Debut Debates: Are two-year degrees a good idea?

Two-year degrees will mean less student, but will they preserve the same quality of education? Two writers go head-to-head to discuss.
Kim Connor Streich
Kim Connor Streich

Welcome to Debut Debates – where two writers go head-to-head over some of the biggest issues facing students and young people today. This month we’re discussing the prospect of two-year degrees which could save students up to ВЈ25,000 by reduced tuition fees, maintenance loans and the ability to start work a year earlier. Sarah Wilson and Lucy Pegg discuss the pros and cons… 

YES – We need to cut student debt

By Sarah Wilson

It’s a well-known, and much-abhorred fact: England’s university tuition fees are currently some of the highest in the world. Even aside from the eye-watering ВЈ27,000 of debt (or more) racked up in tuition fees after the three years are up, there’s thousands more in repayable maintenance loans.

It’s a truly depressing prospect, and let’s face it: fees don’t look set to get lower anytime soon. That’s where a two-year degree course could revolutionise the status quo.

We need better value for money

two-year degrees value for money

If there’s one complaint made most about uni life in the UK, it’s the staggering cost of higher education, and the skyrocketing cost of living in many uni towns and cities themselves. By streamlining degree courses, students wouldn’t have to borrow as much in the first place – meaning less debt in the future – and young people thanking themselves further down the line. The move could also reduce financial anxiety for students at university who worry about paying their way through – and the reduced cost could even encourage prospective applicants from low-income backgrounds.

It’ll fast-track your career

two-year degrees fast-track career

What’s more, cutting out the third year of a degree means getting students out of uni into the real world more quickly than before. For students on vocational courses, this is surely good news. It means getting out of the world of exams and assessments into the real world of work – the whole reason they applied in the first place.

Conversely, for any students taking courses which don’t have such clear direction, getting out into the real world could mean more time for deciding which career path to take – with a degree already under the belt.   It may seem a marginal difference, but coming out of university at say, 20 rather than 21 could do something to alleviate the enormous pressure that graduates face to rush haphazardly into something they didn’t even want to do – simply because they were panicking. The feeling of having extra time to decide on a path after university would allow students the freedom to try lots of different avenues before working out what’s right for them.

Admittedly, ensuring that the quality of a two-year degree matches a three-year qualification could be tricky. But the process will surely, by nature, streamline the content, ensuring that everything necessary is taught to students without any extra fluff – all in the name of finally giving students value for their money.

NO –  University isn’t just about a degree

By Lucy Pegg

Accelerated degrees might seem a great solution to the extortionate tuition fees in the UK. For many, getting university over and done with, whilst avoiding a huge chunk of student debt, seems a logical choice. But the truth is accelerated degrees hide an incredibly reductive approach to university education.

University is about more than the hours we spend in seminar rooms and lecture halls. That’s why, even if we only have a measly seven contact hours a week, university still proves an enriching experience. Empty spaces in our timetables are filled with volunteering, student societies, sports teams, work experience, part time work… even our social lives introduce us to experiences which can be just as vital as a class on 17th century metaphysical poetry. A wonderful aspect of student life is the freedom to immerse yourself in your interests and environment. It makes us the adults we aspire to be.

Perpetuating the class gap

It seems likely that those who will turn towards the lower debt of accelerated degrees will be students from disadvantaged backgrounds; research has shown that those from poorer families are still put off by the hefty debt that accompanies a degree in 2018. Accelerated degrees seem to lighten the load of future repayments for those most worried about this. Engaging money-conscious students all sounds good, right?

Well, maybe not. Instead of widening participation, accelerated degrees may create a two-tier system in higher education. Because isn’t it often extracurricular activities that get graduates the jobs they want? With more young people heading to university, a degree alone doesn’t make you stand out from the crowd. It’s the student newspaper you worked for, or the volunteering you did at a local school. These distinguish your CV from others.

Just as working-class students often have fewer opportunities at school, those choosing accelerated degrees may find themselves unable to take advantage of the plethora of opportunities available at university. This may mean that far from increasing meritocracy, accelerated degrees are perpetuating the class gap in education.

Evading the real problems

Two-year degrees are billed as a means to encourage mature and disadvantaged students to study; it is well known that nine grand fees are why these groups are staying away. Accelerated degrees show that whilst the government has noticed the problems with participation in universities, they’d rather evade the problem than face it. Our government continues to shy away from real change, as well as failing to recognise the value of a rounded undergraduate education.

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