Rethink the degree

Rather than focus on whether a three-year undergraduate degree is better or worse than a four-year degree, we need to turn our attention to how those years are being spent and to what end.

There’s a serious issue of ambiguity within the Canadian postsecondary education system. Unlike other countries, Canada lacks a national strategy for education, which leaves institutions without a clear understanding of what they’re expected to accomplish.

This leads to inconsistencies between departments. In programs like engineering, it’s clear what material students need to learn, and that a full four years is necessary to do so. Within arts programs, such as history, English or philosophy, the effectiveness of the four-year model is unclear.

We’re unable to consistently measure what’s supposed to be learned during an arts degree and how long that education must take. Despite this ignorance, our current bachelor’s degree model is inflexible.

Learning within a bachelor’s degree is often exponential: the beginning is broad and slow, before a feeling of actual progress kicks in during the upper years. At Queen’s, first year is meant to be explorative, but since students are restricted to only one or two courses in the program they want to major in, it can also be constraining and ineffective.

A fourth year is beneficial for individuals looking to further enrich their academic life, or need more time to solidify their future plans. It’s also a time of specialization, which often isn’t practically applicable to your future.

Students who feel as though they don’t need a fourth year to pursue their next steps shouldn’t feel pressured to pay thousands of extra dollars for an honours degree. For them, the price of a fourth year would be better spent moving ahead, whether into the workforce or a graduate program.

Despite the practicality of the three-year bachelor’s degree, it’s uncommon, unadvertised and often met with stigma.

There shouldn’t be a stigma directed towards how you complete your bachelor’s degree. University is a time for personal development, and individuals shouldn’t be bound to a specific period of time.

Universities should advertise three-year degrees as a viable option and re-evaluate current course requirement systems. Even though three-year degrees are a possibility, Queen’s students can be slowed down by the inflexible structure.

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