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Sam Gyimah: Study at a faster rate and get into the workplace quicker

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Universities Minister Sam Gyimah has today written an op-ed after he announced that hundreds of thousands of prospective students will have more choice than ever before over what they can study at university with the expansion of two-year degrees.

The UK is lucky to have a thriving higher education system. Our universities regularly rank amongst the best in the world. And their doors are open to anyone with the potential to succeed, including more disadvantaged students than ever before.

Gone are the days when going to university was reserved for the fortunate few. We are now in a new ‘age of the student’, where universities’ success depends on responding to a wide range of students’ needs. This means innovating the way they teach to meet the needs of today’s students, and putting a laser-like focus on quality and value for money.

The best universities have always been one-step ahead. Institutions like the Open University are continually harnessing the power of new technologies to improve distance learning and ensure students are not missing out when learning from afar.

Universities like Bournemouth and Nottingham Trent are embedding practical work experience in their degree programmes and forging close links with employers to enhance students’ employability and attractiveness to industry. Many others are expanding into interdisciplinary degrees to offer students a breadth of education at the cutting edge of technological developments.

Thanks to recent government reforms, we are also seeing the growth of new providers with a fresh vision of what a university education entails. Just last month, we welcomed the inauguration of NMiTE in Hereford – the UK’s first new greenfield higher education provider in 40 years – offering students a brand new way of learning engineering.

Today we are going further. We are making it easier for universities to offer accelerated degree courses, that allow students who want it to study at a faster rate and get into the workplace quicker.

Two-year degrees are not new, and the appetite for accelerated degrees already exists among students. The University of Buckingham has been successfully delivering two-year degrees for over 40 years. Its students regularly give it excellent feedback both for the quality of its teaching and for the quality of the experience of studying there.

Accelerated degrees aren’t for everyone. But for some people, they’re just the ticket: for example, mature students, or those who want faster entry into the workforce. Some employers like them too, as an opportunity to secure ambitious, motivated graduates a year sooner than a three-year degree allows.

Up until now, limits on the annual fees that universities can charge has made it hard for most providers to offer fast-track degrees. The fee cap on universities applies on an annual rather than a per-course basis, so condensing three years’ teaching into two has often not been affordable. By modestly raising the annual fee cap for accelerated degrees introducing a new fee level for accelerated provision, more universities will be able to expand their range of courses and offer students different modes of study. Even with the increased fee cap, accelerated degrees can offer big savings for students: the total cost of tuition is no greater, while living costs and lost earnings can be a third less.

This new change is a sign of our commitment to quality and value for money for students. We are also working hard to make sure a degree keeps its value. That’s why I have spoken out against grade inflation, which risks threatening the high standards our world-class universities have become known for. And it’s why I’ve challenged universities on their use of unconditional offers – which risk being used to convince students to enrol on a degree that might not be right for them. To tackle this and other issues, earlier this year we established the Office for Students, a new and powerful regulator that puts students’ interests and value for money at its heart.

Students deserve high quality and good value from their university education. With these policies, we are helping to make that a reality for everyone.

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