Be wary of new degree

December 24, 1999

Your story on the associate degree model ("New Labour, new year, new degree", THES, December 10) was unclear. In the United States the typical undergraduate degree equates to a four-year full-time course of study. An associate degree represents the equivalent of two years' full-time study, after which students are allowed on the third year of a degree course at university, not the second year as suggested.

The introduction of the associate degree has had the positive effect in the US of reducing the huge overall cost of an undergraduate degree.

Students can live at home and attend the equivalent of the local college for the first two years of their degree, where tuition fees are considerably less expensive than at university. Having achieved the associate degree, students then have the option of transferring to a university to complete the final two years of their undergraduate degree. From a student point of view, this is very satisfactory.

But despite repeated attempts by the government, the system for higher education throughout Britain remains radically different from that of the US.

When the Department for Education and Employment announces its proposals we should cast more than a casual eye at their implications. The introduction of an associate degree based on the US model will bring about a bigger shake-up of higher education than the introduction of tuition fees.

There may be reason to support the arrival of the associate degree, but "because the Americans do it," is not a satisfactory justification for what represents a fundamental change to our higher education system.

Steven Butts

Faculty of leisure and tourism

Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College

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