Posted tagged ‘two-year degree courses’

A degree of brevity

September 5, 2017

When, as a school leaver in Germany in 1972, I contemplated  becoming a student at a German university, one of the key considerations was the likely duration of my studies. The brother of a school friend of mine was at the time studying economics at a well-known German institution. Actually, I don’t really know whether he was studying or whether he was just hanging around, for he had been registered with the university for a cool seven years on the one programme.

In the event I didn’t at the time go to university, and instead became a banking apprentice. Later I moved to Ireland and studied law in Trinity College Dublin. Even there you could at the time find some students who had been able, probably with the support of wealthy parents, to extend their studies considerably, but on the whole your degree course was going to take four years to complete (as is the case to this day in Scotland). Other Irish universities had mostly three-year programmes.

But what is the most appropriate length for an undergraduate university course? What time is needed to acquire information and knowledge, learn to apply critical assessment and become sufficiently skilled to succeed in examinations and assessments? Should this be determined by pedagogy (but how?) or are other considerations also appropriate?

In this context, two former British cabinet ministers (one Labour, one Conservative) have backed suggestions that in order to avoid excessive student debt and financial opportunism by universities degree courses should be reduced in length to two years.  This would ‘accelerate learning’ and bring forward the students’ capacity to earn money.

I do not myself doubt that two-year courses can be done satisfactorily, but not in all cases and circumstances, and not if work experience is to form any part of the design. The worry is not that such ideas are being floated, but rather that we are being invited to consider them solely on material grounds, rather than through an assessment of pedagogy and scholarship and of the most effective way to acquire judgement and skills.  The question is a legitimate one, but there has to be a better debate about the arguments for and against, rather than just about money.