It is easy for political debates other than Brexit to get buried in mainstream media at the moment. Important to note, however, is the news that the House of Lords approved a change to legislation in order to allow UK university students to take accelerated two-year degrees this week.
An immediately obvious benefit would be that it would work out around £5,500 cheaper than a three-year course, despite the two-year courses increasing their prices to around £11,000 per year. Students would also benefit generally with less to borrow on living costs and accommodation, currently a major problem in large cities such as London and Edinburgh.
This change is not straight forward. It has already faced much-justified criticism for the financial aspect of the plan hiding much deeper problems currently running through the current UK university system. Serious questions have to be debated around pastoral care in universities. Rising rates of young people continuously report mental health problems, with The Guardian’s annual Student Experience survey showing 87 per cent of ‘freshers’ find it difficult to cope with social or academic aspects of university life. This poses the question as to whether two years of condensed teaching would be incredibly stressful for students who choose the new option, for the sake of cutting down a small portion of an already sizeable loan, potentially at the expense of other parts of their life? This issue also affects mature students, a group the changes propose to target. Many will undoubtedly also be holding down jobs with condensed courses perhaps being unappealing for time management and extra stress.
Other questions also have been raised, principally by Dr Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group, who claims there is actually a rise of students ‘calling for four-year degrees,’ similar to the system currently working in Scottish universities. The two-year degrees would perhaps lack experiences currently offered in longer degrees such as year abroad programmes, which many would not be able to fund or organise without universities guidance and funding.
It seems much is still unclear about this proposal. Arguably the only clear benefit is for the government, with them having lower tuition fee loans to fund. But this is perhaps taking too cynical a view on the new proposals. Though there are lots of questions still to be answered about the changes, the reduction in costs will be invaluable to many who are currently struggling with daunting prospects of heavy loans and presenting more choice to those who feel three years is too larger commitment will have obvious benefits.
The debate brought up by these proposals seems to be surrounding more general calls for change within the current higher education system. Two-year degree courses may be a way of helping many struggling with the financial aspects of committing to degree programmes, but for many it could simply be another way to ‘accelerate’ the problems in the already existing system.
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