2-year degrees (as opposed to the usual three) are back in the news in the UK this week, having first made the headlines a year or so ago. You can read a good critique of them here.
The rationale behind the move is financially motivated: British students (and more importantly, perhaps, their parents) are struggling with fees and expenses, so why not try and reduce the time spent studying? In England and Wales, the 3-year degree programme has been going for a long time. In Scotland, the concept of a 4-year Master's has been common among the major universities for almost as long. There are one or two private British universities (Buckingham springs to mind) that offer a 2-year undergraduate degree, but in the main the concept is viewed with some suspicion.
In the States, the situation is much simpler to understand. A 2-year Associate Degree is distinct from an honours degree (usually of three years' duration). A student with a good Associate Degree can, if s/he so wishes, convert it to the higher calibre version by doing extra work (i.e. obtaining extra credits) either by staying on or "topping up" the qualification later, if preferred.
In Britain, because 2-year programmes are an unknown quantity, many academics as well as employers, view them with some suspicion. Will they be the equivalent of a "real" degree, or will students be short changed? Will universities attempt to cram three years' work into two by cutting back on student (and staff) holiday time? If so, this has implications for staff pay and conditions, use of resources and so on.
At present, it appears that the majority of 2-year courses look to be in limited areas such as Business and Finance. The reason is fairly obvious: such programmes are not dependent on heavy and expensive use of specialist resources (a requirement of many Science courses) and in a service-based economy such as that of the UK, graduates are more likely to find employment.
There are certain questions that I would like to see answered. For example, will there be any indication on the degree certificate or transcript that the degree is a 2-year variant rather than three? If so, will employers consider it inferior to a 3-year programme? Can three years' work be successfully completed in two years without detracting from the undergraduate experience? Traditionally, long holidays while at university are often used to gain worthwhile work experience, internships or foreign travel. You will notice that the Guardian article quoted above suggests that the increased workload of teaching staff, etc., may well mean that the fees for a 2-year course in the end equal, or even exceed, the fees charged for 3-year programmes. In that case, the only actual savings are going to be on accommodation costs and living expenses, if a third year is not required.
Regular readers of this blog will know that mention in the past has been made of the differences between Russell Group universities and the rest as far as the UK is concerned. Over my lifetime, I have seen attendance at university rocket from being a small percentage of young people to what often these days seems the norm for young Brits. This huge increase in student numbers has had to be paid for, and the days of free university places funded by local government grants are a fond but distant memory. Today's graduates leave university burdened with enormous amounts of student debt that will take years of paid employment to clear. Yet some countries, Germany and Greece for example, offer free university places, both to local and overseas students. This means only accommodation and living expenses must be covered. I'm sure most educators of a certain age would prefer to return to such a system rather than attempting economies to be made by reducing the time spent on study. I am equally sure this is a debate that will continue for some time. Factor in unknowns such as the Brexit effect, the growth of satellite campuses around the world, the explosion of alternative courses such as those completed via Blended and Distance Learning and the future looks very uncertain indeed.
It only remains to be said that at KYUEM, the focus remains on getting students into Russell Group universities in the UK, Ivy League or internationally-recognised universities in the US and institutions belonging to the Group of Eight in Australia. In uncertain times, it is best to stick with known quality providers.