The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education has begun an investigation into the UK's only undergraduate degree course in clinical hypnosis after receiving complaints about academic standards.
The part-time course is run by a private company called the Brief Strategic Therapy & Clinical Hypnosis (BST) Foundation and is accredited by St Mary's University College Twickenham, which gained degree-awarding powers in 2007.
At a cost of about £3,000 a year, students follow a two-year course to receive a Diploma in Higher Education. A third year of study leads to a BSc with honours.
But two students contacted Times Higher Education to complain about a lack of contact hours: the course, they said, is limited to one Saturday every two weeks and is taught in groups of about 30 people.
It means there are only eight full learning days in the academic year, with four further teaching days to cover aspects such as exams and observed practical demonstrations.
"I cannot see how they can teach an honours degree within three years, particularly when it is part-time and there are so few teaching hours," said one student who has now left the course.
One of her other complaints concerned an alleged reluctance by BST to disclose information about its lecturers' qualifications.
The student - and THE - repeatedly asked BST and St Mary's to give details about qualifications, but only basic information was provided.
After the student submitted a Freedom of Information request to the college, the company's website was updated with details of staff members' credentials to teach hypnosis.
Hypnotherapists are asked to sign up to the codes of conduct of self-regulating bodies, the largest of which is the General Hypnotherapy Register. Those who teach at St Mary's are members of the Society of Brief Strategic hypnoTherapists - a professional body run by Gavin Emerson, principal of the BST Foundation - and of other bodies such as the GHR.
A second student who contacted THE was suspended from the course after raising several concerns. She said she has now been reinstated.
"Hypnotherapy has struggled over the past 100 years for acknowledgement, and there are some really good practitioners, but I feel BST is giving it a bad name," she said.
Stephen Jackson, the QAA's director of reviews, said it was "investigating concerns reported to us about St Mary's University College, and will publish our findings when we have completed the investigation". In cases involving partnerships with private providers, the QAA examines the validating institution's oversight of academic standards.
A spokesman for the BST said that it stood by the course and insisted that "the assessment load is that of a full-time student".
He added: "All staff on the programme are appropriately trained in clinical hypnosis and also have appropriate clinical experience."
He explained that "students have access to one-to-one telephone tutorials" as well as "intensive day-long sessions", although "the amount of input varies between individuals".
The two students who contacted THE said that they had heard no mention of telephone tutorials.
A spokesman for St Mary's said: "As is the case with all new programmes, this course will need some fine-tuning. We are also appointing a new programme director."
He added that St Mary's had apologised to one of the students about the handling of her complaint, prompting a "general review" of its complaint procedures. The other student's complaint was still in process.