A London college is offering students with no A levels the chance to gain a full bachelor of arts degree in under a year.
MST College, a college for Orthodox Jewish women in Hendon that does not have degree-awarding powers, is advertising a £6,500 humanities degree course that will start in September 2001 and end in July 2002. The college said the arrangement is a pioneering widening-access initiative for the Jewish community.
The advert, which appeared in the Jewish Tribune on June 21, said that the qualification was "fully recognised by the English academic authorities", including the Teacher Training Agency and UK National Academic Recognition Information Centre (Naric).
These claims are clarified in material sent to students. The one-year degree is awarded by Thomas Edison State College, in New Jersey, United States. Thomas Edison degrees are accredited by the Middle State commission on Higher Education, in Philadelphia, one of six regional accreditation agencies in the US.
The college said that both the TTA and Naric, which the college describes as "the authorisation body in the UK responsible for equating overseas degrees with similar qualifications offered by English authorities", have confirmed that they officially recognise Thomas Edison degrees.
A spokesman for the TTA said it was looking into the college's claims to "full recognition". "It's difficult to be clear about what they mean. The advert could be rather misleading," he said.
He said MST had applied for TTA accredited status, which has yet to be considered, but there was no official or formal link. "They are not accredited by us and we have not given them a specific seal of approval."
UK Naric said it had no accreditation powers and could only offer advice.
The advert said that the degree could not be achieved in a year because "all previous learning and seminary (religious) studies can be accredited". Documents sent out to prospective students, seen by The THES , make clear:
"Applicants to the programme will have a minimum of GCSE grade C in English and maths".
The documentation from the college said a one-year programme of seminary studies (religious learning) is necessary, but elsewhere it is clear that this is not an entry requirement.
"If a mature student has not had a seminary experience, it is possible to accredit other prior learning and experience she might have undergone, together with taking extra examinations," the documentation says.
Students would be asked to produce a portfolio of their prior learning and would be given an hour-long oral assessment with a Thomas Edison tutor.
The college dean, Judith Nemeth, told The THES that the programme was intensive. It runs four days a week from 9am to 4pm, for three terms, with occasional evening and Sunday programmes.
It is designed mainly for students who wish eventually to achieve qualified teacher status. But the college also tells students that the degree is suitable for students' "own personal interest and qualification, or for students wishing to pursue a further professional mode after graduating".
Ms Nemeth said the course offered unprecedented opportunities for Jewish women. "In our culture, the primary goal is to raise a family. A three-year degree can be very daunting. If I tried to offer a three-year BEd course, we'd have no students."
She said the MST programme was run in association with the Zaidner Institute in Jerusalem, which has offered the one-year course for ten years.