Are accelerated degrees a thing? What about in engineering?

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Are accelerated degrees a thing?

In short, yes. The Department for Education is currently consulting on the second stage of increasing the number of accelerated degrees available to learners. The DfE has already consulted on the idea of accelerated degrees, together with credit transfers, but this consultation asks how we can make it happen.

A handful of higher education providers are already offer them, the problem we have is that their awareness among learners and indeed employers is low, so the take up is low. So they exist already, they just aren’t really “out there” yet.

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So what exactly are there?

Accelerated degrees offer the same educational outcomes to those provided by the established and widespread longer forms of study, except they do so over two years rather than three. So what as a learner you would have learnt in three years you learn in two. To ensure that accelerated degrees work, the consultation takes into account that:

  • A two year accelerated degree will lead to an identical qualification to its standard three-year equivalent degree in terms of the substance and calibre of learning required for qualification.
  • Accelerate degrees will generally maintain the total volume of learning content as a three-year degree, by increasing the number of weeks of study in each year.
  • Study is likely to run over the summer, with shorter academic break at other times.
  • The pace of learning week-on-week for a student is likely to be broadly the same as a standard degree (there are typically 30 weeks of study annually in a three year degree so 90 weeks overall. For accelerated degrees, government expects 45 weeks of annual study)

 

What are the benefits of an accelerated degrees?

For the learner, there are three key benefits:

 

  • Save time – you are taking two years to complete a full degree rather than three years
  • Save money – two years studying will decrease fees, although this is subject to the final outcome of the consultation as to what this will be
  • Get into the job market faster – learners will be a year ahead of those who have undertaken a three year degree, enabling them to get ahead quicker into the labour market.

 

Do they work for engineering?

There are already forms of “accelerated degrees” in engineering. Some which don’t completely follow the model that the consultation document. This includes:

  • The employer sponsored accelerated degree – being sponsored by their employer this model allows employee-students to gain a Bachelor’s degree in a two-year time frame. This is particularly attractive for employers wishing to up-skill their workforce while giving employees a career-enhancing qualification
  • The combined bachelors/masters accelerated degree – some universities are now offering engineering courses, which combine both the bachelors and masters into a four-year long course (as opposed to a three year bachelors course followed by a two year masters course). Many learners and employers see this as advantageous because achieving an MEng means the graduates is moving even closer to becoming on the register of professional engineers.

What do manufacturers think of accelerated degrees?

benefits

  1. Widens the graduate talent pool and faster:  Given the shallow graduate talent pool from which manufacturers can recruit from any proposal that seeks to widen this pool is generally supported, especially if it provides quicker and more flexible pathway for employers to recruit engineering graduates.
  2. A more attractive offer to learners would increase supply: A reduction in fees, and therefore potential debt, will be attractive to learners in the same way as degree apprenticeships. This model could also be more attractive to those who wouldn’t have otherwise chosen to undertake a degree, or a more formal academic pathway.
  3. It gives mature students and existing employees another means of gaining a degree: This offer is likely to be more attractive to mature learners and existing employees. Over half (56%) of manufacturers support existing employees through higher education and a number currently don’t but would like to do so. This would provide the more flexible offer employers are often looking for as they don’t lose an employee from the business for as long.

challenge

  1. Low awareness: There are already accelerated degrees in the market, but take up is low. There needs to be a wider campaign to reach out to employers and learners about the opportunities of accelerated degrees. This must be driven by a range of stakeholders including the government, higher education sector, employers and learner representative bodies.
  2. It is dependent on the HE market being responsive: As well as buy-in from learners and employers, accelerated degrees need buy-in for the HE sector. We expect some, but not all, will offer accelerated degrees, in the same way that some, but not all, HEIs are offering degree apprenticeships right now.
  3. Increasing teaching hours over the year may impact on research: Some research-intensive universities may not offer accelerated degrees due to the increases hours of teaching required (e.g. over the summer period). Some universities, understandably, may not want to sacrifice dedicated research hours to teaching for the purpose of delivering accelerated degrees.
  4. Condensed teaching may take away opportunities for industry experience: Some engineering courses are four-year courses, which include a placement year in industry. It would be difficult to condense engineering courses that include a placement year into 2 years. Employers we spoke to, also raised concerns that teaching over the course of the year may take away opportunities to undertake industry experience whether through a longer-term placement or a summer placement. As we've blogged on before - graduates with industry experience are sought after by employers.
  5. The capacity, capital and capability of higher education institutions to deliver accelerated degrees in engineering: Degrees in engineering are of higher cost than many other degrees and whilst they have a premium attached to them, many HEIs say they must still cross-subsidise these subjects and seek alternative finance to expand engineering departments due to the capital costs. Depending on the outcome of the consultation and the fee level set, this could leave universities short on funding to deliver the cost of delivery engineering courses. (We’ll be soon publishing a paper on this so watch this space!)

 

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Clearly then there are challenges, but as always some challenges can be overcome - a big awareness raising campaign, encouraging learners to undertake placements to gain industry experience and ensuring universities have the capital funding to expand engineering departments - and there are benefits, so all in all, this seems like a good way to go….

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Head of Education & Skills Policy

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