Vince Cable, Business Secretary, has re-opened the debate on the purpose and economic benefits of the two year degree course:
‘Two-year university degrees, more part-time courses and more students living with their parents while they study will be proposed by the coalition Government as it begins the task of cutting the £155bn deficit.’ The Independent
Students can be incredibly industrious. Creative, excited, genuinely enthused about academic rigour and the desire to delve into previously unthought-of scholarly principles. A three year degree allocates a relatively small amount of time during the working week to formally defined lecture/seminar sessions with the onus being on the mature and intelligent student to take up the rest of their free time to fit in adequate outside reading as well as co-curricular activities.
Then there is the time that extra-curricular activities take up – something that I hope we all agree is an essential part of the student experience and thus the formation of a well rounded and employable graduate.
But what about the rest of the time? The hours spent procrastinating; of staring into space and failing to adequately make use of project deadlines? Careers services are reportedly more underused than ever – which suggests that although many immensely useful free courses such as ‘how to manage your project time effectively’ are being ignored. Could this be an indication that pressure to perform is too lax at our leading HEI’s?
This could be the unannounced benefit of the two year degree. Students arguably perform better under pressure - the logic following the ‘there’s less time to procrastinate so I won’t’ theme. And why shouldn’t they? Will two year degrees see an increase in the power and utilisation of the careers centre? I think it might.
‘Teaching qualifications’ for academics have helped to create a behavioural expectation in students that once fees are paid then a degree is almost certain: the mentality of the spoon-fed GCSE seems to be have permeated expectation and become abundant in many universities that I have had the fortune to observe.
Squeezing a three year course into two years we may increase project management efficiency in students (perfect differentiation criteria for the hotly contested graduate placements) but at the cost to the student experience. University is about enjoying yourself: joining crazy student societies; going on protest marches and getting drunk on ridiculously cheap vodka. Of course I’m using stereotypes but the point still stands – co-curricular activities shape us for the rest of our lives. This is a core part of the two year degree that Mr Cable doesn’t seem to have considered.
But they will be better for student debt, better for the economy, better for the HEI’s and better for the job market. May not be better for the ‘enjoyment’ of university but is that something that we can all live without? The question returns again: what is a university for?
‘I work better under pressure’ the mantra that we all hear regularly from the student who leaves work to the last minute. I’d be careful to open that box if I were you. You may just get what you wish for.