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Should I take a 2-year, accelerated bachelor's degree?

By Danny Harrington

Quite a number of UK universities have offered 2-year accelerated degree programmes for a while now, though they are not so well known. The workload is the same as a traditional 3-year degree but condensed by working through the traditional holiday periods in a 4 semester configuration. UK university holidays are quite generous and range from 20 to 28 weeks per year so over two years you can easily find an extra ‘academic year’ of study in this holiday time. The government is now close to approving a change to the annual tuition fee cap on domestic student funding which would allow more UK universities to offer a 2-year programme. This may mean an increase in the popularity of 2-year courses and so international students may start to consider them more as well. But they are causing controversy, so are they a good idea?

Fundamentally this comes back to the question we have addressed many times about what a university education is for. In my opinion there is no correct answer to this. Perhaps the answer is that it is for whatever your needs are. Some people need time to mature and develop academically, intellectually, emotionally and socially and they would ideally want a longer period at university – four or even five years. Others need to crack on for a variety of reasons – catching up years lost to illness or other obstacles which interrupted their education; jumping between academic systems; feeling a need to get on to work or training. In this group we might also put those for whom the outcome is the main reason for taking the course rather than the process. And then there is cost.

For many cost is the most important factor of all as it determines a) whether they can afford to do the course and b) whether they feel they get value for money (I write about this issue here). This is especially true for international students. A standard 3-year degree will mean annual outlay of approximately GBP20,000 to GBP30,000. [It can be much more but people spending 30k++ usually do not have financial constraints]. Saving 25-35% of this is a big deal. But that only works of you have the funds in place before you start. Students with financial constraints often use the “holiday period” to work to fund the next year so a 2-year programme will not allow this. Of course many students also take employment during term-time and this is still an option but you will still need funds in place as there are both legal and practical limits to how much employment you can undertake while studying.

One of the big arguments against 2-year degrees from traditionalists is that the long “summer holiday” is a time to reflect and revisit the year’s learning and that 2-year courses remove this time. In an ideal world, I would agree. However, in the real world I have never come across a student who actually does this. Most go on holiday, relax at home or work. There is nothing wrong with this and it is ideal for someone who needs the time to grow into their young adult skin, but for those who do not feel the need, why get in their way? In fact, a stronger argument is that the long break creates a disconnect which is hard to get back thus wasting the first few weeks each September and October. 2-year courses do not have this and students feel more engaged throughout the course. With so many newer degree subjects being more vocational, frankly there is also less need for reflection. We can no longer just lump every bachelor’s qualification into the same group. There are significant differences in the nature of various modern degree courses and the requirements for those following them.

So if you like the idea of saving several thousand pounds and a year of your life while getting the same degree qualification and you feel it fits your personality, priorities and perception of what a degree is for, then go for it. Or if you feel a gap year of travel would help you grow up best but don’t want to lose time to your peer group then now you have a solution. These are just some of the wonderful outcomes we get from increased flexibility in the pathways that we can take in our learning careers.

ITS Education Asia offers flexible programmes that start the path to bachelor’s qualifications.

Dulwich College Singapore

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