Two years too few

By Adam Zunder

An article published Nov. 3 by the BBC considered the British government’s impending university tuition fee increase.

In the face of rising tuition costs, British universities are becoming increasingly flexible in providing students with certification. Several English universities are trialling two-year fast-track degree programs. This follows a Staffordshire University study that concluded that students taking a two-year course track ended up with significantly less debt over time.

Many suggest that this new academic option will help students who are strapped for cash, or those who are looking to get into the job market as quickly as possible. But not everyone has jumped on board, including a lecturers’ union which has branded fast-track programs as “academic sweatshops.” Others suggest that fast-tracking will impair the quality of education, or deprive students of a valuable opportunity for personal development.

It’s praiseworthy that universities want to offer an education that accommodates an individual’s schedule and budget, but many of the concerns surrounding this proposal seem well-founded. While a fast-track program doesn’t necessarily impair the quality of an education, there is a risk of fast-tracking being seen as less challenging or less worthy. Potential employers might develop an unspoken bias—especially those educated in the traditional format.

Fast-track programs might also turn out to be less flexible than intended. Students in a shorter program wouldn’t be able to adjust their areas of study as easily as those pursuing a multi-year degree. In some cases, a fast-track course could lock students into a path that they end up regretting.

Though it’s true that a university degree allows students to learn about themselves and undergo personal development, it’s important to keep in mind that much of this development can take place outside of an academic community.

However, students in a two-year program won’t have as much time to draw on a university’s range of extra-curricular activities. This is not only a great way to discover new interests and develop new skills; it’s also a key part of applying to graduate level studies and other forms of higher education.

It’s unclear exactly how these issues will apply to university education in the long-run, but the first goal of enrolling at a university is to receive a quality education. Students owe it to themselves to consider the potential downsides of the path of least resistance.

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