Leicester University will offer the United Kingdom's first fast-track medical degree, starting in September 1999.
Following approval from the General Medical Council, Leicester will introduce the four-year medical degree next year for biological science graduates only. It is expected there will be at least 15 places available.
Until now, biology graduates, who cover some areas of medical courses in their degrees, have had to study for another five or six years alongside undergraduate medical students in order to qualify as a doctor.
On the fast-track degree, students will study a modified course, taking a selection of the modules studied by five-year students in the first part of the degree, joining the traditional course after a year and a half.
Developing shorter medical courses for graduates of other disciplines was one of the recommendations of the Medical Workforce Standing Advisory Committee, which last December proposed an annual 1,000-student increase in medical school admissions, a recommendation later accepted by government. Graduates are seen to bring different skills and backgrounds, as well as commitment to medical degrees.
Stewart Petersen, head of medical education at Leicester University, said biological science graduates already had some of the necessary knowledge and study skills to allow them to graduate in a shorter period. "The new course for biological science graduates will free up places for humanities graduates and others on the five-year degree," he added.
The exact funding arrangements surrounding these graduate students remain unclear.