Fast-track students lead way

May 31, 1996

Students on "fast-track" degree courses tend to out-perform their peers on traditional undergraduate programmes, a study has concluded.

But they are also more likely to drop out, or to have problems getting recognition from professional bodies when they gain their qualifications.

An analysis by University of North London researchers of 11 accelerated degree programmes piloted in ten universities since June 1992 found that most pilot students completing their course achieved impressive results.

While pass rates were around the same level for both "fast-track" and traditional students, a higher proportion of first-class and upper second- class degrees went to those doing accelerated degrees.

Seven per cent of completing students on the pilot courses were awarded a first, compared with 3 per cent of those on traditional programmes in the same subject areas.

And 43 per cent of pilot students gained upper seconds, against 36 per cent on traditional courses.

The results were supported by the views of the majority of external examiners, 80 per cent of whom felt the overall quality of the performance of pilot students compared favourably with that of conventional route students.

But drop-out rates among those on pilot programmes, while lower than the national average, were higher than those for students on comparable traditional courses.

A report on the findings says that very few pilot institutions were able to provide reasons for students withdrawing from the courses, but where explanations were given they tended to focus on financial and family pressures, rather than academic pressures. Since 90 per cent of pilot students were adults returning to education, such explanations seemed well founded.

There were also problems with perceptions of accelerated programmes from outside of higher education, particularly among the professional bodies.

The report explains that curriculum delivery, rather than content, was the main distinguishing point between accelerated and traditional courses, with "fast track" students having the same kinds of assessment and examinations as "normal" students.

More learning was packed into the academic year on pilot courses by teaching during holiday periods.

The report also adds: "It is this basic set of characteristics about accelerated and intensive routes which has been most difficult to convey - particularly to lay audiences such as employers or professional bodies where there is an inherent nervousness regarding accelerated and intensive routes."

Many professional bodies felt recognition should not be given to accelerated courses as a qualification, but instead to graduates on their individual merits.

A large proportion (85 per cent) were concerned about the amount of time for reflection and consolidation of learning on the courses.

This view was shared by many employers, but most also indicated they would have no reservations about offering "fast-track" graduates a job.

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