More support needed to grow fast-track degrees, say pioneers

Fast-track degrees could play a more prominent role in higher education if universities are given appropriate support from government.

This is according to fast-track pioneers Staffordshire University in response to recent calls by Secretary of State Lord Peter Mandelson for universities to offer more fast-track degrees.

Staffordshire University was one of seven universities selected by government to pioneer the two year fast-track degrees as part of the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s (HEFCE) Flexible Learning Pathfinder programme.

It now has more than 200 students enrolled on a range of fast-track awards which are proving particularly popular among mature and international students.

A recent evaluation into fast-track degrees carried out by Staffordshire University also finds that students enrolled on fast track degrees outperformed students on equivalent three year degrees.

Director for Academic Development, Dr Steve Wyn Williams added: “We take great pride in the fact that Staffordshire University is one of only a few institutions in the country to successfully deliver and grow our two year degrees.

“Recruitment on to our fast-track awards has grown significantly over the last four years and we envisage that two year degrees could become an increasing part of the University’s flexible learning offer.”

However, the HEFCE-funded evaluation into the introduction of fast–track degrees concludes that more work is needed to make the offering of two year degrees financially viable for Universities.

Dr Wyn Williams added: “Our evaluation shows that under current funding arrangements, any university that is experiencing a cap on recruitment must lose money if it recruits students to a fast-track degree. This is because the level of funding per student is insufficient to cover the costs of providing third semester teaching.

“It also concludes that the financial viability of a fast-track degree depends on the proportion of students who would otherwise have enrolled on a three-year degree. However the viability of fast-track degrees would be substantially enhanced if universities were allowed to charge a higher annual fee for a fast-track degree.”

  • The fast-track evaluation, carried out by Staffordshire University Professor Peter Davies, was presented at a meeting considering two year degrees and other forms of flexible learning, at University of Gloucestershire on January 13. The Flexible Learning Pathfinders meeting is chaired by the Higher Education Academy(HEA) and attended by Universities offering two year degrees as well as representatives from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).

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