So what do we think a ‘degree’ is?
Here’s an interesting snippet of information: in England a growing number of people are entering universities and colleges to study for ‘foundation degrees’. These are two-year courses involving work placements, which the student can do on a full-timke or part-time basis. They can then either take the qualification, or use the credits earned as part of a route to an undergraduate honours degree award. Over 300 universities and colleges, including some older universities, offer these programmes, and according to the latest information they are growing fast in popularity. They also fit in with the views expressed by English Universities Minister David Willetts that students should seek out alternatives to the traditional university degree.
There is little doubt that more people need education and training to improve their career opportunities and maximise the skills available to society. There is little doubt also that universities should make contributions to meet this demand. But along the way, it may be necessary to look again at what constitutes a ‘degree’ (and of course there is a Bologna dimension to this). I am clear in my own mind that the traditional undergraduate degree is not the only workable or useful model; but equally I believe that not every training programme should be classified as a ‘degree’. As governments push higher education institutions to offer courses that are modelled on rather different considerations than just academic ones, it might be worthwhile looking again at the portfolio of higher education and asking how it can be made both academically valuable and socially productive. That debate needs to be held in more explicit terms than it has been to date.