January 22nd, 2015
The four-year undergraduate degree for Scotland’s universities, as noted in the Times Higher Education is the “gold standard” and seen as a “broader and more flexible” alternative to the narrow, focused three-year bachelor degree programs offered by universities in the rest of the UK. This viewpoint may be less of the norm as there is now a push to introduce three-year programs in Scotland as demonstrated by the University of the Highlands and Islands.
By introducing what the University of the Highlands and Islands refers to as the “accelerated” B.Sc. in geography to be introduced in September 2015, the goal is to allow students to complete their degree in a faster and shorter time-line and save on tuition. It appears that other institutions, such as the University of Dundee, Abertay University and Queen Margaret University share the same sentiment having already adopted the three-year Bachelor degree structure.
Late last year, the University Grants Commission (UGC) in India put the kibosh on the four-year degree movement spearheaded by the likes of the University of Delhi and several other technical universities. The UGC threatened to cut funding support should the institutions pursue the four-year degree structure despite the arguments raised by faculty and academicians championing the idea of expanding the three-year program by another year to include a research component and additional courses at the advanced level, particularly in the sciences. They viewed this move as essential if India intended to be competitive globally in the area of scientific research and development. The UGC, however, viewed the additional year as a financial burden.
Affordability and efficiency of four-year degrees versus the three-year degree is an issue being discussed by policy and decision makers in education and institutions of higher education.
Looking at India and now Scotland, one begs the question: Is the four-year degree too time-consuming and expensive? Or, is the push to do away with the four-year degree and justify the efficiencies and affordability of the three-year degree a marketing tactic to attract students who find the shorter and less expensive program more attractive? The elimination of the fourth year will also mean a reduction in revenue for institutions that adopt the three-year stream, but would it be compensated by an increase in student population finding the three-year Bachelor more palatable?
Supporters of the four-year Bachelor’s degree in Scotland echo the sentiments of their counterparts at India’s institutions of higher education. Both groups see the importance of the fourth year as offering a more holistic approach to teaching and learning, allowing for broad-based training in the humanities and sciences. Reverting to a three-year program is seen by those in Scotland’s historic universities as a step back and diminishing the graduate’s competitive edge in the job market, especially globally. After all, the four-year degree is still preferred over the three-year degree on the global job market.
What is interesting is that though some universities in Scotland have launched the three-year programs, they are still using the four-year degree credit structure as their model. While in the rest of the UK, a three-year degree requires completion of 360 credits for the bachelor’s, the three-year programs in Scotland require 480 credits that is the requirement for the four-year degree. Typically, students in the three-year programs in Scotland take an additional module per semester to meet the 480 credits. Some universities in Scotland have adjusted their academic calendar by shortening the holidays in the second and third years so that students can complete the additional modules and credits within three-years.
Scotland’s universities are also seeing that certain three-year degree programs may be more attractive to students while popularity for traditional four-year degrees continues to attract a higher number of students. This is mostly because university tuition remains free and for that reason Scottish students are more likely to sign up for the four-year degrees. The three-year degrees may be an attractive option for international students faced with higher tuition fees and additional costs related to travel, room and board and living away from home.
Though Scotland’s universities are pushing the three-year degree, at this time, it appears that they have not yet cut out a year of coursework but rearranged the academic calendar to accommodate completion of the same number of credits required in the four-year degree. The three-year degree to me appears to be an “accelerated” four-year program, at least for the time being, and will probably be an attractive alternative to students who have a clear idea of their career goals and mature students who wish to complete a degree in less time to return to the workplace.
While Scotland is entertaining the adoption of the three-year Bachelor’s and India is putting a stop to the movement to expand the three-year to a four-year degree, here in the U.S., Community Colleges will soon be introducing four-year bachelor’s degree. This move will definitely make the community colleges offering the four-year bachelor’s an affordable, accessible alternative to higher education. I’ll have more on the US community college four-year bachelor’s in my next blog.