Two-year degree cohort still below 2002-03 levels

But Hesa data offer signs of hope for shorter courses

September 12, 2013

There are still fewer undergraduates taking two-year degrees than there were nine years ago, despite the government’s enthusiasm for shorter courses as a way to cut costs.

The number of undergraduates taking two-year degrees stood at 7,315 in 2011-12, down from 7,820 in 2002-03.

This means that in 2011-12, just 0.6 per cent of UK undergraduates were taking such courses.

The figures were disclosed by David Willetts, the universities and science minister, in a written parliamentary answer on 5 September.

John Denham, Labour MP for Southampton, Itchen and former secretary of state for innovation, universities and skills, had asked Mr Willetts to state the numbers on two-, three- and four-year courses over the past 10 years.

As the figures are drawn from Higher Education Statistics Agency data, they cover only institutions that are members of Hesa – virtually all of them publicly funded institutions.

Behind the bleak overall picture, there is a glimpse of a positive trend. Since declining to 5,725 in 2007-08, the number of students on two-year degrees rose by 28 per cent to 7,315 in 2011-12. That rate of increase outstripped the 21 per cent rise in the number taking three-year degrees over the same period.

Degree courses at the University of Buckingham, a private institution whose figures are counted in the Hesa data, run for two years.

But more traditional universities have been wary of such courses. In 2010, an internal report for Russell Group member Newcastle University found that there were “currently no overriding arguments to move to two-year degree programmes”.

The report, written by Ella Ritchie, at that time pro vice-chancellor for teaching and learning at Newcastle, suggested that two-year degrees could make students “less employable” by diminishing “the perceived value of a Newcastle degree”.

She added: “There is a danger that it could disadvantage UK graduates in the global market. Some multinational employers are already favouring German and French graduates to UK ones because of their level of development.”

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