Accelerated Degrees – The Fast and the Spurious

By Oliver Holdsworth | Oxford SU Education Policy Coordinator | Mon 10th December 2018



Accelerated degrees have once again found their way to the headlines, following endorsement by a House of Commons select committee. The idea is that, for all the attention that 9k tuition fees garner, one of the main downsides to University is that you miss out on lost earnings. Given that the average waiter earns around 16k a year, 9k of debt-that's-not-quite-debt seems small change. Solution? Lop a year off the end of University, and voila – the student has saved money, the government doesn’t have to loan out as much, and the workforce gets a new graduate – what’s not to love? 

Devalued degrees for slightly lower fees? 

One worry is that two years simply isn’t long enough. English and Welsh students already save a year compared to their peers at US and Scottish institutions. Can you really learn enough in two years? Perhaps. One 2009 report found that study time in different courses at different institutions ranged from 14 to 46 hours, suggesting there’s clearly scope for some courses to be accelerated. What’s more, most courses have the summer break. Whilst this has historically been to allow academics to catch up with their research etc., students could work through this. 

Of course, you may well think that University is about more than just teaching and learning – at least of the classroom sort. University can offer a chance to get involved in societies (or even Student Unions) and develop as a person. Will accelerated courses miss out on these less tangible goods? Perhaps, but it’s hubris to suggest that the only way you can develop as a person is through University. Furthermore, we can all think of students who throw themselves into their academic work, yet still manage to get involved elsewhere. Offering students this choice needn’t be a bad thing. 

For the many, not the few 

This is all part of the government's wider push to increase the numbers of students attending University, particularly from underrepresented groups for whom the cost of University may be too off-putting. This includes the ever-dwindling numbers of mature students. Prospective mature students typically earn more, and so shorter degrees may be particularly attractive. However, any student would save money doing this as they’ll save a year of fees. Whilst raising the fee cap for these accelerated courses has been mooted, this would i) be politically difficult, and ii) still cost less than 27k. 

The success of these degrees will however depend largely on how they’re perceived by employers. This is all the more important if their intended focus is marginalised groups in HE, who are being sold University as a route to success. If they are only taken up by less prestigious institutions, this could harm the graduates. However, there is room for optimism. A number of graduate entry undergraduate courses already exist in Russell group institutions (for example graduate entry medicine). If the model already exists, there’s hope yet that it could be rolled out to a wider range of courses. 

Ultimately, the future of accelerated degrees is unclear. What is clear is that they must not be used as a means to con prospective students into attending University, only for them to emerge and find that they are at a disadvantage. 

If you’re an Oxford student with senior status or on the Graduate Entry Medicine course we’d love to hear your views on accelerated degrees. Get in touch with Oxford SU’s VP for Access and Academic Affairs at: