Fast-Track Degrees? – Will the UK push the concept to the limit, and will 2-year degrees lead to increased employability?
A discussion has arisen in the UK about the introduction of so-called ‘fast track’ degrees, and even Wittenborg has been asked to consider its opinion on these by colleagues at the University of Brighton. The UK government plans to allow universities to offer ‘compressed’ 2-year degrees, at higher fee rates. Much discussion surrounds the quality of teaching, and ‘stressful, teaching-only contracts’, however, the (private) University of Buckingham has been offering 2-year degrees and can show excellent employability results of its students who have followed the shorter ‘compressed degrees’.
Most UK university bachelor’s are 3-year degrees, which is the same as research university degrees in the Netherlands. As a university of applied sciences, with 4-year degree programmes, Wittenborg has been successfully offering ‘fast-track’, 3-year degrees since 2004, and does so in a unique combination of block-based, modular courses, allowing students to speed or slow their studies within the programme as required.
Wittenborg does this by scheduling the 240-credit, 4-year programme into 3 natural academic phases of 80 credits, spread across a year. The year is planned across 40 ‘contact weeks’ and 6 study weeks, which requires students to spend around 46.5 hours a week on their studies. 240 credits in three years is a tough job, but graduates who complete their degree in 3 years have worked hard, and are used to planning their studies and taking responsibility.
80 credits a year is the maximum allowed according to the Higher Education Act, and a study credit is equivalent to 28 study hours, whereas in the UK a study credit (CAT) is equivalent to 40 hours and 2 European Credits (which means a UK ‘European Credit’ is only equivalent to 20 study hours).
All in all, shorter, fast-track UK degrees, offered over 2 years, would mean that in European terms students have to study 90 EC credits a year, which if valued at 20 study hours per credit would mean students are working a normal, full-time working week throughout the year, with 5 weeks of holiday to boot. This would also entail quicker access to jobs after graduation, and possibly a greater sense of responsibility to work hard, consistently and diligently – something employers will surely be keen to embrace when recruiting.
Critics argue that 2-year degrees fall short of the norms of the academic development of the majority of students (school leavers progressing to degrees) and would possibly fail to reach the so-called ‘Dublin Descriptors’ that outline the development from bachelor's to master's to doctorate levels, as described in the Bologna Process.
In Europe, many master's degrees are two years, as opposed to the normal one year at UK universities. In the Netherlands, most students spend 5 years in total reaching their master's qualification, with a bachelor's of 3 or 4 years, topped up with a master's of 1 or 2 years.
Whatever the critics say, the probability is that 2-year British degrees will happen, and UK universities and their partners that implement the shorter, fast-track degrees might find a distinctive competitive edge, especially in the ‘applied sciences’ degree sector.
by James Wittenborg
©Wittenborg University Press