Are accelerated degrees a head start or a false start?

The practice of ‘Accelerated’ or ‘Fast Track’ two-year degree courses has been in the news again over the last few months.

Former universities minister Jo Johnson looked to further increase their frequency across the higher education sector. However, despite having been available at certain universities for nearly 10 years, they continue to prove divisive.

For some, they provide a cheaper option with a potentially fast transition into employment, whilst for others, they create an unnecessary burden on resources without allowing enough time for students to develop.

How does an accelerated degree programme work?

Typically they offer the opportunity for learners to reduce the time taken to complete a BA/BSc course (360 credits) full-time, from 3 years to 2 years, or part-time from 6 years to 4 years. This is done by utilising the traditional student summer vacation as a third ‘semester’ to cover an additional 60 credits (for full-time students) or 30 credits (for part-time students).

So the intensity of study within a semester is not increased, instead, students study continuously through the calendar year. In theory, this should allow some full-time students to reduce their costs whilst at university by only needing to incur two years of rent and living costs and, potentially begin earning a year earlier.

Should you choose an accelerated degree course?

For those who like to get things done quickly accelerated degrees probably sound ideal, however,  I advise prospective students take caution before diving in:

Accelerated degrees are not for all students as has been shown by the limited take-up of these programmes where they have been offered. Most students see their time at university as a three-year experience giving themselves time to develop, acquire skills and reflect on what careers they are best suited to move in to.

Studying at university is more than a transaction that leaves you with a degree, by fast-tracking their time, students run a risk of missing out on the full range of benefits and opportunities (be they academic, professional or personal) offered by higher education.

Lecturers and indeed the courses themselves also face potentially adverse consequences from an increase in accelerated degrees. The summer period is a time for academics to conduct research, undertake staff development and plan, as well as develop existing and new courses. This then informs and enhances the student experience for the next academic year, maintaining and improving the quality of the degree programmes.

Are accelerated degree courses practical for universities?

Although accelerated degree courses are seeing a new push for recognition in the higher education community, they are not currently part of the portfolio of programmes at BGU.

The practicalities of running two-year degree courses would prove difficult for institutions such as BGU. As a smaller university without a large pool of academics and staff to draw from over the summer period, two-year programmes would be a challenging commitment and risk the quality of experience we guarantee for our students.

We are instead looking to develop work-based learning/apprenticeship programmes with businesses, which might be more attractive and accessible to people in work who want access to degree level qualifications without having to leave employment for three years or more. Based on our experience, these provide an excellent balance of flexible learning without the additional impact on resources outside of traditional semesters.”

Make sure you are up to speed

Far from the finished article, the concept of accelerated degrees will continue to be honed and evolved over the next few years. Wherever your opinion on them falls, when it comes to choosing your degree, understanding the facts is of the utmost importance.

Of course, the Enquiries Team at BGU are always happy to answer any questions, and you can find more about the current portfolio of degrees and short-course options here.

2 responses to “Are accelerated degrees a head start or a false start?

  1. There is the whiff of the advertorial about this article, particularly towards the end with the link to courses at the institution of the authors, which is not what draws readers to Wonkhe. Will this be the way things develop in future or will Wonkhe stay true to the values that make this such a great enterprise in HE?

  2. Karl, you are right to put your finger on the issue of marketing accelerated degrees as there is yet to be much evidence of an upsurge in demand. Although former minister Jo Johnson viewed 2-year degrees in terms of WP, the main potential market is probably overseas. The domestic market is likely to be mature learners ineligible for loans (hence more cost conscious) and who know what they plan to do after graduation because they already have career experience.

    In terms of issues for universities, in addition to logistics and risk to brand reputation, the cost of study advisors/support should be added in students will need help to plan and manage a more intensive workload.

    On plugs in the guise of wonke contributions, these happen quite often! I agree with these posters, however, that apprenticeships and workplace learning are more practical options. The same marketing, reputational and study support is challenges exist and the potential market is domestic and probably local. If the right businesses are on your doorstep (or you can attract them), engagement is worthwhile.

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