The government has announced plans to introduce ‘fast-track’ two-year degrees. But can students be sure they are a good investment? Are two-year degrees a con – or a genius idea?

To be clear, the new ‘condensed’ degree courses will cost students the same as a three-year course, meaning annual fees will be higher.

(Ministers are expected to table a bill to lift the current £9,000-a-year cap on tuition costs, to allow universities to charge more for these two-year courses).

Students who enrol for the new, shorter qualifications will forgo the traditional long summer and winter holidays in exchange for the faster pace of the degree.

Education ministers believe the shrunken time frame will be attractive to those who are in a hurry to get into, or return to, the workplace.

The new courses are also expected to appeal to students keen to cut down on living and accommodation costs, including young people from poorer backgrounds.

The Department for Education has stressed that the fast-track degree would carry the same weight as the current undergraduate model.

But, already, serious questions are being asked about how the government can possibly guarantee that the new, shorter degrees will be a good investment for young people, before the courses even launch.

In the past, the lecturers’ union, the UCU, has objected to the idea of ‘condensed’ learning. One criticism has been that students will miss out on building up the ‘soft’ skills learned over a longer period of time spent in higher education.

And Graduate Fog’s founder Tanya de Grunwald said today that much more robust proof is needed that employers agree with the government’s assertion that the new, condensed degrees are of equivalent value to the the traditional, full-length versions.

After all, this is a serious investment. If the cap on annual fees is lifted, universities will be able to charge more than £13,000-a-year for a three-year degree cut down to two years. Annual fees for a four-year course trimmed to three years could rise to £12,000 a year. The proposals will apply to institutions in England.

But the government has insisted there will be safeguards on quality to make sure universities cannot to rip off students by delivering sub-standard shorter courses for the same fee as the longer version.

They say the fee hike will be strictly limited to the accelerated courses, and universities will have to prove they are investing the same resources in the fast-track students as in those studying for a conventional degree.

The promotion of two-year degrees was a manifesto pledge from the Conservatives. On Friday, universities minister Jo Johnson told a meeting of Universities UK, the vice-chancellors’ body:

“This bill gives us the chance to introduce new and flexible ways of learning. Students are crying out for more flexible courses, modes of study which they can fit around work and life, shorter courses that enable them to get into and back into work more quickly and courses that equip them with the skills that the modern workplace needs.

“I absolutely recognise that for many students the classic three-year residential model will remain the preferred option. But it clearly must not be the only option.”

Although two-year degrees were pushed by previous Labour and coalition administrations, universities have been slow to adopt the format due to the current tuition fee cap.

Up until now the qualifications have been cheaper than traditional degrees because of the tuition fee cap, which means some have seen them as inferior to conventional courses.

The proposal to lift the cap on tuition fees for the fast-track degrees is part of a package of changes set to be incorporated into the higher education and research bill as it proceeds through the House of Lords. Johnson is also expected to try to introduce measures to make it easier for students to transfer between universities.


Tanya de Grunwald, founder of Graduate Fog, says: “Shorter degree courses may be a good idea – and any innovations that could help students shrink their total graduate debt are always welcome. However, the government should not even consider rolling out these new shorter courses until they can provide a cast-iron guarantee that condensed degrees will be viewed by employers as an exact equivalent to traditional, full-length courses. This means presenting testimonials from dozens of employers stating this explicitly. It is also essential that the government commits to ensuring that employers of all sizes receive the necessary education about the value of these ‘condensed’ degrees, so that they can properly interpret the CVs of graduates whose time at university appears a little shorter than usual.”


Graduates – could your course have been compressed into two years? Would you have done a condensed degree if you’d had the option – or would you have worried that employers might value it less than a traditional, three-year degree?

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