Zoe Williams has been to visit Buckingham University where two-year degrees draw keen students anxious not to get distracted by drinking. This is an extract from the Guardian…
…Universities have recovered this year across the country, after the initial shock of the hike in tuition fees. The Cassandra predictions (from people like me) that whole generations would have to pass on the education that should be their birth right, well, that didn’t happen (or not so far; it’s possible that youth unemployment is so extreme it makes debt look like a picnic. But there I go again).
Buckingham, however, never had a dip. Their degree courses are two years rather than three; it’s more expensive, at £10,000 a year, and harder to get funding, since a student loan will only cover £6,000 of that (some abstruse rules about private institutions), but it works out cheaper and faster.
“We had a surge in numbers when tuition fees were brought in,” said one of the administrators, through a prawn sandwich, who wished to remain anonymous (obviously the administrator, not the sandwich). “Those universities where the courses are three years, what do the students have, one lecture a week? And then they party the rest of the time. Students here aren’t like that at all. I have some living next door. People always say: ‘Aren’t you plagued by the noise?’ But they’re fine. It’s like they have jobs.”
Ben Haskins, a 21-year-old in his second year of a business and management degree, said: “No, it’s not like being a person with a job, but by the end of term you are probably working 30 or 35 hours a week.” It’s like being a French person with a job.
So, is this one of those business situations you hear about on Dragon’s Den but never witness? Where the private sector magically adjusts itself to the new reality and leaves everybody else eating its dust? Not exactly – Buckingham has had a good reputation internationally for years. ..
Jenna Walker, 18, from Felixstowe, said: “The two-year accelerated degree really appeals to me. I want to join the air force before I become a lawyer, so I want to get this out of the way.” Alex, also 18 and studying English (major) and journalism (minor – I know … who knew we’d adopted that?), said: “A lot of my friends are doing four-year degree courses. I could have a masters by the time they finish.” Olivia Hunt, 19, said her friends were “going to Nottingham and Sheffield, and those are very party-orientated. I wouldn’t have gone to university if I couldn’t have come here, because everywhere else it all seems to be about getting drunk.”
It finally begins to irk me that normal universities are getting this rap, as if the whole experience is an overpriced 18-30 holiday. What about some time to relish your independence, before you immediately sell it to an employer? What about rumination? Maybe people don’t cogitate in business and management; maybe that’s the point of the whole course, to train you out of activities that are indistinguishable from staring out of a window. But surely people still need time to mull, in an English degree?
…I understand this equation; you work harder, you get results much faster, the results are probably better, you’re more competitive on the world market. The puzzle here is how our other universities came to be competitive anyway, with the values of efficiency so plainly absent from their ethos hitherto.
Zoe Williams ends up with some reservations about an approach that is all about efficiency, but can you see more institutions starting to offer courses structured this way? Might the benefits outweigh the consequences for many young people? Please let us know what you think in the comments or on twitter…