Accelerated degrees present an exciting opportunity for international students from all over the world. But a recent report by IFF Research and UK NARIC reveals many students aren’t even aware of fast-track degree options in the UK. In fact, of the 59 percent of international respondents who didn’t know about these degree programs, 44 percent said they’d consider pursuing fast-track degrees. Which begs the question: Is a UK accelerated degree right for you? Here are four things you need to know.
1. UK accelerated degrees are shortened undergraduate degrees.
College degrees open many doors, including everything from enhanced career options to improved earning potential. However, they also involve a serious time commitment.
While the typical bachelor’s degree takes an average of four years in the US and three years in the UK, accelerated degrees -- available in a broad range of subjects including business, law, nursing, education, and more -- trim the length to just two years. This means you can start taking advantage of all of the benefits of a college degree significantly sooner than with a traditional degree. Whether your plan is to begin working or to pursue graduate or professional studies, you’ll enjoy a one to two-year jump start.
UK accelerated degrees don’t just save time; they also save money. In addition to saving on tuition fees, you’ll also trim costs pertaining to everything from commuting expenses to accommodations.
Of course, shortening the length of time until degree completion means consolidating course curricula, which also means that accelerated degree programs are more intensive than their traditional counterparts. In short: You don’t learn less during an abbreviated course; you learn the same amount but in less time. The award conferred at the end of the program is equivalent to that conferred by conventional degree programs.
2. They offer fewer holidays, but greater flexibility in learning overall.
“Many people would be shocked if they realized that approximately a year and a half of that three-year degree is spent away from the university, on holidays. [...] To achieve an undergraduate degree requires some 78 weeks of study. The three-year model just means that students spend an astonishing year and a half on holidays,” contends university Vice-Chancellor Anthony Seldon for The Telegraph. While it’s possible to put this time to good use in a number of ways, including studying, traveling, volunteering, and working, not all students are grateful for such an excess of downtime. In fact, many find long vacations disruptive.
“In a two-year, accelerated degree program, students spend the same 78 weeks studying, but have just 26 weeks of holiday, which equates to 13 weeks a year. This might not sound long to some, but it is very similar to what students have been used to at school, and we have to remind them that it is far longer than the holiday time which they will enjoy once they start work,” continues Seldon.
Seldon further proposes that certain degree subjects, such as digital marketing and video game development, are especially suitable for intensive study due to their in-demand nature. Long holidays can disrupt the intensity of study and become a barrier to both creativity and the accumulation of knowledge. It’s also a more accurate approximation of the work-life balance they will eventually encounter.
3. They may be especially attractive to mature learners.
UK accelerated degree programs aren’t right for everyone. But for those looking for a cheaper and faster option, they may be a great solution. One group uniquely positioned to benefit from fast-track degrees? Underrepresented student groups, including mature learners.
According to university provost and chief academic officer Debi Hayes, the move to offer accelerated degrees emerged from a gap in the job market, as well as demand by mature learners to gain new skills without giving up too much time in the workforce.
“Our experience has confirmed this. Mature students want the option of completing degrees in two rather than three years so that they can quickly return to the world of work. This is particularly true among those from less privileged backgrounds who don’t have the luxury of dropping out of the workforce for longer than necessary. They are also an important group to target since numbers have halved over the past decade,” Hayes told The Guardian.
Mature students may also be better qualified to make the most of these degrees than their younger peers. For starters, mature students don’t necessarily require the same gentle transition to college life, or an extended period for self-discovery. And they’re not necessarily losing anything in the process, either. In fact, they may be gaining.
Concludes Hayes, “Far from diminishing the intellectual journey, my experience with students suggests that the two-year course enables them to develop a level of sustained immersion with the higher education experience – something that the traditional three-year model often fails to deliver.”
She further reveals that students enrolled in accelerated degree programs actually enjoy better retention and attainment rates because this immersion keeps them motivated.
4. But not everyone is convinced that they’re a money-saving solution.
UK accelerated degrees originated out of the government’s desire to facilitate a faster, cheaper path to a degree and the workforce for some students. However, not everyone agrees that they’re actually worth it in the long run -- especially when you factor in the cost of running them. Because breaks are shorter and programming is more flexibility in terms of its delivery, this may require instructors to log more hours -- especially in the summer months when universities are usually on hiatus.
And then there are the setup costs. These may include everything from facilities to better arrangements for e-learning, e-assessment, and feedback in order to support the quicker turnabout times necessitated by accelerated courses. In addition to extra teaching staff, universities will also require more staff to attend to details like enrollment, assessment, and graduation.
With so much attention focused on the value of degrees today, there are also concerns that UK accelerated degrees may fall short when it comes to academic quality and rigor. “In a three-year degree, there are clear progressive steps of conceptual difficulty, sophistication and complexity between levels 1, 2 and 3 of an undergraduate degree. The assessments submitted in the year of a degree are deliberately weighted more heavily in final degree classifications, reflecting the output of an individual who is more knowledgeable, wiser, more skillful and more useful generally. Can the same methodology be applied for a shorter intellectual journey?” ponders Lucy Hodson for The Guardian.
Furthermore, Hodson points out that accelerated degree programs leave less time for work experience and a final-year research project, two elements of traditional UK degrees valued by employers. In other words, accelerated degrees might end up hurting job hunters in the form of less competitive resumes.
Hodson also expresses concerns about equivalence. “The Bologna documents, and their counterparts in the UK, all talk in terms of the number of years of study as a key measure of qualification level. We will need to find another way to assure content and quality to enable international employers to retain confidence in the value of UK degree,” she insists.
Lastly, Hodson suggests students may also be losing out on other things included in the funding infrastructure of degrees, such as libraries, technology, and facilities usage, as well as intangibles like fewer opportunities for interactions with staff and peers.
Certainly, there’s no denying that the extra level of choice offered by accelerated degrees is a good thing. However, it’s also important to acknowledge that while they’re a perfect fit for some, they’re not one-size-fits-all.
Asserts Hodson, “I can see two-year degrees taking on different flavours and structures in different universities. But whatever happens, the transparency of information for the candidate about the pros, cons and financial implications of choosing between the two-year degree and its longer counterparts will be of utmost importance.”