Students to be offered two-year degrees 'to lower tuition fees'

David Mercer, News Reporter

University students in England will be offered "accelerated" two-year degrees costing up to £11,100 a year under Government plans.

The Department for Education (DfE) said undergraduates opting for the courses would save 20% on tuition fees compared with their peers on traditional three-year degrees.

Under the proposals, a student on a shorter course would pay £22,200 in tuition fees, compared with £27,750 for a standard three-year degree.

But Labour said the proposals were "another plan to raise tuition fees" as the current maximum annual fee for a typical three-year course is £9,250.

Universities minister Jo Johnson said students on the shorter courses could benefit overall by around £25,000, through savings on tuition fees and earning an average starting salary of £19,000, instead of spending a third year studying.

He told Sky News: "There are some students, particularly mature students, who want to retrain, develop new skills and find a new role in the workforce, and they may be put off by a traditional three-year course which is the dominant mode of studying higher education at university today.

"There are also going to be hungry, driven, motivated students who may be put off by a three-year course, who want a faster pace of learning and a quicker route into work."

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But concerns have been raised about the impact shorter courses could have on issues such as university staff contracts and research.

Students choosing accelerated courses have to work more intensively, while their holidays would be significantly shorter than on traditional degree programmes.

A spokesman for the Russell Group, which represents 24 leading UK universities, said: "I don't think any university is necessarily ruling two-year courses out, but there are practical reasons why three-year programmes have generally been considered the most appropriate way to deliver courses at research-intensive institutions."

Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, said: "Several universities have been offering two-year, fast-track degrees for a number of years, but demand has been limited under the current system."

Labour's shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said: "It seems that every higher education policy from this government comes with another plan to raise tuition fees, with students on part time degrees now facing charges of over £11,000 a year.

"With universities facing uncertainty over Brexit, ministers must address concerns like the impact on staff workload before imposing more major changes."