Lords approves two-year degree course plan
Plans to expand two-year degree courses at universities in England have been approved by the House of Lords.
Universities will be able to charge higher fees for these shorter, more intensive courses from this September.
But the government says students who take up two-year degrees will still save at least £5,500 in total tuition costs compared with a standard course.
Universities UK says some institutions already offer fast-track degrees, but demand for them has been limited.
Universities will be allowed to charge up to 20% more each year for these courses, in recognition of the increased teaching time required.
But the Department for Education says the overall tuition fee cost to the student will be at least 20% less than the same degree over three years - around £11,000 a year for two years, instead of £9,250 a year for three.
Squeezing a full degree into two years is seen as being more appealing to people who are in work or with family commitments.
These accelerated courses offer the same qualification, but are delivered in a shorter, more intensive time span.
A two-year accelerated degree will condense three-year degrees with 30 weeks' teaching into two years with 45 weeks' teaching.
These courses would also mean students can save on a year's living costs and accommodation.
The DfE says it expects the move to remove barriers for a number of under-represented groups, including mature students.
Universities Minister Chris Skidmore said: "The passing of this legislation is one of the great modern-day milestones for students and breaks the mould of a one-size-fits all system for people wanting to study in higher education.
"For thousands of future students wanting a faster pace of learning and a faster route into the workplace at a lower overall cost, two-year degrees will transform their choices."
What do universities say?
A spokeswoman for Universities UK said: "Several universities have been offering two-year, fast-track degrees for a number of years, but demand has been limited under the current system.
"But if these changes help encourage even more flexible modes of study and meet the needs of a diverse range of students and employers, they are to be welcomed.
"While accelerated degrees could meet the needs of some students and their families, it is important to remember that there are a high number of individuals wishing to learn while they work and for whom more flexible ways of learning are needed.
"We would like to see greater support for students balancing learning while they work."
Dr Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group of leading universities, said: "Greater choice for students is always good but I would caution ministers against 'over-promising'.
"The government's own projection for the likely take-up of these degrees is modest and we actually hear many students calling for four-year degrees, for example, to spend a year on a work placement or studying abroad.
"I wouldn't want disadvantaged students to rule out a traditional three-year course because they didn't believe they could afford it.
"Up-front support with living costs is available and graduates repay their student loans based on their earnings.
"Doing a more compressed degree also reduces the opportunity for part-time work, potentially increasing short-term financial pressure."