Students vote to put the brakes on accelerated degrees

Where is education going? Pic: Cheolan Jeong

A new law allowing universities to offer shorter courses but higher annual tuition fees, passed by Parliament two weeks ago is meeting opposition from student campaign groups and university staff.

Universities in England will be allowed to charge up to 20% more per year for so-called accelerated (two year) under-graduate degrees from September 2019.

After being contacted by EastLondonLines, the Students’ Union at Goldsmiths College held a special assembly where a motion to oppose further marketization through accelerated degrees passed by a majority vote.

Goldsmiths Students’ Union believes this will have a detrimental effect on students’ experience in education, and overall wellbeing, a spokesperson said.  They are worried that the accelerated courses will put more pressure on students. The Union also says lecturers in the current system are already in “extremely precarious conditions, with many on insecure contracts and struggling with work overload”.

The Union concluded that sabbatical officers will oppose any plans to introduce  accelerated degrees at Goldsmiths College.

Goldsmiths Students’ Union Education Officer Taylor McGraa told EastLondonLines that education is about “much more than how quickly you can get a qualification, to hopefully then get a job”. She added: “Education is a right, not be a privilege for those who can afford it. Education is something that broadens our experience, develops our empathy and allows us to build connections with each other.

“Pushing more content into less time for an increased fee per year, through accelerated degrees, I imagine will only make the situation worse. We must protect the health of our education systems, as well as the health of the people within them”.

Students in a lecture Pic: Cheolan Jeong

These shorter courses offer the same qualification as three-year programmes despite having a different time span. A traditional three-year degree has 30 weeks of teaching per year, whereas a two-year degree will have 45 weeks per year. This will take up the same teaching time, which the government gives as a justification to raise tuition fees.

In two years, the Department for Education says students will pay around £11,000 a year while students on a three-year course will pay around £9,250 a year. The new style of degree will save £5,500 in overall tuition fee costs.

As a result of accelerated courses, students would be able to reduce living costs and accommodation fees. This would allow them to break into the workforce faster. Additionally, these degrees are expected to give opportunities to more people from underrepresented groups of society, and mature students.

Chris Skidmore, Universities Minister, said: “The passing of this legislation is one of the great modern-day milestones for students and breaks the mould of a one-size-fits all system for people wanting to study in higher education”.

The minister added: “For thousands of future students wanting a faster pace of learning and a faster route into the workplace at a lower overall cost, two-year degrees will transform their choices.”

Pic: The University and College Union website

Matt Waddup, head of policy at the University and College Union, which represents lecturers,  said: “Without proper safeguards, accelerated degrees will quickly become devalued, but the government shows no signs that it understands this.

“Instead of gimmicks which risk undermining the international reputation of our higher education sector, the government should focus on fixing the underlying problems with our current finance system which piles huge debts on students.

“This decision is not about increasing real choice for students, it is about allowing for profit companies access to public money through the student loans system.”

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