/ Money, Parenting

Can you study for a degree in two years?

studying at uni

Would a two-year degree make financial sense or would it be too rushed?

The government has revealed plans for ‘fast-track’ degree courses that take two years to complete rather than the usual three.

Although the fees would be the same, students would save money by not having to fork out for a third year of living costs.

The idea isn’t new: the US, Australia and some parts of Asia already have accelerated forms of degrees.

So, like taking an intensive driving course to get a licence in a fraction of the time, can the university experience be condensed into two years? And should it?


As an 18-year-old from a large family, going to uni meant moving to a whole new city and acquiring a newfound sense of freedom. For me, two years just wouldn’t have been enough.

That said, my student loans and tuition fees back then were considerably less than students studying in England face today, which can be up to £28,000.

With non-repayable grants no longer available to help with living costs, two-year degrees could have their financial merits.

Mature students juggling studying with work and family would also benefit from the shake-up, as a year less spent at uni would mean a year less spent on childcare costs.

Similarly, students who live at home, perhaps less connected to the extracurricular aspects of uni life and more focused on the qualification at the end, may welcome a shorter degree.

Uni options

But would you miss out on the ‘uni experience’?

Or perhaps a four-year course, where you spend a year studying abroad or working in your chosen industry, would suit you better.

Taking it back to the driving analogy, maybe uni should be a ‘means to an end’ if you know the direction you’re going in and can get on your chosen path quicker.

Would a two-year course suit you or would you prefer to study for longer? If you’re a parent of a student who’s off to uni soon, would it be a good option for your child? Or, if you could have your time again, would you choose this route?


I cannot see how two years in Physics, Mathematics, Engineering or Chemistry – to name but four – could possibly be as rigorous as a three year course, without extending the actual term times at the very least. It’s a sticking plaster remedy, IMO.

It’s possible by having three semesters instead of two, but that puts students under more pressure and denies them the time to become more mature and take advantage of the social experience of going to university.

I do appreciate the financial issues and it is very sad that student loans effectively acclimatise young people to living in debt. My answer is to restrict university places to those who can demonstrate the commitment and aptitude for study, and to pay their fees. We are wasting a great deal of money funding those who are not interested in their studies and for various reasons and inhibiting the achievements of the better students.

I agree with you Wavechange and with Ian. I don’t think intellectual compression is the way forward. It occurs to me that we have virtually run out of workers in this country and some further merit-based restrictions on entry would be helpful to the economy. I do not agree with student loans and think that courses should be free of charge to eligible UK students. I am sure universities could do a lot more to reduce their operating costs but shortening degree courses should not be one of them,

I ask this quite openly, and without prejudice : How valuable is “the social experience of going to university”? And is it better than starting work? I mingle with a number of undergraduates and some of them, even at age 21, are quite juvenile, ill-mannered, and lacking in normal social etiquette and respect for others. There are also many exceptions to that generalisation but I am uncomfortable with the notion that a three-year university course is the best preparation for adult life. The eventual realities of the workplace must come as a massive shock to some.

For some students part of their course demands working on a project during the long breaks between terms. Generally, however, I would like to see students take on “holiday” jobs related to their course, to get an understanding of the real world, of work, of interacting with others both socially and professionally. I spend a large part of one long break working on maintenance in a power station, seeing practical issues and being looked after by people who did this for a living.

If we had the resources I would also support free further education, but money needs to be spread first to priority causes. If going to university is seen as an investment in your personal future then making a contribution towards it – a commitment to your education – seems reasonable. However, I would like to look at graded contributions, so that those pursuing less useful degrees end up paying towards them, even if they don’t earn the minimum salary. and in contrast, subsidise those who pursue the courses that will contribute to this country’s future. Perhaps I could contrast media studies and some of the arts with engineering, science and medicine?

Different degrees require different amount of application. A music degree, for instance requires (if it’s practically based) around six hours practice per day, which is why when doing my first degree the Local Authority gave vacation grants to music students to obviate the need to find work during the holidays.

In terms of fees, I would make all university fees free, but ensure there was a strictly operated meritocratic entrance procedure. Fees don’t represent a large proportion of costs for a student. Most are accommodation and living costs, so making fees free would be relatively painless. Always wondered why Clegg didn’t force that through when the Liberals were in coalition with the Tories.

Now, I know Malcolm will reiterate his concern that there’s not enough money, but I’ve already stated my belief that that’s a fallacy, propagated by certain politicians and, in fact, there’s a school of International Economics thinking that argues in favour of significant expenditure by governments, since unanticipated results can emerge, and often inflation remains very low.

There’s another reason we should make all universities fee-free. In effect, we’re investing in the national structure, by producing a highly educated workforce. We’re an inventive nation and our engineers, architects, mathematicians, doctors and physicists are among the vanguard of the world’s best. In the years to come we’ll be exporting expertise and skills. The days of exporting clothes and toys have gone.

Perhaps more controversially, I’d st up a commission to examine the types of courses being offered at degree level. I’m not at all sure that Embroidery qualifies but, oddly, it exists.

We seem to agree that some degrees are more worthwhile than others. You might describe some as “hobby degrees” where students don’t pursue a career (so earn no, or little, salary) afterwards. They then pay nothing towards them, which seems unfair on those who do.

If money was not an issue we would have the best funded health service, education system. social care, police……in the world. I do believe that we need to actually earn money as a nation to produce taxation to fund these. We were bankrupt after WW2 because of the cost of funding the war effort.

Whilst economics seems more of a art (black or red) than a science, i don’t know of any economy that survives by ignoring the need to work (or sell natural resources) to produce taxes.

Having school leavers go straight into higher education has been used by successive governments as a way of keeping down the unemployment figures. I would prefer to see school leavers work for at least part of a year to be eligible for a place. This can help greatly in allowing young people to become more mature and to focus on what they want to do with their lives. Some use a break as an opportunity to accumulate funds to help avoid getting into a life of debt thanks to having to pay university fees. For goodness sake scrap the fees, cut down the number of places and give them to those who are able to demonstrate ability and commitment, otherwise standards are dragged down by having to try and make the best out of the ‘passengers’ who are expecting a degree for attendance – and sometimes not very good attendance.

I think there is plenty of money too, but maybe it’s not shared out very well.

I have noticed that the third sentence of my previous post in this Conversation is open to misinterpretation. It should have said “It occurs to me that we have virtually run out of workers in this country and some further merit-based restrictions on entry to university would be helpful to the economy.

It is worth speaking to people who teach what may appear to be worthless degrees. I was a bit suspicious about degrees with computer games in the title, but having spoken to computer scientists who teach them and others who don’t, I think my concerns were groundless. I do not know about embroidery as a degree subject but maybe that leads to careers in the fashion industry. Clothing manufacture may not be economically viable in the UK but I imagine that there are plenty of opportunities in design.

I would be happy for the government to recover tuition fees by taxation during graduates’ working life.

I saw that but it did seem obvious what you were saying.

For some courses 2 years should suffice, and free up time for more student intake if that is what we want. I see the long breaks as something of a nice-to-have but not essential, unless they are used as part of the educational process – in my case it was related work experience, project work and a thesis. Short more intensive courses would also prepare students for the real world of work which, in many proper jobs, is also intensive, sustained, with restricted holidays.

Some courses when I studied had so much free time during the academic terms that I see no reason why they could not even now be completed in 2 years. so it depends upon the degree subject. I imagine we might have a backlash from some teaching staff.

Malcolm – Most teaching staff in the field of science are also active in research. The long vacation provides an opportunity to pursue research, attend conferences, write papers, write grant applications, update teaching material, set and mark resits, and so on. If you are teaching subjects with some relation to your research you are likely to be a better lecturer. Three semesters would work where people are not engaged in research.

Indeed so. That is what I meant by backlash. However, 2 year courses would make much better use of facilities, and maybe of staff who did not have such commitments.

I would rather pack the courses with more content to fill the time allocated than shorten them, Malcolm.

When I did my maths and computing degree back in the day, I can’t recall every having more the 20 hours of lectures a week. Some terms as few as 15 hours. 2 year degrees could easily be possibly for some degrees.

Why is it either three-year courses or two-year courses? I can understand the administrative [and possible logistical] advantages of making all courses the same number of weeks but that is not necessarily to the students’ [or future employers’] benefit. One size rarely fits all in this life and some disciplines justifiably require more tuition time and some could be completed in less. Universities are, in most cases, intelligent and creative institutions so they should be able to work out how to offer the right duration for each course, and if it plays havoc with the boat race schedule then so be it. The important thing is to ensure that the quality of the degrees awarded is not compromised by artificial adherence to antediluvian course structures merely to suit the academic establishment.

I did a full time (36weeks a year) teaching degree in 2 years as part of a pilot project and l felt very much under constant pressure. I was a mature student and a single parent and pretty much hated the pressure of the teaching practice and assignments etc. Since then though l’ve studied part time through the O.U. and currently one day a week at a college and l have enjoyed both of these experiences more. One was for a year and one was for two years.

Mr Buck Rogers phD in galaxy exploration. put your fingerprint on screen and you now are qualified for the 25th century! ! ! Don’t forget the microwave.

If Mathematics is required in the degree to pass – then I would go with ‘would a two-year degree make financial sense’ and answer ‘Yes’.

I reached quantum theory learning from classical theory in mathematics, but I had one advantage over most people. I had previously self-taught myself the ‘Trachtenberg System of Speed Mathematics’ within a month. For anyone that has never heard of this Mathematics System I would recommend it – a system that only relies on you knowing how to add and subtract numbers, you don’t need to know how to multiply or divide numerals.
The system has been around for decades, and has produced genius minds worldwide, there are other mathematical systems around but not really studied these days.

If you can learn quantum mathematics in much less time than 3 years. Then 2 years would allow you to study other subjects in well under 3 years, hence achieving a degree is well within the alloted time period.

I spend time on the web everyday, not shopping or checking my bank balance, like most… hehe Everyday I spend a few hours, and carry on learning and retaining more knowledge to what I have already studied in many diverse subjects.

I think it is quite simple to obtain a degree in 2 years, cheaper for the student, and would allow more time with hands on experience.

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Hi Duncan, what you have stated is a way that a website that I use in cyber security works, but it’s US based not UK. They have basically taken degrees in various areas of cyber security and broken them right down to mini courses.
You learn from security advisors via video tutorials, they give you your own notes section, so you can take notes during the lessons and save them. Once you think you’ve done enough of the tutorials (this changes depending on the area of study, as to which Skill you want), you can take the ‘mini-skill’ you initially wanted towards a main degree or certification.
Each Skill Test is the same structure as if you were doing the full course, but with one large difference, the cost!
Everything on the website is totally free, except the Skill Tests which only cost around $10 each (this price includes a free re-test should you not pass the required mark!).

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My father did his Physics BSc in 2 years. But this was during WW2 and he was not troubled by the problems of student loans. He went on to a good graduate apprenticeship “on the playing fields of Malvern”. After the war, he did a PhD in solid state physics and then left the field of radar for the emerging field of infra red detectors. I don’t think he ever really stopped studying, but, once he retired, his fields of endeavour eventually shifted from technology to military history and archaeology.

Moving back to present times, I’m sure some students could manage in 2 years but others would be better off with less intensive 3 year courses. Also, many actually useful degrees like physics and engineering have adopted 4 year courses, but you end up with an MSc (or equivalent). Where I work, a lot of our recruits some from a small selection of relevant MSc courses. In general, relative to other graduates, they seem to do a better job of “hitting the ground running”, when they start work.

I expect that you benefitted a great deal from your father’s dedication, Derek. I have met many students who have arrived at university with real desire to get the best out of their time there, thanks to being inspired by their parents, family members or friends. In my case it was my uncle who helped me explore university courses and the range of opportunities available for chemistry graduates.

One of the problems faced by those working in HE is that it takes some much longer than others to adapt to the move from school teaching and to make sure that students have an adequate grounding in A-Level material. Without degree courses specifically designed for the minority of students who could cope, I suspect that two year degrees might not be worthwhile, but I’m prepared to be proved wrong.

I do agree that the four year courses have an important place, though the only ones I had experience of is biomedical science with a hospital placement. In common with other universities, we changed the degree title to include MSc, but the content and duration of the degree course did not change. It may have made the graduates more employable but it did not make much difference to the majority, who were aiming for careers in hospitals.

“I expect that you benefitted a great deal from your father’s dedication, Derek.”

I am sure I have. I have inherited my father’s liking for text books and keep a small but useful selection on my desk at work. Thankfully I’m not alone, when it comes to doing that.

I do wonder if the gradual advent of internet based teaching resources may eventually result in the death of the text book. No doubt this would be welcomed by those “pointy haired managers” who advocate “clear desktop policies” for company security, but without bothering to provide storage space for books and other references.

That sounds familiar. I’ve still got a few textbooks left over from before I retired and the odd one from when I was a student. Nowadays, teaching staff often receive loads of free books in the hope that they will recommend them for their modules. I’m not keen on this because it just puts up the prices that students have to pay. Like my colleagues, I gave away surplus copies.

Publishers started selling books with CDs and DVDs but have moved to online learning resources that are complementary what is in the book. These include tests and other informal assessment and videos that are useful in helping the user to better understand the topic. What I am less keen on is that access may be limited to one year after online registration, so that buying a secondhand book means that the purchaser cannot use these resources. Apart from that, textbooks can be useful for more than one year. Lecturers who adopt a textbook for their module may receive a PowerPoint version of all the images in the book and other resources, all licensed for their use. There is quite a lot of commercial pressure, even if it is not overt.

I am still convinced that textbooks have a place, especially for giving an overview of a topic. On the other hand, electronic resources are searchable and may be updated more frequently. Several years before I retired I was approached by a couple of publishers about putting together customised textbooks that included selected chapters that would be relevant to my modules. It may seem best not to have textbooks that contain irrelevant material but I think there is considerable value in encouraging students to read well beyond what is being covered in a module. That’s a key part of education.

I could tell a few anecdotes about how we dealt with the university equivalent of the ‘pointy-haired managers’ but that would be going too far off topic.

Arthur has sent me an email.
2 years for a degree – pah! No need for all that hanging about in bars and spending lots on accommodation.
“Get any Degree
in 5 weeks with our program!
Our program will let ANYONE with professional experience gain a Degree:
~ Doctorate
~ Bachelors
~ Masters
Get a Degree with our 5 WEEKS special program!
– No Examination!
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Maybe Which? could have mentioned this attractive option 🙁

Bogus degrees are a problem, so it may be necessary to check that information provided in application forms and CVs is accurate: https://hedd.ac.uk/aboutHedd.htm

I wonder how many people have been scammed with bogus degrees. We do hear of medical staff from overseas whose credentials are not properly checked, for example. Having a “qualification” that states you have knowledge you do not in fact possess should get found out, sooner or later. But some qualifications are not in this category and can impart status you have not earned, although some may have the requisite ability and escape detection.

It helps to have formal qualifications but many people who do not have very successful careers. A qualification makes it easier for an employer to make an initial assessment and get you on the first rung of the ladder. Eventually your ability and attitude should be the most determining factors.

Thinking about unearned status, what about professional qualifications? Thanks to my academic qualifications I have offered various letters I can put after my name in return for an annual membership subscription to professional bodies. Thanks but no thanks.

Many professions assess knowledge and competence and then permit the use of letters after your name. These recognise achievement in a chosen field. These can be as important or more telling than academic letters.

I’m specifically referring to ones that are granted without any form of assessment to anyone who has the relevant academic qualifications.