The introduction of two-year degrees could herald the end of the long academic summer holidays, according to universities involved in piloting the courses.
Steve Wyn Williams, responsible for the courses at Staffordshire University, said: "Two-year degrees are the tip of the iceberg. The introduction of top-up fees has focused minds on new means of delivery and better use of the academic year."
The Higher Education Academy has set up a special interest group of pro vice-chancellors to look at the structure of the academic year and to consider better use of the summer vacation.
Cliff Allen, director of programmes at the HEA, said: "When the Flowers committee reported on the structure of the academic year ten years ago, there was little movement. Now the issue has returned, and many of the constraints have gone. More flexible delivery and greater use of the summer holidays is clearly a future trend."
The comments follow the speech by Bill Rammell, the Higher Education Minister, to the annual conference of the Higher Education Funding Council for England in which he said two-year degrees could provide a way to lure more students from poor backgrounds to university.
Hefce is funding pilot projects at Derby, Leeds Metropolitan, Staffordshire and Northampton universities and a partnership between Kent, Greenwich and Canterbury Christ Church universities, from September.
Several other universities are looking at working through the summer.
Chris Rivlin, part of Salford University's academic quality and standards unit, has carried out a survey of trends in semesterisation internationally and in the UK. "The clear international trend is to introduce a trimester system using the full calendar year," he said.
Dr Rivlin said that Salford would introduce a third trimester from this September.
The introduction of more flexible modes of learning and compressed degrees was mentioned in the Government's 2003 White Paper on higher education.
Derby University, which put out a statement headed "We're not going on a summer holiday", plans to run fast-track degree programmes in business studies, earth sciences and a number of joint-honours programmes.
Andrew Rothwell, head of combined programmes at Derby, said: "Fees for UK and European Union students for these degrees are £3,000 for each of the two calendar years, just £6,000 in total."
He said that the degrees would appeal to students with prior experience who wished to accumulate less debt and wanted to enter the job market more quickly.
But unions are concerned about the introduction of two-year degrees.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, said: "These proposals will do little to alleviate concerns that staff workloads are going to be seriously increased."