Students could graduate from university in just two years under government plans to introduce “fast-track” degrees.
The changes would see universities charge more than £13,000 a year for the condensed courses, with ministers expected to table an amendment to lift the £9,000 tuition fee cap today.
The degrees, which will carry the same weight as traditional three year courses, are likely to appeal to mature students looking to retrain, disadvantaged young people and those keen to enter the world of work.
While the fast-track courses are expected to cost the same overall as three year degrees, with the fee rise applying only to the new scheme, they would offer students the opportunity to cut their living and accomodation costs by a third.
To make up the time, students opting for an accelerated degree will work more intensively and take much shorter holidays.
The changes are expected to be announced by universities minister Jo Johnson at a Universities UK conference later today.
According to the Times, the Tory MP is expected to tell the audience: “Students are crying out for more flexible courses, modes of study which they can fit around work and life, shorter courses that enable them to get into and back into work more quickly, and courses that equip them with the skills that the modern workplace needs.
“I absolutely recognise that for many students the classic three-year residential model will remain the preferred option. But it clearly must not be the only option.”
A small number of UK universities already offer accelerated degrees, but many have been discouraged from adopting fast-track schemes due to the £9,000 a year tuition fee cap.
Due to the subsequent lack of funding, fast-track courses have often been seen as inferior to their traditional counterparts.
Despite the CEO of UCAS Mary Curnock Cook praising the announcement as “good news”, many academics have protested the changes, saying they will turn universities into “academic sweatshops” for students and staff.
Newcastle University lecturer Catherine Walsh tweeted: “Pricing out students in the 2010s can now be leveraged into turning universities into degree factories in the 2020s.”
The news has also been met with opposition from the Universities and College Union (UCU), which accused the government of sacrificing the UK’s “global reputation for excellence”.
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: “Allowing universities to charge more money for an accelerated programme looks like another misguided attempt to allow for-profit colleges access to UK higher education.
“Accelerated degrees risk undermining the well-rounded education upon which our universities’ reputation is based. As well as placing a huge burden on staff, these new degrees would only be available to students who could study all year round.
“Our universities must remain places of learning, not academic sweatshops and the government needs to resist the pile ‘em high and teach ‘em cheap approach to students’ education,” Hunt added.