Fast track degrees: a programme for the wealthy?


Credit: rhodesj

Two-year degrees will undermine both students and staff
Selena Drake

The Tories’ plan to create new two-year degrees is rash and badly thought out for various reasons. Right off the bat, it serves as an example of yet another scheme that will inadvertently result in the most privileged students being advantaged in the graduate job search; only those who can commit to intense study all year round, with no holidays in which to earn and save money, will be able to undertake such a degree. In this instance, these students will then be able to progress more quickly in competitive job markets, reasserting the traditional Tory desire to favour the wealthy. Arguments in favour of the scheme claim that it will save students money, as a two-year degree effectively cuts accommodation and living costs. The overall fees, however, for this shorter degree will be the same, which could effectively amount to annual fees of over £14,000.

Finances aside, compacting degrees into a shorter period of time would inevitably affect their quality. How do you smoothly cram three years’ worth of information and assessment into two years? This is evidently not a plausible notion; while it might lead to students getting a degree in a shorter period of time, it would almost definitely have the side-effect of those students graduating less adept at their subject. Three years is not an arbitrarily selected figure: there is a reason why degrees are typically this length, which boils down to this being the time it takes to fully teach and assess students with the appropriate breadth and depth. The Tories attempt to counter this in arguing that they only plan to scrap the holidays, and not reduce actual term time. In doing so, they drastically undermine the importance of holiday breaks. It is in the summer and winter breaks that students revise for exams; write essays, do their required readings, and research their dissertations. These breaks are essential, as any student will know. For many, it would be virtually impossible to manage the workload without them, or to produce the quality of work that best represents their potential.

The Conservative government is becoming increasingly desperate to encourage a steady flow of newcomers into the workforce, without devoting time and energy to truly consider the logistics of it. In this scheme, questions such as how lecturers and professors would be expected to deal with the increased workload have not been addressed. Would they, too, be expected to renounce their breaks, that many academics in this field use to carry out their own individual research? Just as Jeremy Hunt naïvely assumed that NHS nurses and doctors work like robots without the need to eat or rest, the Tories seem to think the same for people working in other professions as well. As Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the University and College Union, stated “our universities must remain places of learning, not academic sweatshops.” The Tories are not merely prioritising economic interests, but utterly ignoring the pastoral, moral and intellectual interests of all parties that would be involved in this new scheme.

This plan threatens to prioritise the financial drive to seek a top salary as soon as humanly possible over the enjoyment and satisfaction of gaining the degree itself. In confining the degree to an irrationally shorter period of time to allow students to leap head first into the workplace, the plan encourages a materialistic, money led motivation for seeking higher education. The fast track degree epitomises the consumer mentality that currently exists within many of our universities, raising the question of whether it would exist for all the wrong reasons. Students should not enrol at universities solely to become more employable: there is so much more to a degree that the Tories are undermining by the primarily economic benefits that this scheme advertises. Students should experience the desire to learn for pleasure, and to expand their mindset, and it is evidently unwise to rush, or undercut this process.

Once more, the government is attempting to issue a law that will affect the lives of others without considering the impact on those lives. While it is true that students would have a choice to undertake this fast track degree, and it wouldn’t be forced upon them, arguably they would be done an injustice that they might not initially recognise. You simply cannot receive a degree of the same quality and depth in a vastly shorter period of time. It is not logical. It is consequently hard to see the benefits in this rashly thought-out scheme.