed that universities should be able to charge the same overall tuition fees for these fast-track degrees, resulting in an eye-watering payment of £13,500 a year. Given that one of the main aims of the policy was to reduce the fees students would have to pay, I can’t help but feel that charging the same tuition fees makes it somewhat defeatist.

Students being able to enter the workforce sooner was the other alleged ‘advantage’ the government outlined regarding these fast-track courses, which, if you do go to university later than most for whatever reason, is extremely useful. However, the majority do start higher education aged 18 or 19, and I don’t know about you, but I have absolutely no desire to graduate from second year this summer at the ripe old age of 20 because, let’s face it, student life is pretty good.

I am sure we can all agree that having those 12-week-long summer breaks is pure bliss. More importantly, though, they form an invaluable time for students to obtain work experience and internships in their desired field, something which would be much more difficult to do with the significantly longer term-time that fast-track courses necessitate. This, in my opinion, is the main problem with these degrees, as many employers – especially with regard to sciences – look favourably on candidates who have undertaken prolonged summer internships of 10 weeks or more, which those who study intensive 2-year courses would not feasibly be able to do with their timetable.

Also, is cramming three years of study into two really an effective way of preparing students for the working world? Being a languages student myself, I know there is no way I would be able to absorb and revise all of my course content in just two years of teaching to as a high a standard as I could achieve with the traditional three, which begs the question: is reducing your maintenance debt at the risk of being less proficient in your chosen field actually worth it?

Whilst these fast-track degrees could have some governmental benefits, by increasing the economically active population and reducing maintenance debts, I think in practice their usefulness for students is seriously questionable. In other words, it may be more beneficial to resist the temptation to save money, at the ‘expense’ of potentially greater opportunities.

Michael Turnbull

(Image courtesy of Times Higher Education)