Government plans have been unveiled proposing that English Universities will be able to offer fast-track two year degrees. For such courses, they will be able to charge more than £14,000 a year, the price of three years worth of tuition fees.
If Universities were to introduce these changes then annual fees in England would be higher than many US state universities.
Universities Minister Jo Johnson said the changes would appeal to mature students and those who were disadvantaged by high living costs over three years.
He added, when speaking after a speech given to university leaders in London, that the courses would be the same standard: “It’s not fewer credits, or lower quality of provision, it’s the same standard, the same quality, but in a compressed period of time and that involves an increase in resources, which needs to be recognised in the fee structure.”
“There are clear advantages for the student,” he added, among which he listed saving a year’s living costs and finding a job more quickly.
The UCU lecturers’ union warned that the main beneficiaries would be private, for-profit providers, who could adopt a “pile ’em high and teach ’em cheap” approach.
A spokesperson from The Russell Group said the proposals would need “careful consideration” so shorter course “don’t negatively affect student learning or compromise the overall undergraduate experience”.
“Is it yet another example of their using their new higher education legislation as a Trojan Horse to let tuition fees rip?”
Universities UK said it would be “a good thing” if regulations over tuition fee limit could be changed to allow such flexibility.
Gordon Marsden, Labour MP asked: “Is it yet another example of their using their new higher education legislation as a Trojan Horse to let tuition fees rip?”
The proposals would be likely introduced by 2020. By that time, with an announced fee increase to £9,250 per annum and increases with inflation, fees for three year courses would be above £28,000.
Some have seen the proposals as a good way to tackle lack of “contact time” as the same number of contact hours would occur over two, instead of three-years.
Mr Johnson was keen to emphasise that this would not mean any “flight” from the traditional three-year degree, but would provide an alternative route of education.
“Take from example, someone who is in their mid to late twenties, who didn’t go to university, who has already been in the workforce but wants an opportunity to retrain and acquire a level of skills they haven’t got.”
“They don’t want to spend three years studying and want a faster pace of learning than the classic three year model would allow.”
On the same day Mr Johnson announced other proposals which will encourage universities to reveal more detail information about the attainment of different groups, including ethnic minorities and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Another proposal was that it should be made easier for students to move between courses and universities.